Columbus State University students Heather Willis and Jenny Ross, grew up in Columbus, but knew little about Bibb City.
“I thought it was just a part of town that you don’t go to,” Willis said. “I think about Bibb City completely differently now.”
Their thoughts changed when they started working on “Bibb City: Collected Lives from a Mill Town,” an oral history play that is a collaboration between CSU’s Department of Theater and the Chattahoochee Shakespeare Co.
The student-actors hope to educate and entertain the community with their performances and walking tours, which begin tonight.
Students started the project by conducting taped interviews with retired mill workers, former and current Bibb City residents and business owners.
Students transcribed the tapes and worked with CSU associate professor Becky Becker to write a script for the play. Becker did a similar presentation of the history of Westville, Ga., in October.
“Bibb City has such a rich history,” said Elizabeth Shed, 21, a senior from Atlanta. “It’s fascinating. And everyone is so passionate about the mill and their homes.”
Gwendolyn Labod, a 21-year-old senior from Smyrna, Ga., said this project was challenging.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “My lifestyle is so different. But once I started on it, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Labod also took part in the Westville project. “This was a much shorter process with many more people,” she said. As with Westville, she hopes that Bibb City will come to life and be remembered.
For Carrie Poh, a 25-year-old senior from New York City, this project helped her discover a career path.
“I would definitely do this again,” Poh said. “I’m now trying to do my own thing — documentary theater.”
Willis, the Columbus native, is a 21-year-old junior. She interviewed a CSU theater graduate, Alyssa Farmer, whose family has owned their Bibb City house for five generations. She’s currently living in the house.
“Alyssa was wonderful,” Willis said. “She’s amazing. She said a lot of things that were very valuable.”
Farmer’s great-grandfather took a job at Bibb Mill when he was 15. He and his wife moved into the house in 1955.
“I love living here,” Farmer said. “It was our second home growing up. This is our family home. I can never picture anyone else living here but our family.”
Willis plays Farmer while April Hollingsworth, 20, a junior from Cairo, Ga., plays Susan Breazeale, Farmer’s mother.
Breazeale worked in the mill for a few months. “It gave me a real determination to get … a college degree,” Breazeale said.
She grew up with four principles — home, church, school and community. “Those four things shaped who I’ve become today.”
Hollingsworth said she is excited, but a bit nervous.
“Opening night will be a little scary,” she said. “I’ll look out and probably see them in the audience.”
Nick Wolfe, 21, a senior from Cumming, Ga., agreed.
“We’re playing still-living people on the stage while these people may be in the audience,” Wolfe said.
Brittany Brooks, 20, a sophomore from Buford, Ga., said she thought of Bibb City as kind of a “ghost community,” but, after talking to people, realized that the Bibb is very much alive.
The tour guides
Guided walking tours will be offered to guests. Tours last about 30 minutes and will be 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. today, leaving from the RiverMill Event Centre, and 6 p.m. Saturday, leaving from Comer Auditorium.
Four students — Andrew Miller, 19, a sophomore from Newnan, Ga.; Kizzy Louis, 29, a senior from Macon, Ga.; Jenny Ross, 20, a sophomore from Columbus; and Eric Mosely of Manchester, Ga. — compiled personal stories and historical facts for the walking tours.
“Bibb City is known for its colorful characters,” Becker said. Among them was the late Hattie Monroe, who worked in Comer Auditorium. “She was known as a stern disciplinarian,” Becker said.
The students found a recurring theme from each person they interviewed.
“Out of everybody we interviewed, they spoke about Bibb City with pride,” Louis said.
“Everybody was so devastated when the mill burned,” Miller said.