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Playwright Henley to visit MSA

A Mississippi playwright whose work has influenced the world oftheatre is coming to the arts school to impart her wisdom on thestate’s leading young art students.

Jackson native Beth Henley will be the second guest of theMississippi School of the Arts’ Artist in Residence Program, cominginto town Wednesday night to work with the theatre and literaryarts departments for the next three days. She commands anoutstanding portfolio of works that have been performed on Broadwayand made into TV specials and movies, including “The Wake of JameyFoster,” “The Miss Firecracker Contest” and “Crimes of theHeart.”

The film version of “Crimes of the Heart” – starring DianeKeaton, Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard – was nominatedfor an Academy Award. That was after the original play won theDrama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play and the PulitzerPrize for Drama.

“She’s award-winning in a lot of other ways, but that’s a prettybig deal,” said MSA Director Suzanne Hirsch.

Henley will work with the drama and writing students in variousworkshops throughout the rest of the week, critiquing students’works, teaching her own methods and discussing her career. As aprofessor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, a boardmember of the The Fellowship of Southern Writers and a member ofthe Pen/Faulkner’s Writer’s Advisory Council, she has plenty ofpertinent information to help MSA students plan their professionallives, Hirsch said.

“She’ll help students take their writing to the next level,”Hirsch said. “She’s very inspirational to our students for one, buttwo, a lot of her work is generated because of her backgroundliving in the South.”

The public is invited to see the results of Henley’s teachingsThursday at 7 p.m. in Lampton Auditorium, where she’ll give alecture and students will perform two scenes from two of heracclaimed plays.

Dr. Robert Brooks, director of MSA’s theatre department, saidhis students are ready for Henley’s advice on their own works. Hesaid students will have her review a student-written play thedepartment plans to perform at the Mississippi Theatre AssociationFestival.

“She’ll read them and talk about where they’re strong, wherethey might need improvements, and her input will be very valuable,”Brooks said. “It will give students hope to be able to talk to her.They want to try to find out some of her secrets to success.”