The Legacy of Millsaps Players

Joey Lee

April 18, 2024

"From its humble beginnings to its current state, the Players have left an unforgettable mark on Millsaps College and the Jackson arts scene."

Celebrating a Century of Creativity

As the Millsaps Players celebrate their 100th anniversary this year, let’s reflect on a century of the theatrical group. From its humble beginnings to its current state, the Players have left an unforgettable mark on Millsaps College and the Jackson arts scene.

Origins and Challenges

The roots of the group trace back to 1913, with a production of, “As You Like It” marking the emergence of organized theatre at Millsaps. The play, however, was nearly canceled. Just days before the production, letters and telegrams (historic versions of texts and emails) inundated the president’s desk from members of the clergy denouncing the presentation of a play by that, “ungodly man,” William Shakespeare. Despite this resistance, Millsaps President Alexander Watkins allowed the show to proceed.

Kismet, 1958

It was 12 years before another organized theatre production occurred at Millsaps. The spring of 1925 is when the Millsaps Players truly came into being with the inaugural production of “The Fascinating Fanny Brown,” directed by Dr. Milton White.

The Players slowly gained momentum and eventually became a major force in the Jackson arts scene thanks to the leadership of Lance Goss who joined the faculty in the early 1950s. Goss shaped the program for more than 40 years and left a mark so enduring they refer to it as the “Lance Goss Legacy.”

Resurgence and Renewal

The program experienced a lull in participation because of the loss of its auditorium in the Christian Center (where the chapel now sits). However, the recent completion of the Bowen-Howell Theatre ignited a resurgence in the program.

This year alone, the Players will produce six shows and host two outside productions in the new theater.

Director of the Players and assistant professor of theater, Sam Sparks’ (’03) vision for the group is to produce shows that resonate with the Millsaps community and spark interdisciplinary conversations.

“This season we produced “Legacy of Light.” The play used ideas from philosophy, physics and art to address the issues of motherhood,” Sparks said. “I try to pick material that is not being performed in the community to broaden the type of theatre Jackson audiences can experience.”

Death of a Salesman, 1952

Voices of the Players

The heart of Millsaps Players lies not just in its productions, but in the diversity of individuals in the group.

“Anyone can participate in theatre at Millsaps, all are welcome,” said Sparks. “Over the years, we’ve had students, staff, faculty, alumni, members of the community and guest artists who are all able to call themselves Millsaps Players.”

Lisa Damour (’91), Playwright and Production Company Owner

For Lisa, the lessons learned at Millsaps provided the foundation for a lifelong commitment to the theater, culminating in the creation of her own company. Through her work, Damour continues to honor the culture of collaboration and creativity instilled by mentors like Goss and Brent Lefavor.

“My experience with the Millsaps Players involved working across all aspects of theater – acting, directing, light design, stage management and set construction,” Damour said. “Since I had such a breadth of learning experience at Millsaps, I felt confident to seek out professional internships and also produce my own work. My training at Millsaps gave me the skills and confidence to start my own theater company, PearlDamour, which has been producing for more than 25 years now.”

A Streetcar Named Desire, 1955

Ward Emling (’76), Actor and Film Commissioner

Ward paints a vivid picture of the transformative experience of his time with the Millsaps Players. From his debut on the Christian Center stage, the theatre became his sanctuary – a place where he found not only artistic expression but learned profound life lessons and made enduring friendships.

Kismet, 1958

Immersed in various aspects of campus life including theatre, music, student government and athletics, Emling learned self-confidence, discipline and a deep appreciation for art and community.

“My time and experiences at Millsaps have helped me to relate to people and the world around me, to understand relationships and human ideals, and to see and seek big-picture realities,” Ward said. “It created in me a confidence in my beliefs, a great comfort of place and a pretty strong will.

Even after graduation, Emling stayed active with the Players through the early 1980s. He was awarded the Mama Goss Award in 1983 for outstanding contributions to the Millsaps Players.

Michael Guidry (’05), Writer and Editor

Michael’s journey with the Players is a prime example of the transformative power of theatre education. What began as a casual involvement grew into a deep passion, shaping both his personal and professional trajectory. Guidry credits his time with the Players for preparing him for a career in news and journalism.

“I love sharing how my Millsaps experience, Players included, shapes and informs my professional life,” Guidry said. “There are two essential throughlines in both my history undergrad studies and my theater studies that presently steer me in the world of news and journalism: inquiry and narrative. It is so important to know how to ask questions. Sometimes those questions are personal and intended for a subject whose perspective you find valuable. Other times those questions are critical or skeptical and needed to dig beneath the surface layer. And then it’s just as important to pair that careful inquiry with a thoughtful, engaging narrative.

“As Players and students, we were held to high expectations, but at the same time, received a strong foundation of support and – dare I say – love from the faculty holding us to those expectations. I believe that is a key part of why such a small department was able to put on such rich and complete productions. It took me a long time to recognize this, though.”


Alan Hunter (’79), Producer and MTV VJ

Alan Hunter says his time with the Players was transformative, instilling a sense of adaptability and resilience that would serve him well in his future endeavors.

Death of a Salesman, 1952

“Four years of a liberal arts education at Millsaps prepared me for the spontaneous, improvisational, jump-out-of-the-airplane-before-you-know-where-you’re-gonna-land-life that I didn’t know I was about to embark on,” Hunter explained. “I learned how to adapt and accept change as my oxygen, which the entertainment business I eventually landed in demanded.

“Though I wasn’t a theater major, I loved being in productions at Millsaps because of the community of players and the teamwork in putting on shows. It gave me a real sense of place and purpose outside the classroom. Theater also kept me from spending all my time in the many fabulous bars and restaurants in Jackson at the time.”

As the Millsaps Players embark on their next century of creativity, one thing remains clear; its legacy is one of resilience, innovation and community. From its earliest days of uncertainty to its current position as a beacon of artistic excellence, the Players have stood the test of time, inspiring generations of theatergoers and artists alike.

As the curtain rises on the next act of this journey, we can only imagine the brilliance and adventure that lies ahead.

Learn More

All the World’s a Stage

On Thursday, April 18th at 7:00 p.m. there will be a special event titled, “All the World’s a Stage: How Theater at Millsaps Shaped our Careers” at the Bowen-Howell Theatre. Where you can hear those featured in this article, Michael Guidry, Alan Hunter, Lisa D’Amour and Ward Emling, further explore the profound impact of the Millsaps Players.

See a Performance

A Doll’s House Part 2, 2024

There will be a special performance of the Players’ upcoming production “Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl” by Lisa D’Amour with music and lyrics by Sxip Shirey on April 20 at 7:00 p.m. with a talkback and reception to follow. This performance is in conjunction with Spring Alumni Weekend and the Millsaps Players 100th season Reunion.

If you would like to attend this performance, register at The performance is free, but seating is limited to 100.

Library Exhibit

The Millsaps-Wilson Library presents, “The Play’s the Thing: Celebrating 100 Years of the Millsaps Players.” This small display honoring the 100th anniversary of the Millsaps Players features archival photos, memorabilia and nostalgia from many of their productions over the last century. There will be a opening reception on Saturday, April 20, at 1:00 p.m. in the Riggs Room (located on the 2nd floor of the library). The exhibit will run through August 30