In 1983 we organized Peanut Butter & Jelly Theater, a troupe of high school students who work intensively each summer with a visiting theater professional to produce a performance promoting literacy. It began as a strictly local operation: the troupe toured to five neighborhood playgrounds in Claiborne County, performing skits based on folktales, nursery rhymes, poems and songs, and serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool-Aid after the performances.
Since that beginning, the troupe has performed also for organizations like the Mississippi Theatre Association, the Mississippi Speech Association, the Mississippi Library Association, the Fund for the Mid South, and dozens of libraries, boys and girls clubs, and nutrition sites all over the state. Four members of the troupe have gone on to receive additional training as scholarship students at Northwestern University's National High School Institute. In Summer 2002 we performed for 4,352 children in 37 shows around the state.
In addition to our local company, MCC began sponsoring local performances of touring theater companies and musicians as early as 1985, bringing to the community such performers as Carpetbag Theater, Cynthia Watts, John O'Neal, Sam Chatmon, Billy Jean Young, and Theaterworks/USA. All of the performances were open to the general public without charge, and all were chosen to reflect some aspect of the African-American cultural experience. In 1989 we brought Cornerstone Theater to the county for a five- month residency, during which they involved some 70 members of the local community, black and white, as actors, musicians, designers, and stage hands in a performance of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, adapted to the local idiom and social concerns of our community. The show ran to full houses for 12 performances and received national attention. In 1995 we commissioned Nayo Watkins to write a piece using the oral histories we have collected over the years. We performed What It Is, This Freedom? for 500 people in conjunction with the opening of No Easy Journey, an exhibit of the Civil Rights Movement in Claiborne County, and a public forum entitled Time For A Change.