Celebrating Voices 

Voices of the South (VOTS) turns 20 this year, and preparations for the big party have already begun. Invitations have been sent. Balloons have been ordered. Comic actor Sandy Kozik has been busy digging through everybody's storage, hoping to decorate the stage with memorable set and costume pieces from past productions. VOTS executive adviser Jenny Odle Madden says, "It's going to look like our sets threw up onstage."

VOTS has a lot to celebrate. Five years ago, Madden, who co-founded the company with her friend and University of Memphis classmate Alice Rainey Berry, stepped down from her executive position with the company after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

click to enlarge Jenny Odle Madden
  • Jenny Odle Madden

"I stepped away and didn't want to run the company anymore because of my health. I didn't think that I would ever come back in that capacity again," Madden explains. But Madden made an extraordinary recovery, and as VOTS began to evolve from an ambitious independent company into an area institution, she and other early company members felt they were losing the collaborative spirit that had defined them for so long. Hoping to right the ship and set course for the next 20 years, Madden and Berry have both returned to leadership positions in a year that finds the company reviving its best-loved shows (Cicada, The Ugly Duckling) and presenting new original work by Southern authors (Temple of the Dog). This week, however, the company that spawned the outrageous Sister Myotis and gave storyteller Elaine Blanchard a platform for her "Prison Stories'' project, is throwing a party.

"We'll have cake and music and balloons," Madden says excitedly. "We just want to say 'thank you' for 20 years."

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