Six months later, Geer met with the Colquitt/Miller Arts Council, and the project was dubbed "Swamp Gravy," named after the soup made in southwest Georgia fish camps from the drippings left from fried fish, along with tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and whatever else is available to throw in the pan. The community play was to be a musical based on the stories of Miller Countians, black and white, captured on tape and transformed into a script by Tennessee playwright Jo Carson.
When Swamp Gravy Sketches opened to rave reviews in fall 1992, the cast consisted completely of local residents. After more than thirty performances around the state in 1993, Swamp Gravy received a 1994 Cultural Olympiad Award in Atlanta and was performed there in 1996 at the Olympic Games and later at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Storytelling is at the heart of Swamp Gravy. According to Geer, "Northerners tell stories in private and call it therapy. Southerners tell stories in public and call it swapping lies." Each performance of Swamp Gravy begins with the lyrics, "You've got a story and I've got a story. We've all got a story to tell." Concluding the performance is a candlelight roll call of deceased storytellers and characters as the 90- to 100-member cast hums "Amazing Grace."
Each year new stories are added, replacing some of the previous tales, and a new theme characterizes the season's performances. Among the annual themes have been work, religion, medicine, crime and punishment, local media, and marital and sibling relationships.
Beginning in 1994 Swamp Gravy has been performed in an old cotton warehouse in Colquitt. Recently renovated,
The impact of Swamp Gravy has been felt around the nation as cast members trained as Swamp Gravy Institute consultants share their art-based community revitalization experiences in communities in Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, South Carolina, and Florida and in other Georgia counties as well.
Richard Owen Geer, "Out of Control in Colquitt: Swamp Gravy Makes Stone Soup," Drama Review 40 (summer 1996): 103-30.
Debra C. Jones, ed., Swamp Gravy: Folk Tales of South Georgia (Colquitt, Ga.: Sobek, 1994).
Debra C. Jones, ed., Swamp Gravy: The Gospel Truth (Colquitt, Ga.: Sobek, 1996).
K. K. Snyder, "Love Stories: Southern Style," Albany Herald, September 17, 2000.
Lee W. Formwalt, Organization of American Historians
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