The town of Colquitt, Georgia had problems: poverty, unemployment and racial tension. Joy Jinks of Colquitt and a Northwestern University doctoral student named Richard Owen Geer, who happened to be working on a dissertation on performance as a community-building tool, met at a New York conference.
What came of that meeting was a musical, celebrating the history of Colquitt. Stories of Colquitt’s residents, black and white, were gathered by Richard’s team. Tennessee playwright, Jo Carson, was called in to assemble the project. Jo travels the country doing exactly this, but with a twist; Jo believes in the power of quantum storytelling. That is to say she believes in the power of telling the story truthfully, while focusing on the point that elevates it to a passage of life tale.
Named after the soup made in southwest Georgia fish camps from the drippings left from fried fish, along with whatever else is available to throw in the pan, the show, Swamp Gravy opened in Colquitt in 1994. Through song and scenes, performed mostly by Colquitt residents, the simple struggles and triumphs of real-life individuals became known and understood.
The show brought a sense of pride and humanity to this little, woe-begotten town. It became so popular, the group was purchased an old cotton mill and reinvented it. “Cotton Hall” is now home to sold-out crowds of the show.
Cotton Hall also houses the New Life Learning Center, which teaches academic and arts enrichment skills to children in the County, The Annual Swamp Gravy Storytelling Festival, The Museum of Southern Culture, and The Swamp Gravy Institute.
The Swamp Gravy Institute is the consulting and training arm of the Colquitt/Miller County Arts Council in southwest Georgia. As Swamp Gravy brought a new vitality, unity and sense of pride and hope to not only the town of Colquitt, but the entire region, the purpose of SGI is to teach others to do the same for their hometowns.
They have a lot to offer in one weekend. After all, Swamp Gravy not only raised esteem in Coquitt, but it is the largest employer in Miller County and responsible for a now thriving tourism trade as well.
Gary, Indiana is known throughout the country already. It was immortalized in song in the show The Music Man, but the rest of the story of late isn’t as charming as that song.
I have no doubt that there is a great deal of beauty to be told though. I would LOVE to hear and see the stories that outline the heritage of that city. I would also LOVE to see celebration, understanding and hope brought to this region.