‘Southern Belle Primer’ workshop opens in Nashville

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SBP Credit Karen Will Rogers2.JPG

This is the story of a perfect fit. As anyone who pursues the art and business of legitimate theatre Nashville will tell you, our city is talent rich and venue poor. The number of actual theatres available to independent producers is frustratingly inadequate, but that just means that we need to think outside of the box and seek out partnerships.

Sometimes magic happens—as is the case with the upcoming preview workshop performances of A Southern Belle Primer (or Why Princess Margaret Could Never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma) at The Belmont Mansion, home of historical Southern belle, Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham. 

A Southern Belle Primer (or Why Princess Margaret Could Never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma) is the newest offering of playwright/director Ted Swindley, whose signature work Always . . . Patsy Cline is responsible for many Nashvillians' love affair with actress/singer Mandy Barnett.

Now, thanks to Swindley's particular theatrical sensibilities (which are very Southern), three more wonderful Nashville actresses are about to tickle your fancies and charm the pants off of you in Swindley's adaptation of Maryln Schwartz's very popular comic observations on Southern womanhood.

The cast includes Michelle Glenn, who represents the middle generation of this Dixie trio. Glenn, an Alabama native, has been wowing Nashville audiences since she hit town a couple of years ago, especially as "Mother" in the Steve Leslie/Len Cohen musical Umbrella.  She is flanked by Tammy Sutherland and Krista Graham as the grandmother and granddaughter.

Sutherland, who carries the bulk of the show, is a veteran Nashville character actress who has been acting most of her adult life, primarily with local community theatres such as Lakewood, Lamplighters, Encore and Towne Centre. Graham is a newcomer from Pittsburgh who will make her Nashville debut playing a debutante.

Southern Belle History

"The mansion is the perfect setting for this play which reflects the carrying on of Southern heritage," said Mark Brown, who has served as the Executive Director of The Belmont Mansion for 27 years. 

Adelicia was a great patron of the visual and performing arts. Theatricals were often performed in the Grand Salon and one of Mrs. Franklin Acklen Cheatham's favorite entertainments was to offer her guests trunks filled with costumes. After getting decked out, they would play charades or create tableaux, a popular art form of the day among the wealthy.

And wealthy Adelicia was, thanks to three good marriages. The first was to Mr. Franklin, who made his fortune in the slave trade and as a plantation owner with large holdings in Louisiana. They married when she was 22 and he was 50. After his death, she married Mr. Acklen, who managed her properties but died suddenly during the Civil War. It was also during the war that Adelicia and one of her cousins took a river trip down to Louisiana to save the cotton crops. In one of the coolest business deals of all times, after meeting with both Union and Confederate armies, Adelicia managed to get the cotton onto ships and over to England, where it sold for a fortune, making her one of the richest women in the world.

Before marrying Adelicia, her third husband, Mr. Cheatham, was the director of The Tennessee State Asylum for the Insane until he and his first wife were arrested for spying during the Civil War.

Adelicia sold Belmont to land developers in 1887. The mansion was then purchased by Miss Hood and Miss Heron, who founded Belmont College for young ladies. These good ladies, who never married, retired in 1913 and are buried together in Mt. Olivet cemetery.

The college then merged with Ward Seminary to become Ward Belmont and, over the course of the 20th century, went on to evolve into today's Belmont University which, among its amazing assets, boasts outstanding programs in theatre and musical theatre. Additionally, through its partnerships with local companies such as Actors Bridge and The Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Belmont University has greatly enhanced the cause of the theatre, both as an art and a business, on the Nashville front.

So, where better for this Southern spoof of three generations of belles who are caught up in the local burg's annual tour of homes?

Come to Nashville and go to the theatre!

A Southern Belle Primer (or Why Princess Margaret Could Never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma) will play on Sundays through August 25 at The Belmont Mansion (1700 Acklen Ave.). Doors open at 4:30 p.m.; show starts at 5 p.m.. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at southernbelleprimer.eventbrite.com

photo credit Karen Will Rogers