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Sisters Share the Northwest Stage Two Years Apart

Photo courtesy of Northwest Community College
Left, Abi Wiggins as “June Sanders” in Northwest Mississippi Community College’s 2011 production of “Smoke on the Mountain.” Right, Wiggins’ sister Elizabeth will portray “June Sanders” in the college’s production of “Sanders Family Christmas,” the sequel to “Smoke on the Mountain.” The play will run Oct. 24-27 at the Fine Arts Auditorium on the Senatobia campus. / Photos by Justin Ford and Sarah Sapp

Visiting with Senatobia sisters Abi and Elizabeth Wiggins brings to mind the old Irving Berlin classic “Sisters” from “White Christmas.” If you listen, you can almost hear “Sisters! Sisters! There were never such devoted sisters!”

As sisters they have always had to share, and now they are sharing something pretty unique. Two years ago, Abi wowed audiences with her portrayal of June Sanders in “Smoke on the Mountain” at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Later this month, her sister Elizabeth will portray June in Northwest’s production of “Sanders Family Christmas,” the sequel to “Smoke on the Mountain.”

Abi, who majored in theatre at Northwest, graduated last May and is now at Mississippi University for Women continuing her education. Elizabeth is a high school senior. After graduation, Elizabeth plans to attend college and major in broadcast journalism, but is not sure where she wants to go. She is also interested in meteorology.

The two girls are very close. They moved with their family from Pensacola about 10 years ago when their father got a job with Fedex. They also share a love for the theatre. There are four girls and two boys in their family. Abi is the third child and Elizabeth the sixth. Four of the children attended Northwest.

The character June Sanders is the oldest daughter of the Sanders family. She is described as a comical character who uses her own “sign language” to “sing” with the family. “I wanted to play June,” Elizabeth said. “I don’t have a strong singing voice like Abi, so I auditioned for the non-singing role. But the main reason was that Abi played it, and I thought it would be cute for me to do it too,” Elizabeth said.

Ironically, Abi also only wanted to play June. “Typically you just have a blanket audition and they don’t know what part you want unless you tell them beforehand. I went in there, not just singing and hoping for a call back the next day. I went in with hand motions because I only wanted June,” Abi said. Her own interactions with her siblings influenced her portrayal of June. “I kind of saw June as very excitable and willing to do whatever it took to be a part of her family. I made her get extremely excited when one of her family did their parts and become excited to do her little part as well. I wanted the audience to remember June,” Abi said.

June was not the only character Abi played at Northwest. During her time at Northwest, Abi also portrayed Juliet in Northwest’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the lead character Maggy Burroughs in “Joined at the Head,” and Christi Garcia in “Slasher.” She was recently cast in two Neil Simon vignettes at The Mississippi University for Women.

Elizabeth saw every performance and several of the rehearsals when Abi was appearing in “Smoke on the Mountain” two years ago. Although she feels Abi’s portrayal of June will influence how she plays June, she still intends to put her own “spin” on the character. “I’m just kind getting that ‘big, bold’ June from hers and putting my own spin on it. It will be like her June, because she was June,” Elizabeth said. June will be her first major role on stage. She has previously performed with her homeschool group and had a minor part in Panola Playhouse’s “Wizard of Oz.”

Abi plans to be in the audience to see her sister perform. “I am super excited about Elizabeth playing June. She is a fabulous actress and I’m very happy for her to have this role that I know she has wanted for a while. It is a fun role to be in because everything is so silly, and I’m just excited for her to have this opportunity,” Abi said. Elizabeth says she doesn’t think Abi’s being in the audience will make her nervous. “I’ll just be excited to know she’s out there,” Elizabeth said.

Northwest theatre instructor Sadie Shannon, who is directing the play, is thrilled to have Elizabeth in the cast. She also directed Abi in “Smoke on the Mountain.” “The Wiggins girls can be trusted with any task. They seem to meticulously master what is placed before them with skill and a smile, on and off the stage. Their optimism is what I desire for all of my students. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with both of them,” Shannon said.

Musical direction for the play will be by Susanne Spencer VanDyke, director of choral activities at Northwest. David Morgan, Northwest technical director, will serve as technical director for “Sanders Family Christmas.”

Performances for “Sanders Family Christmas” will be held Thursday – Saturday, Oct. 24-26 at 7 p.m. with a matinee on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. in the Fine Arts Auditorium on the Senatobia Campus. Tickets for the play are $10, General Admission, and $5 for seniors and students. Tickets are available at the door.

For more information, contact Shannon at 662-562-3329 or email sshannon@northwestms.edu.

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