It took a bit of subterfuge, but organizers of the Mississippi Theatre Association’s festival in Oxford Jan. 15-18 were able to surprise William “Peppy” Biddy with the organization’s highest honor. The Columbus native was recognized for outstanding contributions to the MTA and theater in Mississippi, receiving the Cowboy Maloney Award, named in honor of a former MTA president and former owner of Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City and Appliance Centers in the state.
According to MTA Executive Director Stephen Cunetto, “the Board of Directors voted unanimously to bestow this highest award on Biddy. Peppy has been a teacher, mentor, confidant and friend not only to Mississippi University for Women students but also to hundreds of people throughout the state. He embodies all of the qualities of a leader who quietly influences all that come in contact with him.”
Biddy is currently professor of Theatre and director of Graduate Studies (MFA program at Accadamia dell’Arte in Arrezo, Italy) at MUW.
“I am honored to be recognized by MTA and to be among the group of former recipients,” said Biddy.”One thing that makes this particularly special was the element of surprise. It’s not an award for which you apply or receive any notification that you are being considered.”
A touch of guile
Pulling off the surprise didn’t come without stress for Cunetto of Starkville, who strategized with Lee Crouse and David Carter, colleagues of Biddy’s at MUW. When they learned Biddy felt he needed to leave Oxford before the awards ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 18 due to theater obligations in Jackson, a plan was hatched to ask Biddy to chair a committee that had to report at the ceremony.
“He agreed but later decided he could do the work but have someone else deliver the report,” Cunetto said. “Next, we asked him to introduce our keynote speaker on Sunday before he left town. We thought we had this worked out perfectly.” A schedule hiccup threatened to derail even this plan, but Cunetto was eventually able to whisk Biddy on stage as MTA President Thomas Hardy announced him as the award recipient.
“It was stressful, but it was great seeing the surprised look on his face,” said Cunetto. “He has been extremely valuable to MTA and its mission. He is a very talented and kind person who genuinely loves what he does.”
During the ceremony, Hardy said, “The MTA Board is very appreciative of Peppy’s dedication to teaching and service and his commitment to improving theater arts in Mississippi. This award could not go to a more deserving individual.”
During his tenure at The W, Biddy has received the Kossen Award for Faculty Excellence, the Lowndes County Educator of the Year Award, and was named the 2008 HEADWAE Outstanding Faculty Honoree by the Mississippi Legislature. He has worked as actor, director or stage manager in productions in Texas, Virginia and in Jackson, where he has directed plays and musicals at New Stage Theatre.
Biddy has served as production manager for the Sundance Theatre Lab in Utah since 2000, and also been vice chair and chair of the MTA College/University Division, MTA secretary and served on several committees.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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