Tennessee Williams, Tallulah Bankhead and Truman Capote — the 17th annual Tennessee Williams Tribute Sept. 7-9 will “unite” all three. The multi-day event celebrates the literary legacy of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and poet Tennessee Williams, born in Columbus March 26, 1911.
Founded by Brenda Caradine, the Tribute also attracts cultural tourism, promotes academic research and offers events, most of them free, that range from playful entertainment to thoughtful reflection. Broadway and equity actors, respected scholars and even a royal guest are among highlights, as are area actors, a pair of vintage movies and a library exhibit. All events are in downtown Columbus, very near where Williams was born and lived as a young child.
This year’s theme — “Tennessee, Tallulah and Truman … Birds of a Feather” — links three legends in Southern culture whose larger-than-life personalities defined an era of innovation in literature and entertainment, organizers said.
Continuing the annual Tribute is the work of the nonprofit Tennessee Williams Tribute Committee.
“We work so hard so that people will remember the works of Tennessee Williams, as he is without doubt one of the greatest playwrights of all time,” said Tribute chair Jerry Fortenberry. “The lessons one can learn from his works, which are deeply seated in symbolism, are simply amazing. He was truly the master, and hopefully we can inspire some young person to pursue a career in writing.”
A complete Tribute schedule is available at tennesseewilliamstribute.org, but a sampling of activities includes:
Poetry and porch plays
Tribute weekend begins with a poetry hour at 4 p.m. Friday at Three Sisters Pie Co. at 422 Main St. It precedes the “Stella” Shouting Contest at 5:30 p.m. at Hollyhocks about a block away, at 204 Fifth St. N.
C.T. Salazar hosts the poetry reading.
“We wanted to bring back the poetry component to the Tribute because Tennessee Williams was a poet as well as a playwright. He published two collections of poetry. I’m excited for this event; there’s not a lot of exposure to his poetry.”
Participants are signing up in advance to read poems by Williams, as well as some original work. To inquire about reading, email Salazar at email@example.com.
Porch plays will bring some of Williams’ characters to life Saturday beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the porch of Whitehall, the antebellum home of Dr. and Mrs. Joe Boggess at 607 Third St. So. Area thespians including Spence Andrews, Laura Beth Berry, Cherri Golden, Vicki Hill, Daniel Talley and Shane and Melissa Tubbs will perform excerpts from several plays.
“There is a kind of a core group of people who love being in Tennessee Williams’ plays here,” Berry said. “They’ve been involved in them for several years and have an understanding of his recurring themes, his language and style of writing.”
Fun at the (free) movies
Two films based on Williams’ writing will be screened at the Rosenzweig Arts Center during the Tribute. The first, “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951, PG), starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, begins at 8 p.m. Friday. It appropriately follows the “Stella” Shouting Contest which invites participants to do their best Brando and his famous scream from the iconic film.
“This is going to be fun. We’re adding a little interactive ‘melo’ to the drama at this movie, so to speak,” said Berry. At different points in the film, the audience is invited to get in on the action. Come dressed as a character from the movie and, if you have playing cards, a match, Red Hot candies or a bottle to blow bubbles with at home, bring them, Berry urged.
On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., “Boom,” starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (1968, PG), will screen at the arts center. It’s based on Williams’ play “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” Scholar of the Year recipient Stuart Noel and Broadway actor Joel Vig will lead a discussion afterward.
A Moon Lake Gala
This elegant evening with heavy hors d’oeuvres, silent auction and live classical music at the Columbus Arts Council’s Rosenzweig Arts Center at 6 p.m. Saturday will feature Vig as Truman Capote in his one-man show, “Truman Talks Tennessee and Tallulah.”
Vig embodies the famous Alabama-born writer and raconteur as he chats about the famous playwright and the actress who both had a momentous impact on American culture, organizers said.
Vig was one of the original stars of “Hairspray” on Broadway and also a vocalist on its Grammy-winning cast album.
Equity actors Beth Bartley and Curtis Billings of New Orleans will also entertain gala-goers with a scene from Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” directed by Maxwell Williams, artistic director of Le Petit Theater du Vieux Carre of New Orleans.
Bartley performed at the Tribute in 2015, 2012 and 2010. In addition to numerous roles in Williams’ plays, she produced his “The Mutilated” in New York, nominated for a Drama League Award. Her television credits include “NCIS New Orleans,” “Law & Order” and “Mercy.”
Billings appeared with Cicely Tyson on Broadway in “The Trip to Bountiful.” Off-Broadway, he performed in “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore” with Olympia Dukakis.
As for the royal guest, Princess Tina Radziwill, of the Polish royal family and niece of Jacqueline Kennedy, is slated to attend to celebrate her friend Stuart Noel’s Scholar of the Year recognition.
Noel is professor of English and film at Perimeter College at Georgia State University. He has frequently contributed his expertise to Columbus’ Tribute and also to the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. He will be honored Saturday morning at Tom’s Columbus, a free breakfast of discussion and local lore surrounding the life and works of Williams at 8 a.m. at the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center.
Other events include Tribute-themed Sunday sermons by the Rev. Anne Harris at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 318 College St., at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., plus a tour of Victorian homes Sunday afternoon from 1-4 p.m.
The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, 314 Seventh St. N., will also house an exhibit of Tennessee Williams memorabilia throughout September.
The Moon Lake Gala ($50) and Tour of Homes ($20) are the only ticketed events. All others are free to the public. A donation of $100 to the Tribute includes an all-weekend Desire pass.
Tribute Committee member Marthalie Porter said, “It seems important to continue this because Tennessee Williams is known throughout the world, and he was born here and spent several years here at the beginning of his life. We need to celebrate that, learn more about it and foster writing and creativity. We do try to have something for everyone.”
For more information, to purchase tickets or make a donation, go to tennesseewilliamstribute.org, or call 662-368-8591.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Tennessee Williams Tribute
WHEN: Sept. 7-9
WHERE: Downtown Columbus locations
TICKETS: Most events free. Moon Lake Gala $50; Victorian Home Tour $20. Desire Pass contribution $100. Tickets, schedule at tennesseewilliamstribute.org or 662-368-8591.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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