A perspective of aactWORLDFEST from Stacy Howell
Executive Director, Mississippi Theatre Association
Theatre Standards Co-Chair, Mississippi Department of Education
Contractor, Mississippi Whole Schools, Mississippi Arts Commission
Board Member, Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” I first learned of this quote by William Shakespeare when I was a part of a high school traveling troupe in Meridian, MS. At that point in my life, I never would have never imagined having an opportunity to witness performances from around the world all on one stage. And yet, that is just what aactWORLDFEST offers, not just to me, but for hundreds of theatre artists around the world.

I have had the desire for many years to attend this international festival, and with the continuous persistence of Mississippi Theatre Association (MTA) former Board Member and AACT Board Member, Lynn Nelson, and an open schedule, I felt that this year was the time to make my dream come true. To make this opportunity come alive, I applied for an Individual Artist Grant with the Mississippi Arts Commission, and upon receipt of this grant, I knew that this dream would become a reality.

Upon arriving in Venice, FL, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful architecture and landscaping. With a variety of local galleries, shops, restaurants, and a beautiful and non-crowded beach, it was the perfect setting for this global event. And with my first Venice sunset at the Dockside Waterfront Grill, I began to understand why the locals refer to this town as Paradise.

As a regular participant of statewide and regional theatre conferences, I thoroughly expected to have a packed schedule of workshops, meetings, and theatre performances from sunup to sundown and into the late evening. However, what I found was a brilliant balance of morning workshops, evening performances, late night parties, as well as time (dare I say it) to relax, and to enjoy the beauty of this location, the people, and the theatrical experiences.

The opening ceremony was moving as there was a parade of flags of all the countries who would be performing throughout the week. To think about everything that each of the theatres had to go through, just for the opportunity to perform on this stage, was inspiring. And then to be a part of a zoom call from Kiev, introducing the Ukrainian Splash Theatre Company who said, “throughout it all, it’s love of the theatre that gives us hope, love, and faith to carry on. Together we need each other.” With this statement there were no dry eyes in the theatre, and it was a beautiful sentiment which united all the countries, in our love of theatre and of one another.

And then the productions began. I was excited to see productions being performed in their native language, and yet apprehensive as to how I would be able to understand what would be happening on the stage. However, the power of theatre shone through and there were elements of each production that I was either entertained by, inspired by, moved to tears by, or just in awe of.

Productions that had moments that I will take with me include: Circo Poeira from Brazil. In this production, one actor played many parts, and how he created this original piece based on his own circus master’s memories was entertaining, moving, and inspiring. This production brought the audience together through our common experiences of love, loss, entertainment, and nostalgia. I will also take France’s production of La Vie Revee De Nous with me. The creativity and storytelling of this couple was outstanding, the color blocking was beautiful, and the theme of falling in love was universal. And the United Kingdom’s performance of A Man of No Importance felt like a master class in pantomime. I wish I could take this show back to Mississippi as an example of what pantomime should look like. It was specific, unique, fun, and hilarious, and again was universal storytelling. I could continue with what I am going to take away from each production, but that may become more of a novel, instead of just an article. But my main takeaway was something that I always hear, and even tell myself, and it was showcased brilliantly throughout these performances. Think about who your audience is and focus on telling the story. When you do these things, brilliance shines through.

At the end of each evening of performances, the After Glow parties stole the show. This was a time for the actors, technicians, and audience members to learn from one another, to relax, and to enjoy their time together. It was made extra special by featuring food from different regions each evening, along with music and entertainment. The highlight of this event for me was observing the Bangladesh troupe dance and to learn that they made the refreshments for the evening in their host’s home. The time and love that went into that effort is not something that we see every day. And for that, I thank them.

I could continue with memorable moments, wonderful restaurants, inspiring people, and how I appreciate the work that AACT is doing on an international level. But I will stop here and just say thank you. Thank you to Lynn Nelson for your years of persuasion. Thank you to Venice Theatre for being incredible hosts and for your heart, dedication, and organization to this effort. And thank you to AACT for making this event possible and for all the work that you do throughout the year to bring community theatres together. I will forever be inspired by seeing the players of the world upon this stage, and I hope to see you again in the future as you continue to play your many parts.