Nadia Watts Q&A
Your book Thomasville in Concert is so thorough and extensive, going all the way to Thomasville’s 1937 year and recording the city’s change through national events such as World War II. With so much information, where did your research begin?
Oh, my gosh — that’s something I’ll never forget. I met with Linda Hester, TEF’s archivist, at her home when we were first discussing the project. I thought she must be moving out of town, because boxes lined the perimeter of the dining room, scrapbooks were stacked in four-foot piles in the study, and three-ring binders covered the sofas in the living room. I learned very quickly that these were many of TEF’s archives — photos, scrapbooks, notebooks and concert programs from the 1930s to the present. And they all came home with me!
When I had them all organized in my office, I sat down and read it all piece by piece. It took a while. Only then I was able to begin to synthesize the information and decide what information would go in each chapter.
Do you have a particular section of the book that during the creation process you enjoyed most?
I started with the chapter on education — right in the middle — because I am a teacher myself, and somehow I felt this chapter informed the rest of the book. It’s inspiring to know that Thomasville’s adults have always placed quite a value on educating the generations that follow.
I also loved researching the quirky stories that have been told through the years about visiting artists and the volunteers who worked with them. Those anecdotes definitely lend the human element to the history.
Throughout all your research, were there any things you had to cut from the book? And if so, what?
What has become most astounding to me through this process is that TEF has been run by volunteers since the very beginning — people who have generously given up their time, their talent, and their hard-earned paychecks to support the performing arts and their children’s arts education. In 80 years, did you know that there’s only ever been one paid employee? That level of consistent commitment is truly remarkable.
But here’s the thing: it would have taken volumes to list all of the people who have made the Thomasville Entertainment Foundation what it is today, so we had to make some executive decisions. That’s why Thomasville in Concert is less of a yearbook and more of a journalistic history.
Personally, what has been your best experience in Thomasville, whether that be a music festival, attending a concert or theater event, or even having an overly above average dinner?
That’s a tough question! There’s so much I love about living in Thomasville. Dinner at Sweet Grass Dairy with my family. A.M. boot camp with the toughest trainer I’ve ever known. The scent of baking bread downtown. Yoga classes at Lotus. The Covey Film Festival. The Bookshelf. The Plantation Wildlife Festival. My eldest son’s school plays and my youngest son’s tennis matches. Even grocery shopping is an event in Thomasville — we call it the “Publix Party,” because we always see friends there. If an event involves good people, it automatically becomes a favorite for me.
What musical/entertainment group were you most surprised to see perform in Thomasville?
Our little town draws world-class artists every season, which is extraordinary — and what’s more, they often ask to return to perform. It can be hard to believe that artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Van Cliburn chose to perform right here in this city.
Personally, I had a ball this entire season, but a highlight was when we attended a performance by and then met Chris Brubeck and his band, Triple Play. You may have heard of his father, Dave Brubeck, legendary jazz pianist and composer.
Well, on Triple Play’s first visit to Thomasville some time ago, they fell in love with the beautiful terrain on their drive from Albany, so they wrote a song about our town and performed it that evening. During their visit this year, it was fun to hear that song performed again. Thomasville is truly a special place.
What types of things did you learn about Thomasville that you didn’t know before?
I’ve only lived in Thomasville for four years, and I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to conduct interviews for various projects with all types of people from many walks of life. I’ve discovered that every interview is like a puzzle piece; the more interviews I conduct, the clearer the picture — and therefore my understanding of Thomasville.
What always strikes me is that the values of community, faith, education and enrichment are of the utmost importance to the people here, and as far as I can tell, they always have been.
How did the research for Thomasville in Concert make you feel about the future of Thomasville as a whole and as a community?
Really, my research confirmed a lot of my initial impressions of Thomasville and made me very proud to call myself a member of this community.
TEF was established against all odds during World War II. With their husbands, fathers, and brothers off at war, the last thing folks thought about was spending their resources on entertainment. However, a local group of music lovers felt very strongly about celebrating the arts and educating the children of Thomasville, so they toughed it out. The result is a very successful concert series here — one that’s been going strong for 80 years.
I really enjoyed your anecdotal author’s note where you told your son he is a part of the next generation and it was up to him to keep music alive, for if not, who else would. Expanding on that, what advice would you give to younger audiences?
As a mom of two bright boys living in the iPad era, I’m truly grateful that the performing arts pull their attention away from the screen and onto the stage. Our kids risk losing vital social skills as they are glued to their devices.
Music, theatre and dance are reflections of our world. If kids aren’t on stage or behind it, I certainly hope they are encouraged to become appreciative audiences, no matter what the artform.
I believe the performing arts help teach us to understand ourselves and others. They’re vital forms of expression that inspire emotion and connection, which are essential to living in our social world.
I hope everyone enjoyed the Q&A with Nadia Watts.
She will be at The Bookshelf during Independent Bookstore Day so come swing by and meet an all around wonderful person!