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Smiles were the order of the day when the Pickled Pepper Players visited the Aldersgate Afterschool Program in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Photo/Mike Murphy



Katrina Survivors Enchanted
By Student Theatre Troupe

Mike Murphy
Marshall University

The excitement of being in The Crescent City of New Orleans for the 2002 USITT Conference & Stage Expo has been the source of many fond memories. Festive images of the Superdome, Bourbon Street, and Mardi Gras parades come to mind. Until this past September, there were serious discussions, both formal and informal, about trying to plan a return visit. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have forced the communities along the Gulf Coast to make substantial adjustments to their long-term plans as well as day-to-day activities.

Following the storms that battered the Gulf Coast, aid and support from around the world was made available by foreign governments, multinational corporations, government and private aid agencies, and thousands of individuals. Assistance came in the form of cash donations, relief services, materials, and supplies. An innumerable host of fundraising activities were designed to solicit support. Auctions, raffles, sporting events, and benefit performances were held to raise funds. All of these were, are, and will be needed by the affected communities for many years to come.

When considering ways to assist the people of the Gulf Coast a group of Marshall University students determined that a benefit performance of their children's theatre productions was a good idea. Actually taking the shows to the Gulf Coast as a personal gift to the devastated communities would be much more personal and meaningful.

Pickled Pepper Players, the Marshall University Theatre department's Children's Theatre class consisting of Krista Carter, Jennifer Edens, Samantha Elkins, Shay Hannon, Elissa Horrell, Karah Markins, and Adam Stephens, made a commitment to carry live entertainment to the children of the storm. They willingly gave up their Thanksgiving break and the study week prior to finals for an opportunity to provide a character-building diversion to children in four states.

Two productions, Professor Pocus written by Lisa Higgins, and Molly and Her Marvelous Mind produced with special arrangement from the University of Alabama- Birmingham, were directed by Bess Park Reynolds. In both shows, the characters take journeys of discovery that help them better define themselves in socially responsible and character-building situations. These shows were already packaged for tour to schools in and around Huntington, West Virginia where Marshall is located.

The goal was to package the tour for an extended run that would not place a burden on any of the affected communities. To that end, they obtained an RV with a generator, camping supplies, lots of food, and water then hit the road. Marshall University Theatre's Gulf Coast Relief Tour covered four states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) in 13 locations for 15 different community groups with 24 performances - all in the span of eight days. Including travel days, they were gone from Marshall for 10 days and covered nearly 2,400 miles.

Along the way, the Pickled Pepper Players had a character-building journey of their own. They experienced first hand the devastation and damage that is endemic along the coast.

Company members became aware of both the physical and emotional catastrophes visited upon the residents in the South. The long term effects of the storms will take many years to remedy. Rather than allow a difficult situation to beat residents down, company members witnessed a sense of determination and inner strength in every community.

The human spirit and determined goals of the citizens to rebuild leaves little doubt that, in the trying times to come, there remains well discerned joy and accomplishment that comes from having endured and overcome shared loss.

From the French Quarter, to the back bayous, to the beaches, to the moss covered oaks, there is no doubt that we will again hear, "Laissez le bon temps roulé!"

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