Southwest theater student wins prestigious Ostrander award

Theater major Ariona Campbell won an Ostrander award for best supporting actress.

Congratualtions to Southwest theater student Ariona Campbell on winning a top acting award for her performance in the student production of “Crumbs from the Table of Joy.”

Campbell won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama in the college production category at the 36th Annual Ostrander Theater Awards held at the Orpheum Theater on Aug. 15. The award is named after beloved Memphis theater icon Jim Ostrander, a long-standing member of the local theater community who died in 2002. Ostrander awards are given in a wide range of categories including acting, directing, and technical personnel in both community and college theater.

Campbell was honored to win the award because it was her first time performing in a play, but even more gratifying because her grandmother was in the audience to witness her acting debut. “I can honestly say that I was satisfied with the nomination because I was in awesome company,” Campbell said. “It was really special for me because that was the first play my grandmother had seen me perform. She passed away in May.”

“Crumbs from the Table of Joy” was written by Lynn Nottage, a distinguished African-American playwright and the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. It was directed by Southwest theater instructor Sheila Darras and was staged last October as part of the Nottage Festival.

The play is set in 1950 and tells the story of recently widowed Godfrey Campbell and his two teenaged daughters, 17 year-old Ernestine and 15 year-old Elmira, who have moved from Florida to Brooklyn. Godfrey has turned to religion for guidance to heal his grief. Things change when free spirited Aunt Lily from Harlem shows up and fills the young girl’s head with ideas about communism, sexual freedom, and the fight against racial discrimination. Complicating things even further, Godfrey later marries a white woman, a German immigrant who has experienced the horrors of World War II and is hopeful for her new family’s eventual love, but finds it troubling that her race should have any impact on her stepdaughter’s feelings toward her.

Campbell played the role of Aunt Lily and said she drew inspiration for the character from her own family. “I come from a big family of women,” Campbell said. ‘So I didn’t have to reach too far to dig for that character. She was very strong and intelligent and kind of on the fringe bucking the system by wanting her niece to follow in her footsteps of being an educated black woman. I really studied the character and put my own touch on it. It was amazing.”

Southwest students were nominated in three other categories: Jess Brookes, Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Closer Than Ever, Brandon Lewis, Best Leading Actor in a Drama for Imagination, and Winston Mize, Best Leading Actor in a Musical for Closer Than Ever.

Congratulations to Arionna and the nominees for their outstanding work!


Aunt Lily, played by Campbell, clashes with her brother-in-law Godfrey in a scene from “Crumbs from the Table of Joy.

Aunt Lily, played by Campbell, clashes with her brother-in-law Godfrey in a scene from “Crumbs from the Table of Joy.

Campbell drew inspiration for her role as Aunt Lily from her own family.

Campbell drew inspiration for her role as Aunt Lily from her own family.