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Story gatherers from the area were charged with the task of recording stories from the community. Once they were gathered, the stories were transcribed and put together in a script by playwright Jo Carson. Swamp Gravy began small, just a one time event performed in the elementary school auditorium. Since then, it has grown into a seasonal run of thirty-two shows annually. A new show premieres each October with new stories from the town. Original music is added by local volunteers to complement the stories.Valerie and Presto
Colquitt was a small town, struggling like many of its kind. Projects like Swamp Gravy and the Millennium Mural Project have succeeded in bringing tourism to the area.
The cast consists of 60-80 volunteer actors. Many cast members have been with the project throughout its life.
Swamp Gravy has become a national and international model for community theater. Delegates from Colquitt have traveled to nearly 15 states and several foreign nations in order to start other projects of the same kind.
The Arts-Council's flagstaff production, Swamp Gravy, has paved the way for other shows at Cotton Hall Theater including professional productions, variety shows, and youth theater shows.
December 3, 2003 saw the world premiere of Cotton Hall's first professional production,A Southern Christmas Carol with book, music and lyrics by Rob Lauer—who also directed the production.
A Southern Christmas Carol was staged with a cast of 10 professional actors, and received critical raves and was a box-office success. The theater staged it again in both 2004 and 2005. Due to the number of Holiday season tourists coming to Colquitt to see the show, sales at local shops and restaurants reached new highs for the months of November and December.
During the three years that the show was produced at Cotton Hall, a number of professional actor were featured who have since had success on Broadway and in the music industry. Character actor Peter Lewis created the role of 'Old Man Scrooge' in 2003 and repeated it in 2004. Singer and actor Rubin Singleton created the role of 'Tiny' in 2003 and repeated it in 2004 before landing a recording contract and performing with Beyoncé and Josh Groban. Karen Beyer, who also choreographed Swamp Gravy and Christmas Carol, created the role of 'Missionary Lady' before going on to appear as a regular in the Lifetime Channel's series Army Wives. Actress Marissa McGowen created the role of 'Fan' before going on to star in the Broadway revival of "A Little Night Music." Andrew Frace played 'the Ghost of Christmas Past' in 2004 and went on to appear in the nation tour of Disney's The Lion King and then star in the Las Vegas production of the Tony Awarding winning Best music of 2005, "Jersey Boys." Michael Mahany played the role of 'the Ghost of Christmas Past' in 2005 and then went on appear in the original Off Broadway production of "Spring Awakening" and as the male lead in Disney's High School On Stage, and in the film Sex In the City 2.Matt Gibson, who played Nephew Fred and Eb in the 2005 production, appeared with Patti LePone in the Tony Award-winning 2008 Broadway revival of "Gypsy."
In the summer of 2004, Rob Lauer directed CMAC's second professional production Smoke on the Mountain The show featured Edmund Bagnell, who went on to star in the role of Toby opposite Judy Kaye in the first national tour of the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd.
In the summer of 2005, Rob Lauer wrote, designed and directed a new dramatization of Huckleberry Finn with music by Peter Lewis, and starring Edmung Bagnell.
In 2006, after Rob Lauer's departure as Artistic Director, Richard Geer, of Community Performance Inc. went on to direct two more professional productions Gospel of the Rock and Swamp Gravy Songbook. These plays were penned by Jules Corriere.
Gospel of the Rock told the story of the Anglin brothers- two of the only men ever thought to have escaped Alcatraz prison. Clarence and J.W. Anglin were good boys who just managed to find trouble. After escaping several smaller jails, and robbing an Alabama bank with a water gun, the brothers were sentenced to time in Alcatraz. Gospel of the Rock featured a cast of both locals and professional actors from Georgia and South Carolina. Three of the five cast members were Colquitt natives- one a state patrol man, one a farmer, and the other—a teacher.
Swamp Gravy Songbook told a story of two families struggling to survive in a drought plagued area of farmland. The families, one black and one white, are forced to work together in order to live. This script was built around the catalog of songs written over the years from Swamp Gravy. The show featured mainly local actors.
In place of Southern Christmas Carol, December 2006 saw the premiere of Cotton Hall Christmas, another show written by Corriere. Cotton Hall Christmas followed a format similar to Swamp Gravy, putting stories from the community together to make the play.
May-Haw , Colquitt's own variety show, showcases local musical talent as well as the humor of volunteer cast members. The production began in 2005 as a fundraiser for "Nuthin' But A Will," the 11th mural to be painted in town as a part of CMAC's Millennium Mural Project, and has since become a staple of the Cotton Hall season.
The show takes place in the studio of the WMHAW Radio Station, with hosts Floyd B. Loyd, Queezle Erskin, and Marvin Spitznargle. The motley trio grounds the show in a firm foundation of funny. They are assisted in their joke telling by a cast of volunteer comedians who are specially trained to tell the corniest jokes they know! Whereas Swamp Gravy generally boasts an audience of "out-of-towners," May-Haw is more of a local favorite.
As of 2010, May-Haw has continued to fund portions of the Millennium Mural Project, as well as contributing to the Youth Theater and other projects. May-Haw consistently plays to sold out crowds, and is one of the Arts-Council's most successful shows. May-Haw is now performed twice a year, in April and January. The April performances are scheduled to coincide with the National Mayhaw Festival.
The CMAC Youth Theater was begun in the summer of 2007. Its first production, Peter Pan, was directed by high school sophomore Will Murdock. The show boasted a cast of fifty volunteer actors ranging in age from five years old to adult. Since, the Youth Theater had produced Bridge to Terabithia, Willy Wonka, Christmastime at the Circus Marvello , and most recently Alice in Wonderland.
Two-thousand and eight was a full year for the CMAC Youth Theater. Bridge to Terabithia was staged in the InterACT Building, a facility owned by the Arts-Council that was not in use at the time. Curtains, stages, chairs, and lighting were added to the empty building to create the temporary theater. The show opened in February, just prior to the Spring season of Swamp Gravy.
Later that year, in June, Willy Wonka hit the stage. It was also directed by Murdock, with Susanne Reynolds and Preston Messer assisting. This show also boasted a large cast of more than fifty.
December ushered in a third youth theater show for 2008. Christmastime at the Circus Marvello was written for Cotton Hall by Will Murdock. Marvello told the journey of seven runaway orphans as they try to put together a "traditional old fashioned Christmas." Along the way they are antagonized by a brooding and lonely widow, the police, and an unusually aggressive turkey.
Alice in Wonderland was the fifth production for the CMAC Youth Theater in 2009. The 2010 Youth Theater Production will be James and the Giant Peach. It will be staged in Cotton Hall the last weekend of June. For more information about the CMAC Youth Theater, go to www.swampgravy.com