"Monumental" presentation captures city's spirit

Actors LaPonce Harrison, left, Mattie Hines, center, and Mike Kozlowski were among the team from Enterprise that traveled to Birmingham May 23 for the presentation before a panel of Main Street Alabama judges.

Who better to capture the city’s spirit than the Lady in White who has stood in the middle of Main Street for 100 years?

That was the consensus of those brainstorming to nail the final step in Enterprise’s application to Main Street Alabama in May.

Enterprise is one of four cities that were selected this year for Main Street Alabama Designation after a five-month application process. A statewide nonprofit organization, Main Street Alabama’s focus is revitalizing the state’s historic communities through a proven four-point approach to organization, design, promotion and economic vitality.

Enterprise has been a Main Street Alabama Network Community for about a year but applied for “designation” status after city representatives attended an application workshop in early 2019.

A team was formed to create a presentation that captured the spirit of the city and Main Street’s four-point approach to success, according to Enterprise Tourism Director Tammy Doerer, who has served as liaison between the city and Main Street during the application process.

At that point, Susan Gilmore and Lydia Dillingham, owners of Southern Broadway dinner theater on Main Street in Enterprise, were brought into the presentation planning process.

Dillingham had written “The Depot,” a play set in Enterprise in the early 1900s when then Coffee County agricultural extension agent John Pittman agreed with renowned botanist Dr. George Washington Carver that crop diversification was needed because cotton was depleting the soil when planted year after year.

Reluctant to change until the migrating boll weevil’s massive devastation to the cotton crops, Enterprise farmers ultimately planted peanuts. In 1917, with Coffee County producing over 1 million bushels of peanuts, local businessman Bon Fleming jokingly remarked that the city should build a monument in appreciation of the destructive pest that had created such economic success through forced crop diversification.

On Dec. 11, 1919, an unveiling ceremony was held in the center of downtown Enterprise to reveal the imported statue of a woman holding a water spout above her head and a plaque at her feet crediting the boll weevil as the impetus to the town’s triumph over adversity.

That spirit and determination of citizens who banded together to overcome adversity, embrace change and succeed continues 100 years later, Doerer said. “That is what we wanted to show the judges as we highlighted the past, our present and our hope for the future in our oral presentation.”

The Boll Weevil Monument has reigned from the middle of Main Street in downtown Enterprise for 100 years, so it was a natural fit to let the Lady in White tell the story, Dillingham said. “Then I hunkered down and wrote.

“I wanted it to be a good presentation because there was a lot riding on it,” she added, crediting Enterprise Special Projects Coordinator Kay Kirkland for her input with the script.

Gilmore said that a committee comprised of Doerer, Kirkland, Downtown Enterprise Business Association President Regena Lacey, DEBA Past President Debbie Gaydos and Medical Center Enterprise’s Marketing Director Lisa Fenner met to discuss the proposed presentation that was expected to take one hour and include set up, break down, oral presentation and a question-answer period.

“They had done research about presentations other cities had done,” Gilmore said. “We brainstormed about how to embrace the uniqueness of the city and how we could be take the panel of judges through the past, present and future of Enterprise.”

Once it was decided to tell the story through the eyes of the Boll Weevil Monument, Southern Broadway actress Mattie Hines was a natural fit, Gilmore said. “As we talked about the characters, there were people coming to my mind who I knew would be great and I was sitting right there texting them to see if they could do it.”

Hines, portraying the Boll Weevil Monument narrator, was joined by actor and singer LaPonce Harrison who portrayed the cotton field foreman and Mike Kozlowski, who narrated the city’s imagined future.

After an introduction to the judges by Doerer and the majestic entrance of Hines, Harrison opened the presentation with a song Dillingham wrote called “The Cotton Call Song.” Kozlowski introduced the future of Enterprise with a “Twilight Zone” persona.

“I know that people don’t remember necessarily what you say, they remember how you made them feel and as a playwright, that is what I go with,” Dillingham said as she explained the process of creating the 30-minute presentation. “They wanted uniqueness and what a great, unique town we are with our history.”

The group rehearsed twice, Gilmore said with a smile. “We had to just make sure that everybody was saying what they were supposed to, being in the place they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. Then it was, literally, in their hands.”

An advantage was that the actors were already part of the Southern Broadway family, Dillingham said.

Southern Broadway’s costume designer Jan Parker dressed the Lady in White and accompanied the group to the Birmingham presentation. “Jan said the presentation was fabulous,” Dillingham said with a smile.

Gilmore and Dillingham said they are proud of the actors who volunteered to do the presentation and proud of the part they played in the successful bid for Main Street Designation.

“When we were about a week out, it started to solidify,” Gilmore said. “Lydia writes plays all the time, I know how she works. She works well under pressure. I had full confidence given the assignment that she could do it.

“I was proud of what she wrote,” Gilmore continued. “When we went over to the Farmers Market to practice, I thought the presentation was phenomenal.

“I was truly honored to be on the committee,” Gilmore said. “It seemed like a natural fit and it seemed like that could be Southern Broadway’s contribution.”

Dillingham agreed, noting that the duo knew that the benefits of attaining Main Street Designated status would benefit the entire community. “Overall we knew that the benefits were going to be huge if we could pull together and I think that’s what everybody did.”

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