​Actors to Read at ‘Tennessee Shorts’ Tonight

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

A Tony Award winner, a “Boardwalk Empire” star, and several local thespians will offer their oratory talents to “Tennessee Shorts” at Guerry Auditorium today (Friday), Nov. 10.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m., the night will feature the short stories of authors Erin McGraw, Tony Earley, Tiana Clark, Elizabeth Spencer and Kevin Wilson.
James Crawford, Sewanee associate theatre professor, is spearheading the event, which he hopes will become an annual tradition.
“I have wanted to put on a program like ‘Tennessee Shorts’ since the day I interviewed to teach theatre at Sewanee,” Crawford said. “This place has such an extraordinary literary history. It’s such a simple format, and one that I love: actors reading aloud beautifully written short stories. That’s what we all crave, isn’t it? A good story well told.”
Among the performers is Julie White, a prolific actress in TV, movies and on Broadway, and a 2007 Tony Award winner for best lead actress in a play. Two of White’s nephews attend the University of the South.
Joining White is Wrenn Schmidt, who played Julia Sagorsky in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” and also starred in the Cinemax horror series “Outcast.” Schmidt was Crawford’s student when he taught acting at Southern Methodist University.
“I loved his approach to the work, his compassion and his humor,” Schmidt said. “We’ve stayed in touch since I graduated. When Jim contacted me about ‘Tennessee Shorts,’ I jumped on board. It’s a great opportunity to experiment with storytelling in a different form.”
Schmidt, who is currently working on “The Looming Tower” for Hulu, said she’s feeling delighted and curious to perform “Instrument of Destruction” by Elizabeth Spencer, a Mississippi native best known for her novella “The Light in the Piazza.”
Spencer will be unable to make the event, but Wilson, author of “The Family Fang” which became a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman, is looking forward to seeing his short story “Mortal Kombat” performed.
“I’m really honored that Jim Crawford would choose my story for this event; we’re lucky to have him in Sewanee,” Wilson said. “And Erin McGraw is one of my favorite writers; Tony Earley was my mentor at Vanderbilt, and Tiana Clark is a friend of mine, so I’m really excited to see all of the performances.”
The associate professor of English at Sewanee said his story of “two teenaged boys obsessed with video games and trivia” is more serious than his usual work. Sewanee senior Will Burton-Edwards is tasked with being the voice for “Mortal Kombat.”
“I want to do this particular piece because it exposes a side of homosexuality that not a lot of the world gets to see,” Burton-Edwards said. “We see gay men as either flowery queers or as sexually repressed and bullied nobodies. We’ve managed to compartmentalize homosexuality into these two genres, when, at the end of the day, homosexual people are just as sexually complex and human as the rest of us.”
Burton-Edwards, a physics and theatre double major, has nine-years acting experience and studied abroad at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Crawford will also read a story, along with Karen Proctor, a social innovator, former director of community relations for the NBA, and current special assistant to the provost at Sewanee.
“Tennessee Shorts” is inspired by “Texas Bound,” an event at the Dallas Museum of Art, where Texas actors read the works of Texas authors. Sewanee alum Carolyn Bess is director of the museum’s Arts & Letters Live program, which coordinates “Texas Bound.” She said the event there has included readings by the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Luke Wilson and Kathy Bates and the work of authors such as Larry McMurtry, Sandra Cisneros and Steve Martin.
Crawford consulted with Bess when designing the Tennessee event. Bess said she gave him the same advice she does her own team.
“I approach planning an evening of stories as I would a menu for a dinner party, by choosing an appetizer, entrée and a dessert. So that there is variety among the stories, make sure to balance the heavier, meatier entrée (which might be darker and more serious) with stories that are light-hearted, humorous, and whimsical,” Bess said.
“Tennessee Shorts” contains adult language and themes. The event is free.