Mississippi is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and local students have partnered with the Mississippi Humanities Council and The Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education for a unique stage presentation Thursday evening.

Members of Stage 2 — a theatre training group for teens — along with students from Meridian Public Schools will breathe life into some fascinating historical photos using storytelling, drama, creative movement and music. Project Director is Dr. Penny Wallin, executive director for Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education (MAAE) and associate professor of Educational Leadership at MSU-Meridian. MAAE teaching artists include Richelle Putnam, Heather LaCoste, Susie Johnson and Da Terrence Roberts.

To develop historical awareness, the students researched an array of local vintage photos from the Lauderdale County Department of Archives & History featuring individuals of diverse backgrounds, engaged in creative writing opportunities to capture the stories and trained in various drama strategies as well as creative movement in order to bring the photos to life.   

“Stage 2 students have worked hard during our Monday evening meetings to process a lot of new information, and some have stretched far beyond their comfort zones,” said Susie Johnson, director of Stage 2.

“They have exhibited discipline, determination, creativity, and growth as they’ve worked hard to tell stories in a totally different manner … Each small group chose a photo, learned as much as they could about it, wrote a creative monologue – then added movement and music,” “We’ve especially enjoyed working with our three guest teaching artists,” Johnson said.

The teaching artists were just as complimentary of the students. When asked what it was like working with 61 teens, Putnam replied, “Working with the Stage 2 students on photos/interpretations/monologues has been a thrilling experience. We’ve had good communication… They have stepped out and really researched their era and event and I’ve appreciated these efforts tremendously.”

The four Teaching Artists chosen for the project are all well-known for a strong commitment to arts-education and a passion for their art forms.

Terrence Roberts is a jail/griot or storyteller in the West African tradition of Jaliyaa and embraces the teaching power of words and music. He is a popular guest teaching artist and shares his talent for storytelling, creative writing, and public speaking throughout the region.

Richelle Putnam, a MAC Teaching Artist/Roster Artist (Literacy), is a Humanities Speaker, and a 2014 MAC Literacy Fellowship recipient. She brings a wealth of knowledge pertaining to Meridian’s history, along with her creative writing and musicianship.

Heather LaCoste has served in the Meridian Public and Lauderdale County school districts both as a special educator and academic interventionist. She has a strong dance and performing arts background as well as a proven commitment for arts-integrated education.

Susie McEachin Johnson is executive director of Meridian Symphony Association and founding/artistic director of Meridian Performing Arts Center/Stage 2.

The students’ work over the past several weeks will culminate with a theatrical performance on featuring the actors, enlarged vintage photos and music. Immediately following the performance, Northwest students will provide a Living Gallery Walk/Wax Museum during the reception.

“This project has made Mississippi’s vast and rich history more accessible to our students by allowing them the opportunity to make personal connections to it,” LaCoste said. “The writing portion alone has required a great amount of focus and the use of higher-order thinking skills. Moreover, by incorporating movement into each piece, these students have internalized these historical moments in a way which never will allow them to forget what they have learned.”

Next month, a community celebration of the bicentennial year will take place. In it, a video recording and a published booklet of the original photos, tableau photos, and the written stories will be released recording the highlights from Meridian’s 157 years.

In addition, a media event will be held at which a DVD and bound booklet will be donated to the Lauderdale County Archives and the Meridian City Archives.


Want to go? What: Bringing Vintage Photos to Life (One performance)

When: Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Meridian High School Auditorium


Admission: Free

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