Knoxville author Bob Booker to headline Pellissippi State’s lectures on 1919, the ‘Year of Fear’

Bob Booker, author
Knoxville author Bob Booker will discuss the Knoxville Race Riot of 1919 at Pellissippi State next week.

It’s been 100 years since the “Year of Fear,” when race riots, stock market crashes and flu pandemics swept the country.

Pellissippi State Community College’s Liberal Arts Department will help mark the occasion with a series of short lectures and discussions on these and other notable 1919 events next week.

Bob Booker, former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and an authoritative author on Knoxville’s black history, will provide the keynote address on the Knoxville Race Riot of 1919. His presentation will be held 11:50 a.m.-12:50 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, on Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue Campus, 1610 E. Magnolia Ave. A reception with Booker will follow.

All “Year of Fear” events at Pellissippi State are free and open to the public.

“The First World War was the most catastrophic, bloodiest event in human history up until that time. So often what is forgotten when studying war are the profound effects wars can have on the homefront of any nation,” said History Instructor Leslie Coffman, an organizer of the event. “The aftermath of WWI in America and around the world is a dark story. 1919 is known as the ‘Year of Fear’ for a reason, and we wanted to offer opportunities for the public to understand why.”

The “Year of Fear” schedule includes opportunities at each of Pellissippi State’s five campuses.

Tuesday, Oct. 22, in the Goins Building Auditorium on Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road:

  • 9:40-10:10 a.m. “Russia Still Remembers: America’s Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919” by Instructor Yuliya Kalnaus;
  • 10:20-10:40 a.m. Discussion of the upcoming play “Blood at the Root,” based on the Jena Six, led by Associate Professor Grechen Wingerter;
  • 10:40-11:20 a.m. “The Day Wall Street Exploded: America’s First Great Terrorist Attack, 1919-1920” by Assistant Professor Nathan Pavalko;

Tuesday, Oct. 22, in the Magnolia Avenue Campus Community Room:

  • 10:40-11:20 a.m. “The Year that Fun was Banned: The Flu Pandemic of 1919” by Professor Toni McDaniel;
  • 11:20-11:50 a.m. “’It Was a Fear for All of Us’: The Lynching of Will Brown and the Omaha Race Riots” by Coffman;
  • 11:50-12:50 a.m. “The Heat of a Red Summer: Race Mixing, Race Rioting in 1919 Knoxville” by Booker;

Tuesday, Oct. 22, in the Blount County Campus West Chevrolet Auditorium, 2731 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Friendsville:

  • 10:15-10:40 a.m. “The Spanish Flu: Adding Insult to Injury” by Assistant Professor Amanda Carr-Wilcoxson;

Tuesday, Oct. 22, in the Division Street Campus’ conference room, 3435 Division Street:

  • 11:20-11:50 a.m. “The Marathon Continues: Questions of Race in 2019” by Instructor Gregory Johnson; and

Wednesday, Oct. 23, in the Strawberry Plains Campus’ lobby, 7201 Strawberry Plains Pike:

  • 12:55-1:50 p.m. “How 1919 Changed Knoxville Forever: The Events that Weren’t Supposed to Happen Here” by Instructor Laura Arnett Smith with a musical performance by tutor Marcel Holman.

“We wanted to focus on remembering the Knoxville Race Riots as part of this ‘Year of Fear’ because all of this seems particularly troubling when dealing with humanity issues so close to home,” Coffman said. “Understanding the Red Summer, in particular the atmosphere of Knoxville post-WWI, also gives us the context we desperately need for understanding modern racial dynamics. This is a road we have traveled together as Americans.”

For maps and driving directions to Pellissippi State’s five campuses, visit

To request accommodations for these or any campus event, call 865-694-6411 or email


More than 50 Pellissippi State students sing at college’s Fall Choral Concert this Thursday

Meagan Humphreys directs student singers on risers
Pellissippi State Choral Director Meagan L. Humphreys, far left, directs student singers during the Fall Choral Concert in October 2018.

Mark your calendars for Pellissippi State Community College’s Fall Choral Concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17. More than 50 student singers will perform.

This annual concert, part of The Arts at Pellissippi State, will feature both college choirs, Concert Chorale and Variations, and will feature a variety of repertoire, both sacred and secular in nature.

Concert Chorale will present a set of three songs that focus on the topic of peace, all differing widely in style. One of the songs in that set, “Hands are Knockin’” by Kyle Pederson, was published in 2018 and will feature student percussionist Dakota Loo on djembe.

Variations will present music from the Romantic era by Anton Bruckner, a set of three songs by three different contemporary composers all based on childhood poetry, and finish off the program with a rousing spiritual, “Hold On!”, arranged by Moses Hogan.

Several student soloists will be featured throughout the program. Both choirs are led by Pellissippi State Choral Director Meagan L. Humphreys and are accompanied by Associate Professor Peggy Hinkle on piano.

The Arts at Pellissippi State is an annual arts series that includes music and theatre performances and fine arts exhibits. For more information, visit or call 865-694-6400.

To request accommodations for a disability at this event or any campus event, call 865-539-7401 or email


Pellissippi State invites young creative writers to free workshop Oct. 19

Joy Ingram on Pellissippi State campus
Joy Ingram, a Pellissippi State alumna and author of “Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens,” will present the keynote presentation at the sixth annual Young Creative Writer’s Workshop on Oct. 19.

An annual creative writing workshop for young people will have an Appalachian theme this year and feature an Appalachian Arts area.

The sixth annual Young Creative Writer’s Workshop at Pellissippi State Community College will be held 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, on the college’s Strawberry Plains Campus, 7201 Strawberry Plains Pike.

The event, designed specifically for high school students and Pellissippi State students of all ages, is free and lunch is provided, but space is limited. Students can register at

“Cast members from Gatlinburg’s Tunes n’ Tales will provide entertainment and interactive Appalachian heritage-related activities,” said Pellissippi State Assistant Professor Patty Ireland, who organizes the workshop. “In addition, craftspeople, artisans and historical interpreters will interact with students to bring the rich culture and heritage of our Appalachian region alive in our Appalachian Arts area.

“If you ever wanted to learn to make an Appalachian ‘church doll,’ play the dulcimer, learn to quilt or hear stories of the mountains, you will enjoy this portion of our day’s activities,” she added.

This year’s keynote speaker and featured workshop leader will be novelist and Pellissippi State alumna Joy Ingram, author of “Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens.” Ingram will kick off the event with her keynote at 9:30 a.m. in the Strawberry Plains Campus cafeteria, located on the lower level of the building.

Students will get to attend three other workshops of their choice later in the day. Sessions offered this year include fiction, poetry, songwriting, screenplay writing, genre specific and publication.

“Workshop leaders include a combined team of Pellissippi instructors, who are themselves published writers, and award-winning professional writers, including members of the Author’s Guild of Tennessee,” Ireland noted. “Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and converse with Pellissippi State professors, professional writers, entertainers, students and staff.”

Professional writers will be on hand to answer students’ questions one-on-one in the Writer’s Room session, 1:15-2:15 p.m. And at the end of the day, students may choose to perform their original works at a Showcase event. Family members and instructors are invited to the Showcase at 3 p.m. in the cafeteria.

The Young Creative Writer’s Workshop is sponsored by the Pellissippi State Foundation, Pellissippi State’s Common Academic Experience and Papa John’s Pizza. For the complete workshop schedule and registration form, visit

To request accommodations for a disability at this event or any campus event, call 865-539-7401 or email


Get answers to your college questions at fall Pellissippi Preview

Four students are walking on the Hardin Valley Campus
Pellissippi Preview gives prospective students an opportunity to check out Pellissippi State Community College’s Hardin Valley Campus, explore programs they may want to study and get answers to their questions about financial aid and what classes will transfer to four-year institutions.

Anyone who has considered taking classes at Pellissippi State Community College has an opportunity next week to check out the school —  from the academic programs offered to the financial aid available.

Pellissippi State’s open house, now called Pellissippi Preview, will be held 9:15 a.m.-noon Saturday, Sept. 28, at the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road.

Pellissippi Preview is open to prospective students of all ages and is free to attend.

Pellissippi State will kick off the event in the Clayton Performing Arts Center at 9:15 a.m. before letting prospective students explore the departments that interest them until 10:45 a.m. Faculty and staff will be available to answer questions about the college’s academic programs as well as the student services available at Pellissippi State.

Pellissippi Preview also will feature two short presentations: one on transferring from Pellissippi State to four-year colleges and universities at 10:45 a.m. and one on financial aid at 11:25 a.m. Participants will get hands-on information about one of the questions Pellissippi State advisers and recruiters hear the most: ”Will my Pellissippi State classes transfer?” They’ll also learn more about scholarship opportunities, including Tennessee Promise for high school seniors.

All those who attend Pellissippi Preview will be entered in a drawing for one of two $250 scholarships from the Pellissippi State Foundation to attend Pellissippi State. The drawing will be held at 11:50 a.m. to close the event.

To RSVP for Pellissippi Preview, visit

To request accommodations for this or any campus event, call 865-694-6411 or email


Pellissippi State honors retired Rep. Harry Brooks with Career Education Center dedication

Harry Brooks in front of Career Education Center sign
Retired state Rep. Harry Brooks, third from left, unveils the new Harry Brooks Career Education Center on Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains Campus on Tuesday, Sept. 10. With Brooks, from left, are Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and Brooks’ wife, Mary.

Pellissippi State Community College lauded retired state. Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville on Tuesday by naming a wing of its Strawberry Plains Campus in his honor.

The Harry Brooks Career Education Center contains Pellissippi State’s MegaLab as well as its newly expanded cyber operations and welding centers. The campus is located at 7201 Strawberry Plains Pike.

“Rep. Harry Brooks championed career and technical education during his many years in the legislature,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “His advocacy for workforce training, dual credit and dual enrollment promoted career opportunities for students not just at Pellissippi State, but across Tennessee.”

Brooks, who was on hand Tuesday to witness the dedication with many friends and family members, represented District 19, part of Knox County, in the state legislature for eight terms, from 2003 until his retirement in 2018. During that time he served myriad committees, including chairing the House Education Committee during the 108th General Assembly and the House Education Administration and Planning Committee during the 109th and 110th General Assemblies. He also served on the Knox County School Board from 1992 until 1996.

“I’ll remember this day forever,” Brooks said Tuesday. “It’s an honor to see your name added to an educational institution, whether it’s K-12 or a college, and I don’t deserve it. I’m just happy to have been part of a team that made great strides in education in our state, and the future is bright.”

Pellissippi State also held a grand opening for its new cyber defense and welding centers on Tuesday.

Pellissippi State has 80 students enrolled in its Cyber Defense concentration under the Computer Information Technology program. The concentration has added $69,000 worth of equipment and supplies in response to explosive growth from an initial 19 students in fall 2016.

Cyber Defense Program Coordinator Charles Nelson
Cyber Defense instructor Charles Nelson shows off Pellissippi State’s new Cyber Security Operations Center on the college’s Strawberry Plains Campus on Tuesday, Sept. 10. The Harry Brooks Career Education Center also contains Pellissippi State’s MegaLab and welding areas.

Funding was made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor via the Knoxville area Information Technology and Engineering (KITE) Program, which focuses on removing barriers facing unemployed or underemployed 17- to 29-year-olds in order to obtain middle- and high-skill jobs in the information technology and advanced manufacturing sectors.

“When we were teaching in a general purpose classroom with no dedicated equipment, we were not able to provide the quality or capacity we wanted,” said Cyber Defense instructor Charles Nelson. “This facility provides a digitally safe and secure environment to simulate cyber security scenarios that allow students to explore a wide variety of tools and techniques without interfering with normal campus operations, leaking threats or exposing vulnerabilities outside of the lab space.”

Pellissippi State has 52 students enrolled in its Welding Technology program and has expanded its welding area at the Strawberry Plains Campus by adding 15 booths to the 14 the college already had there. In addition to offering Welding Technology cohorts for Pellissippi State students during the day and in the evenings, the college also is offering three welding classes this semester to high school students in Knox County Schools’ Career Magnet Academy located on the Strawberry Plains Campus.

“These facilities are now available and utilized from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturday mornings for student utilization, open labs and courses,” said Welding Technology Program Coordinator Adam Streich, noting the American Welding Society is predicting a shortage of 450,000 skilled welders by 2022. “Local employers have asked for more student proficiency in alloys, stainless steel and aluminum (so) this expanded space and new equipment allows students to get more time on the skills local employers require.”

For more information about Pellissippi State, visit or call 865.694.6400.


Pellissippi State Convocation encourages students to make a difference

Head shot of Whitney Kimball Coe
Whitney Kimball Coe of the Center for Rural Strategies will speak at Pellissippi State’s Convocation on Thursday, Sept. 12.

College students don’t have to wait until they graduate to start making a difference in the world.

That’s the key message behind Pellissippi State Community College’s new Common Academic Experience theme of “Making a Difference,” a two-year discussion of issues, both in and out of class.

Pellissippi State kicks off the Common Academic Experience with Convocation 12:30-1:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, in the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road.

This year’s speaker is Whitney Kimball Coe, director of National Programs for the Center for Rural Strategies and coordinator of the National Rural Assembly, a rural movement made up of activities and partnerships geared toward building better policy and more opportunity across the country.

Her presentation is free and open to the public.

“Whitney has a story that I hope will resonate with our students,” explained Pellissippi State librarian Allison Scripa, who co-chairs Common Academic Experience with librarian Will Buck. “Growing up in tiny Athens, Tennessee, her goal was to get out, to go to the big city. But what she found is that, day in and day out, she’s showing up in her community and making a difference in the world.

“That’s what we want our students to know: they can do start here, they can start now,” Scripa stressed. “They don’t have to wait until the graduate. They can start doing things that make a difference whenever they want to, wherever they are.”

Pellissippi State’s Common Academic Experience will encourage students over the next two academic years to explore volunteerism, civic engagement and citizen science.

“’Making a Difference’ is about learning that the little things we do to help others and help our communities can add up to make a big difference,” Scripa said.

For more information about Pellissippi State, visit or call 865.694.6400. To request accommodations for a disability at this event or any campus event, call 865.539.7401 or email


Editing, publishing presentations added to annual James Agee Conference on Sept. 13

Leigh Ann Henion
New York Times bestselling author Leigh Ann Henion will give the keynote address at this year’s James Agee Conference for Literature and Arts at Pellissippi State.

An annual literature and arts conference at Pellissippi State Community College now includes editing and publishing presentations, in response to interest from local writers.

The fourth annual James Agee Conference for Literature and Arts will be held noon-7:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, in the Goins Building Auditorium on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road.

The event is free and open to the public. There is no pre-registration. Check-in will be held 11-11:50 a.m. on site the day of the conference.

“We try to shift around and add something new each year in response to our participants,” explained conference founder Charles Dodd White, an associate professor of English at Pellissippi State. “This is the first time we’ve offered these editing and publishing presentations.”

Thomas Alas Holmes of East Tennessee State University will lead the editing discussion 12-12:30 p.m., while Beto and Bob Cumming of Iris Press will lead the publishing discussion 12:30-1 p.m.

The rest of the afternoon will feature master classes in Nature Writing with Kim Trevathan, an associate professor of writing/communications at Maryville College who is writing his latest book about canoeing the Tennessee River from Paducah, Kentucky, to Knoxville last year; Songwriting with Tiffany Williams, an Eastern Kentucky native who released her debut EP, “When You Go,” earlier this year; and Fiction Writing with Caleb Johnson, author of the novel “Treeborne,” an honorable mention for the 2019 Southern Book Prize.

Leigh Anne Henion, author of “Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World,” will take the stage at 6 p.m. for the conference’s keynote presentation. Henion, who has had stories noted in three editions of “The Best American Travel Writing,” penned her memoir after becoming a mother and questioning whether “experiencing earth’s most dazzling natural phenomena” could reawaken a sense of wonder in herself similar to the one she witnessed daily in her child, who would marvel over simple things in nature.

The conference will wrap up with a signing with all the authors, and Union Avenue Books will be on site with books available for purchase.

White, whose novel “In the House of Wilderness” was named the 2018 Appalachian Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association in June, created the James Agee Conference four years ago largely to give Pellissippi State students an opportunity to attend a scholarly conference while also celebrating the literature, culture and arts of Appalachia.

“Agee is such a particular touchstone for this area,” said White, who was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame for fiction in October. “The conference gives us an opportunity to honor his influence while also exploring the hometown portrayal of Appalachia through writing and art.”

For the entire schedule of this year’s James Agee Conference, visit To request accommodations for a disability at this event or any campus event, call 865-539-7401 or email


Student success in the spotlight as Pellissippi State presents first Purchase Award Showcase

A graphite drawing
“Tempest,” a graphite drawing by former Pellissippi State art student Tavish E. White, is among 14 works that will be on display Aug. 26-Sept. 13 in the college’s first Purchase Award Showcase. “Tempest” won Best in Show in spring 2014.

Former and current art students whose work has been chosen as Best in Show at Pellissippi State Community College since spring 2011 will have their winning works displayed Aug. 26-Sept. 13 in the college’s Purchase Award Showcase.

This free exhibition in the college’s Bagwell Center for Media and Art Gallery kicks off The Arts at Pellissippi State for fall 2019 by offering the public an opportunity to view all the art works on display around the college as part of Pellissippi State’s permanent art collection.

For three weeks, all the works that have been purchased by Pellissippi State from the student artists between spring 2011 and spring 2019 will be moved into the Gallery for viewing.

“In 2007, the Bagwell Gallery was completed and, with that, came the opportunity to have an additional learning and exhibiting space for our students and the community,” explained Pellissippi State Art Program Coordinator Jeffrey Lockett. “Out of this, we established an annual student juried show, which offers students a chance to participate in the whole process of entering, being accepted to and showing in a public space. It has grown into an excellent showcase of student talent.”

In 2011, under the guidance of former Pellissippi State Vice President Rebecca Ashford, the college’s administration began offering a $500 purchase award to the student whose work was selected as Best in Show. Now those works – drawings, paintings and sculpture – are displayed on Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley and Blount County campuses.

Fourteen works will be on display in the Purchase Award Showcase, as more than one winner was chosen during some shows.

“We certainly look forward to having them on all five campuses as more works are selected at subsequent student shows,” Lockett said.

The Bagwell Center for Media and Art Gallery is located on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road, and is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Arts at Pellissippi State is an annual arts series that includes music and theatre performances and fine arts exhibits. For more information about The Arts at Pellissippi State, visit or call 865-694-6400.

To request accommodations for a disability at this event, call 865-539-7401 or email


Pellissippi State offers aviation training for teens this fall

Group of Tuskeegee NEXT and Pellissippi State officials who announced partnership on Monday, July 22, at Magnolia Avenue Campus
On hand at Pellissippi State to announce a new aviation training program Monday were, from left, Tuskegee NEXT Executive Director Sanura Young, Pellissippi State Economic and Workforce Development Executive Director Teri Brahams, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., Tuskegee NEXT founder and chairman Stephen Davis, Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman and Pellissippi State Executive Director of Equity and Compliance Annazette Houston.

Teenagers and young adults who want to get a jumpstart on a pilot’s license have the opportunity this fall through a new class at Pellissippi State Community College.

Pellissippi State has partnered with Tuskegee NEXT to offer a 13-week introductory aviation training for students ages 16-20, Pellissippi State announced in a kickoff breakfast Monday.

Classes will meet on Tuesday nights on Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue Campus, with one mandatory Saturday field trip. Professionals from the aviation industry will mentor students in the program, who will use a flight simulator to “fly.”

“It’s no secret that the aviation industry is facing a shortage of airline pilots, but that isn’t the only aviation career grappling with a labor shortage,” said Teri Brahams, executive director for Economic and Workforce Development for Pellissippi State. “Aircraft mechanics and flight simulator technicians are also in high demand. This course will introduce students to the opportunities available and provide options for training to pursue these careers.”

There is a global need of 754,000 new aircraft maintenance technicians and 790,000 pilots over the next 20 years, according to Boeing’s 2018 Pilot and Technical Outlook projections.

The nonprofit Tuskegee NEXT saw that need and created programs to help fill that void by offering aviation outreach programs to at-risk youth through Flight Training, Life Skills and Educational Assistance. The program is named in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the United States’ first black military airmen.

“As a historian, I am excited about the connection this program has with the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “As a community college president, I am pleased with the opportunities this program creates for young people in our community.”

Students who participate in the Introduction to Aviation class at Pellissippi State will gain the basic knowledge needed to sit for the Federal Aviation Administration private pilot written exam. Those who successfully complete the course and pass the written exam will be eligible to apply to the Tuskegee NEXT Cadet program in Chicago, which will run from mid-June to mid-August 2020.

Black and white photos of Tuskegee airmen and a certificate of proficiency for one of them, dated 1945
The Tuskegee NEXT program, which provides aviation outreach program to at-risk youth, is named for the Tuskegee Airmen, the United States’ first black military airmen.

“Students are often unaware of the many career possibilities available to them,” said Dean Rosalyn Tillman of Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue Campus. “Exposure to this industry as an option may create interest for some that was never before imagined.”

There are aviation careers available right here in East Tennessee, Brahams noted.

“Local employers like Cirrus Aircraft, the Air National Guard, Pilot Flying J, Jet Aviation, Endeavor Air, STS Technical Services, Standard Aero and many others currently have openings and expect future openings for the next 10 years or more,” she said.

Students must be at least 16 years old and a sophomore in high school, hold a minimum grade point average of 2.75 and have no criminal record. Preference will be given to minority and female students.

For more information or to request an application, contact Pellissippi State Business and Community Services at 865-539-7167 or


Pellissippi State alum reprises theatre role on New York City stage two weeks after graduation

Cast of "Soft Animals" in New York City
Pellissippi State graduate Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky, in red shirt, poses with her fellow cast members of “Soft Animals” in New York City, as well as playwright Erin Mallon, far left; Pellissippi State director Grechen Lynne Wingerter, fifth from left; and Farm Theater Artistic Director Padraic Lillis, second from right.

A recent Pellissippi State Community College graduate was the only student invited to participate in a staged reading of an original play in New York City.

Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky, who graduated Summa Cum Laude in May with her Associate of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts – Performance, reprised her role as Emily in “Soft Animals” in the May 20 reading. The reading with professional actors, a form of theatre without sets or full costumes, was the culmination of Pellissippi State’s 2018-19 collaboration with The Farm Theater in New York.

“I am incredibly grateful to have been offered the opportunity to share the stage with talented people who are currently living out my dream of leading successful lives in the New York theatre scene,” said Wilcox-Chelimsky, a native of Knoxville. “This being my first professionally produced show, I made sure to observe what I could about the interactions between the cast and artistic staff as well as processes and methods everyone used to bring the characters to life and pull the reading together in such a limited amount of time.”

“Kat was really holding her own with the New York City actors,” said Associate Professor Grechen Lynne Wingerter, who directed the world premiere of “Soft Animals” at Pellissippi State in November. “If you didn’t know she was a student, you wouldn’t know she was a student. She was great.”

As part of its College Collaboration Project, the Farm Theater commissioned playwright Erin Mallon to write “Soft Animals” for Pellissippi State. Based on those initial performances last fall, Mallon tweaked the play, a comedy that explores the perceptions we have about physical appearances and our relationship with our bodies, for the production of “Soft Animals” at Arkansas State University in the spring. She completed additional rewrites of the script before the public reading in New York City.

Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky rehearses "Soft Animals" in New York City
Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky, in red shirt, rehearses “Soft Animals” in New York City in May, the lone student among professional actors.

“Overall, the story didn’t change, as far as the plot, but there were character clarifications and relationship clarifications,” Wingerter explained. “With one character in particular, her connection to the story became much clearer. She was so much on the outside it was hard to have sympathy for her before, but we knew that we should. Her arc is stronger now.”

Wingerter and Wilcox-Chelimsky traveled to New York City for two days of rehearsal with the professional actors before the public reading, which was held in a small studio theatre near downtown. The reading, which was directed by Farm Theater Artistic Director Padraic Lillis, was followed by a post-show discussion with the playwright and the cast.

“Erin says it’s still not finished,” Wingerter said. “Some playwrights say a play is never finished. Who knows where it will go next? But this was the end of the road for us.”

And what a road it was.

Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky in costume in "Soft Animals" at Pellissippi State
Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky performs the role of Emily in “Soft Animals” at Pellissippi State in November 2018.

“This is unique for our students, to be the very first to bring a play to life,” Wingerter said before the November performances at Pellissippi State. “When you do the classics – say, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Death of a Salesman’ – there are preconceived notions of how those plays are supposed to be done, and there always will be comparisons. With a new play, our actors are allowed to experiment, to explore character development, and they’re focusing on applying what they’re learning in the classroom to the stage.”

“Soft Animals” also was unique, Wingerter added after the New York City reading, because Mallon wrote the play with college students in mind.

“They were not asked to play 50 year olds, so they felt a little more ownership,” she explained. “This gave them the chance to develop their roles, and one of the reasons Kat was chosen is how she brought that character to life.”

Wilcox-Chelimsky said she felt an immediate connection with the character of Emily when she received the script last year.

“She has an innocence and this sense of naive bravery that reminds me of how I was feeling as I graduated high school and went on this brave new adventure that was college,” Wilcox-Chelimsky said. “An acting choice that I made in rehearsal ended up in the stage directions of the final draft we worked with in New York. The thought that that decision I made on Pellissippi State’s stage could potentially end up in a published script one day and maybe even influence future performances of this character just completely blows my mind.”

As a director, Wingerter also learned from Pellissippi State’s participation in the College Collaboration Project.

Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky in "Soft Animals" at Pellissippi State
Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky originates the role of Emily in the world premiere of the play “Soft Animals” at Pellissippi State.

“I went to see the Arkansas State production, and I’ve never done that before – directed a play and then went to see it somewhere else,” she said. “It was interesting to see the different interpretations, but it’s still the same story. And that validates the story of the play and helps the playwright figure out, ‘Is this the story I want to tell?’ because if all these different people get it, she’s on the right track.”

For more information about the degrees Pellissippi State offers in Theatre Arts, visit