Theatre Oxford brings community together

Minutes before the start of the final rehearsal, the director gives Stella a note about her performance. The cast (Stella included) begins to laugh, and the nervous energy from the final dress jitters begins to wash away. But despite the jovial demeanor, the group is not only here for fun; they have worked for weeks on end to bring a strong performance of a local favorite to the Oxford community.

Theatre Oxford, the community theater of Oxford since 1997, is honoring the 100th birthday of Tennessee Williams with a production of one of his most well-known gems, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” this week at The Powerhouse to close out the 2010-2011 season.

Set in late 1940s New Orleans, La., “Streetcar” tells the story of the overly-dramatic and self-indulgent Blanche DuBois’s return to her sister, Stella Kowalski, after quite a few years of lackluster correspondence. Her lengthy visit brings Kowalski’s husband Stanley extra stress and frustration, building to one of the most iconic scenes and lines of entertainment history.

Jared Davis, University of Mississippi theater alum and current university staff member, stepped in to direct the production after a last-minute drop-out by the original director. Having worked closely with the Ole Miss theater department during his undergraduate career, Davis was recommended for the position.

As he darts around from the man hanging lights to the stage manager calling times to the actors questioning their blocking, Davis fights to bring a professional, high-scale feel to a low-budget production.

Since the production was set to honor the great Southern playwright, Davis voted to leave the script virtually untouched. While the production might be longer than what a modern-day audience is accustomed to, he felt it was important to do the show the way Williams’ intended it.

“I was trying to do Williams’ full script without cutting it to bits — I wanted to do what he wrote,” Davis said. “He put a lot of work into every single line, not just the important parts of the scene. Other scripts I wouldn’t feel as concerned about cutting, but Williams…he really slaved over every word, and that’s important to me.”

Davis was willing to step up not only because of his love for Williams, but also because of the opportunities the local arts scene has to offer.

“At this time, there are few boundaries as to how far it can go,” Davis said. “The idea of building up the arts in this town, shedding new, younger light, is incredible.”

At the auditions in April, students from the university mingled with the community members for the first time in the company’s history, which is a sign that the community is growing and attracting more attention among young adults.

“The scene, the community — it’s growing,” Davis said. “It’s not as distant as professional theater, so it draws in people who wouldn’t usually take in a show. Coming to watch is coming to support your friends and neighbors, not just someone’s bank account.”

One of the most overlooked aspects of the theater are the people working tirelessly backstage in the dark to make sure no skirt catches fire and no shoelace gets snagged on a nail. A major attribute of the cast and crew of Theatre Oxford is their willingness to work day and night without pay, using the motivation that their work will not only help the production, but the community as a whole.

The current schedule for their upcoming season includes a ten-minute play festival in late September, “A Christmas Presence” by Dinah Swan in December, “Glengarry Glen Ross” by David Mamet in February, and “Steel Magnolias” by Robert Harling next August.

Tickets are $12 for the Wednesday and Friday performances and can be purchased at The Powerhouse or theatreoxford.com. House opens at 7:30 p.m. with a curtain time of 8 p.m.

Tickets for the dinner theater performance Thursday night are $40. Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. with an 8 p.m. curtain time.

Members of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council will receive a discount, and Theatre Oxford is always looking for willing volunteers to help with their productions.

For more information, visit theatreoxford.com or email the group at theatreoxford@gmail.com.

@ The Daily Mississippian — Oxford, Miss.

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