Performing Arts in Meridian, MS
For patrons of and participants in the performing arts, Meridian offers a treasure trove of venues, shows and acting opportunities, with a long tradition of arts appreciation. On any given weekend, a resident or visitor might take in a performance at the Temple Theatre for the Performing Arts, Mississippi State University's Riley Center, the historic Grand Opera House or the Meridian Little Theatre, a community theater with the largest membership of any in the Southeast.
A Rich History
"Meridian has a legacy of performers that can be seen in her rich heritage of artists who, through the years, have graced the stages in Meridian," says Sidney Covington, a long-time actor and volunteer at the Meridian Little Theatre. "One needs only to visit our Riley Performing Arts Center and visit the Grand Opera House, where the likes of George Gershwin and Helen Hayes performed, to know that we've been at it a long time. We've handed this legacy down through the years, and it continues to grow."
While some larger cities have lost their symphony orchestras, Meridian continues to support its own Meridian Symphony Orchestra, evidence of the community's commitment to the arts. In addition to offering year-round performances for adults, Meridian also incorporates the arts into its school systems. Meridian Little Theatre, for instance, hosts a vibrant and active youth theater, CenterStage, which hosts a summer workshop for children, stages an elaborate annual production and produces 22 performances per play for the schools in and around Meridian.
"As a city, we value the rich contributions the arts play toward our community and economic development," Covington says.
A Leader's Legacy
While Meridian residents from all walks of life contribute to the city's performance legacy, no one has played a larger role than the late Jimmy Pigford, full-time director at the Meridian Little Theatre from 1965 until his death in February 2013.
A Meridian native, Pigford went to Hollywood after college and embarked on a notable stage and screen career during the 1950s. He returned home to Meridian in 1960, "bringing with him a passion and determination to give back to his hometown," Covington says. "Jimmy threw himself into creating the Meridian Little Theatre and set the standard for what community theater should be. His charm and charisma drew people to him, and his enthusiasm was contagious. The education he gave on the stage served us well. Always teaching, always coaching, always encouraging, Jimmy did as much to shape the lives of each individual as he did to shape the theatrical profile of Meridian."
As the city's theatrical community mourns the loss of a favorite son, it is determined to keep the legacy alive. Just as Meridian has always celebrated life on the stage, it will continue. Being involved in community has helped generations of Meridian residents grow and stretch their talents and their worldviews, and "we want that to continue," Covington says.
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