‘Swamp Gravy’ celebrates 25 years with ‘Listen Here!’

Published 4:55 pm Friday, September 29, 2017

By Susanne Reynolds

Special to The Post-Searchlight

Swamp Gravy has been telling stories and stirring up its “magic” for 25 years this October.

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Every weekend in October and March, Swamp Gravy will celebrate its Silver Anniversary with its brand-new production, Swamp Gravy: Listen Here, directed by Katherine Willis Cook and written by Will Murdock and Susanne Reynolds.

There is no doubt that within the past 25 years Swamp Gravy has touched the lives of cast members and audiences literally around the world.

According to Swamp Gravy co-founder, Joy Jinks, she never dreamed Swamp Gravy would make such an impression on people’s lives and last for 25 years—and counting.

“I am filled with happiness and pride and excitement to celebrate Swamp Gravy’s 25th birthday. Never did I dream that it would last so long,” said Jinks. “We were originally just going to do it for one year, then five years, but we had a tiger by the tail and couldn’t let go.”

In October of 1992, Swamp Gravy: Sketches officially opened its first performance in the old Miller County High School Auditorium.

In 1993, Jinks along with other diligent community members raised funds in Colquitt and other surrounding communities to prepare for Swamp Gravy’s next season.

Jinks said, “We did a two hour show in Cotton Hall in 1994—and two years later, we performed at the Olympics, the Governor’s Mansion and the Kennedy Center. Swamp Gravy was an idea whose time had come—and there has been no stopping it ever since.”

The countless volunteers, performers, board members and committed staff have made it all possible. Jinks has high hopes for the next 25 years of Swamp Gravy.

“My hope for the next 25 years is that we can continue providing wholesome, heart-warming entertainment to our audiences—and that we continue to offer a creative venue to our talented young people. With that, we just might keep small town values, friendliness and the volunteer spirit alive and well in this changing fast-paced society,” she said.

Katherine Willis Cook, Swamp Gravy Artistic Director, who joined the Cotton Hall staff in 2006, also has high hopes for what people can gain from Swamp Gravy’s stories.

She said, “I would love for people to gain a new appreciation for each other’s stories, along with the new perspectives we can gain when we take the time to really listen to one another.”

Over the past 25 years, Swamp Gravy has crossed generations and brought people together from all walks of life—and has no doubt changed the lives of many. Cook recalled how Swamp Gravy shaped her life.

“It’s hard to quantify what I’ve gained from Swamp Gravy,” began Cook. “I’ve met so many people during my time here and every one of them has influenced my life.

They have shown me how quickly complete strangers can become family, how people can step up for each other if you just reach out—and how complex, and yet, beautiful life can be with strength that can come through faith.”

She continued by saying how some people have challenged her and many have uplifted her.

“It’s because of them I have learned so much about myself, about who I am, what I’m capable of, and what’s really important to me,” Cook concluded. “In the end, that’s what is at the heart of Swamp Gravy, and everything we do: people, the stories that bring them here and the story we create together.”

Growing up in Swamp Gravy for many is a life changing experience—and leaving to go off to college is one of the biggest hardships the teenagers of Swamp Gravy face.

Recently, Grace Henley of Colquitt went off to college, but she has carried the magic that can only be found on the Cotton Hall stage with her.

Henley joined Swamp Gravy when she was 15 and loves telling everyone she meets how it changed her life.

Before Henley joined Swamp Gravy, she did not enjoy living in a small town and “counted the days until she could get out and move on to something bigger.”

“Joining Swamp Gravy made me fall in love with Colquitt,” she stated. “Swamp Gravy made me realize that even the smallest of places mean something.”

During her first season of Swamp Gravy, Henley realized what it meant to be a part of a community.

She said, “It gave me a sense of direction and purpose that I had never experience before. My life was completely turned around by Swamp Gravy and it made me a much happier person.”

She is currently pursuing a theater degree at Georgia Southern University.

This season two locals who grew up in Swamp Gravy wrote the script for the 25th Anniversary.

Will Murdock of Arlington joined Swamp Gravy in 2005 when he was 14 years old. He was also the playwright for Swamp Gravy: Live and Learn, Swamp Gravy: Home, and the founder of the Colquitt-Miller Arts Council Youth Theater.

Joining Swamp Gravy turned out to be a life changer for the young playwright.

“Swamp Gravy has taught me how to listen—not just on stage, but in life, too,” he said. “When I was eighteen, I was cast in a role that had three lines and of course, I was young and cocky and thought I could handle more—but it forced me to stay on stage the entire show night after night, and actively listen to the stories being told. I think I learned more about acting and how to take care of other people’s stories in that one show than in any other singular moment of my life.”

Susanne Reynolds of Colquitt joined Swamp Gravy in 2004 at the age of fourteen. Since that time, she has volunteered with CMAC’s Youth Theater, story gathering and photographing performances.

She was thrilled when given the opportunity to be a part of writing the 25th Anniversary script.

“It’s a truly magical experience being able to sit down with someone who may not think their life is anything special and finding the extraordinary in the things that are considered ordinary,” said Reynolds.

“There’s a sense of magic in that itself—but to take these stories and share them with so many people and see the tear, smile or ‘aha! I remember that’ look on someone’s face as they hear someone’s story that makes them feel something is the real magic being brought to life by a group of talented community members.”

For both Murdock and Reynolds, there have been many memorable times had at Cotton Hall Theater, but there are those moments that stand out above the rest.

According to Murdock, he enjoyed getting to sit in the audience and hearing their reactions.

He said, “Last year, the show had some really surprising moments, so it was really fun to experience each audience react to what was going on or trying to figure out what was going to happen. I’m excited to see which moments catch people in this show.”

Reynolds stated it was very difficult to pick out a favorite Swamp Gravy experience, but if she had to choose it would be getting to know and work with the older or “veteran” cast members of Swamp Gravy.

“I’ll never forget the older cast members being so encouraging during rehearsals and shows,” she said. “Especially Ms. Gayle Grimsley. I’ll never forget her telling me on multiple occasions how proud she was of me. She’d always say, ‘Miss Susanne, thank God for you and all you are doing. You can do anything you want to do. I’m just so proud of you.’ Even though she is no longer with us here on Earth, her words still radiate within me in every aspect of my life. I can just hear her saying it now—and I’m still listening to her words.”

With “Swamp Gravy: Listen Here,” audience will get an inside look at the lives of the ladies down at the telephone company who are busy connecting wires and telling stories of the wacky and heartfelt phone calls that come their way; and Oren, the mailman, who stays busy delivering all sorts of letters.

Exploring the truths, lies and miscommunications in between, Listen Here is sure to be a Swamp Gravy experience that new and long-time supporting audience members will remember for years to come.

Join the Swamp Gravy cast at Cotton Hall as they stir up a bit of Swamp Gravy magic with Swamp Gravy: Listen Here for its 25th year by visiting www.swampgravy.com or by calling 229.758.5450.