May 20, 2024

This spring, a Hampden-Sydney College Compass course in English allowed students to collaborate with Waterworks Players, a small community theater in Farmville, Virginia.

Engl. 258 Literature of The South EL-OFF

students and actors standing on a stageContributed by Jameson Smith ’26
In collaboration with Holt Blythe ’24, Brayden Edwards ’25, and Will Pickren ’24

A Compass course taught by Johns Progressor of English Sarah Hardy, Literature of The South (ENGL 258) covers material from the time of William Faulkner (early 20th century) until the present day. Through reading and analysis, students learn a variety of themes related to the American South, collaborating to form framing questions related to these themes. Throughout this process, students weigh these framing questions against the texts read. Following this reflection, the class concluded that not all pre-existing stereotypes around the South are necessarily true. One of the analyzed texts was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, hereafter referred to as Cat.

Cat is a classic Southern play written by Tennessee Williams. What makes the play a classic is its embedded elements of tradition, Southern culture, values, and family qualms. While jovial at times, the play can be very suspenseful. This spring’s class collaborated with the Waterworks Players, a performing arts theatre in Farmville, Virginia, as they put on their production of Cat. This collaboration proved to be a great example of what Hampden-Sydney men can learn from, and in turn give back to, the community. While conveying dramatic elements from the play is a large task for even larger theaters, the class devoted themselves to ensure that Waterworks performers were as prepared as possible to succeed in their production.

This collaboration started over the winter of 2023-2024, where every student in the class conducted research on a community theater in our hometowns. Collectively, everyone learned a lot about the variety of theaters from our hometowns. From size to budget, a common thread between all these theaters was the idea that it takes a village to complete even the smallest tasks. Due to this fact, the class periodically spent time at Waterworks’ volunteer days on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. During this time, students organized their woodshed, built, and painted sets, ushered, or ran the concession stand.

The next task was collecting dramaturgy projects undertaken by several groups in the class. These projects consisted of drafted material for the playbill, informational posters that would be displayed in the lobby during performances, and articles for The Hampden-Sydney Tiger, Longwood Rotunda, and The Farmville Herald. Through these projects, the class learned about not just the history and inner workings of Cat but also the work that goes into producing a play at a smaller community theater.

After the play, I felt refreshed to see how the actors and directors went about their performance. I never knew how much goes into making a play happen. It was eye-opening for me.

Max Pietrykowski ’24

students watching a rehearsal of a playOn several occasions, members of the play, both actors and directors, visited campus to gain insight from the class on different aspects of the play. The first guest, Director Sean Dowse, came to discuss the idea of fathers and sons in a Southern context with the class. Two of the actors, Big Daddy and Brick, visited the class to perform a scene from Act Two, where a father and son have a very serious and emotional discussion. From this, the class saw our feedback being utilized by the volunteers at Waterworks.

As showtime got closer, Dr. Hardy and Longwood University Associate Professor of English John Miller brought their Southern literature classes together to discuss plans for a talk-back session that would be held during the Sunday matinee. This gathering, in a very Southern way, included a shared meal and was held in Hampden-Sydney’s College Church Fellowship Hall. While students indulged themselves in amazing food, they discussed several Southern poems and drafted questions for the director and cast members of Cat.

The shows went off without a hitch. Both the Longwood and Hampden-Sydney classes commented on the beauty of the performance. The talk-back session was intriguing, with a large crowd staying after the show and providing very insightful knowledge and asking thoughtful questions.

This experience was eye opening for all involved. Economics major Max Pietrykowski ’24 stated, “After the play, I felt refreshed to see how the actors and directors went about their performance. I never knew how much goes into making a play happen. It was eye-opening for me.”

The Hampden-Sydney students learned that our voices and work can be utilized in a very important way in our communities both while at college and at home. None of this would be possible without the volunteers and the board members at Waterworks Players, our friends in Dr. Miller’s Southern literature class, Hampden-Sydney College, the Compass Program, and, of course, Dr. Sarah Hardy.

The Compass Program

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