Mississippi University for Women is well-known for its nursing program, but tucked away on back campus in Cromwell Hall is a hidden gem – the MUW theatre program.
“We typically have around 20 students. It can be a struggle to attract students. We’ve been working to attract them over the years. The three of us in the department work professionally, we know what it’s like in real world theater, and we network. We establish a network of theatres and get our students internships,” said David Carter, the chair of the Theatre Department.
Carter has been chair of the theatre program for one year. He took over for long-time chair William “Peppy” Biddy, who helped to start the network that aids the program in attracting students. The program also benefits from large amounts of alumni support, particularly in bringing in staff and talent for productions.
The students do not all come to the W thinking they will be doing theatre. Some just fall in love with the program. Marissa Vaughn, a communication major with a minor in theatre, was one such student.
“What drew me was the fact that it was small, because I didn’t have a lot of experience beforehand. You get a lot of different majors or undecided and they say, ‘Wow, this is something I could do,’ because there’s not this overwhelming number of people who are super experienced. You’re not way behind the crowd, and you get to work in a lot different areas,” said Vaughn.
The small program also gives alumni the chance to stay involved after they complete their internships. They help in all aspects of a production, which is completely necessary when you take into account that the theatre program produces 90 percent of its own props, sets and costumes. The majority of what you see when you walk into the auditorium is made in house.
“We have a lot of alumni who come back to help,” said Katie Welch, a senior theatre major. “They take on some of the bigger roles in the management of the theatre.”
The support that the alumni provide would not make sense if it were not for the large amount of comradeship that happens behind the curtain.
“Theatre programs work best when it’s a company. You have to work together in pretty close contact, and you have to trust each other. We really foster it [community],” said Carter.
The W theatre program works as a team, and everyone has to pull their weight in the program.
“Because we are so small, even if you’re an actor, you’re working on a crew as well. It’s very much a ‘let’s all help each other’ attitude. It would be really difficult if you had people coming in like divas, but everybody’s gotta help each other out, and that’s what happens,” said Vaughn.
That powerful sense of community has allowed the MUW Theatre program to put on well-known productions such as “Lysistrata” and “Cat in the Hat.” Though that sense of community goes a long way, there are still obstacles unique to each production. For the program’s recent production of “Twelfth Night,” it was the language that provided the biggest obstacle.
“The language, it’s iambic pentameter. It’s always the biggest problem, getting students to hear it, getting to the point that they’re comfortable with the language and able speak without sounding stilted. Like a stilted poetry reading,” said Carter, cringing.
Every part of the theatre production is a team effort, from the stagecraft to the acting itself. The final part of a theatre production at the W is breaking down the set. It, too, is a team effort. The set, which takes weeks to make, is gone in one night.
“We tear everything down and pretty much wipe the stage clean. It takes about an hour and a half. That’s the thing for every show. You spend weeks and weeks putting it together, do a run, and then it’s gone,” said Carter.
Though the sets may change for every show, the sense of community and teamwork at the W theater program remains.