Look around. If you chose seven belongings whose stories would impart an understanding of who you are and the life you’ve lived, what would those be?
Story Slim Smith | Photographs Luisa Porter
It’s hardly a surprise that when asked to come up with a list of seven things that tell his life’s story, WILLIAM “PEPPY” BIDDY struggles with the task.
The difficulty is not coming up with seven items that paint a portrait of his life, but rather, limiting the list to just seven when 10 or 12 seem on more or less equal footing.
His interests and passions are not limited to his career.
For more than 20 years, Biddy has called home the theater department at Mississippi University for Women, but his contributions to theater go far beyond his role as professor of Theatre and director of Graduate Studies (MFA program at Accadamia dell’Arte in Arrezo, Italy) at The W.
He has directed plays for New Stage Theatre in Jackson for a decade, and his work for the Mississippi Theatre Association earned him MTA’s highest honor this year. He has also been the production manager for the famous Sundance Theatre Lab in Utah for 12 of the past 14 years.
At 56, Biddy has come to appreciate the things in his life that have stood the test of time.
“I like old things that keep on working,” he says. “You know, things like me.”
1. There is no better example of Biddy’s devotion to the old, tried-and-true things in his life than his General Electric REFRIGERATOR, an appliance Biddy inherited from his grandmother. “I have no idea how old it is,” he says. “I remember it from my earliest days when I visited my grandmother in Memphis. It just amazes me that, old as it is, it just keeps on working, keeps on doing the job. Maybe that’s a metaphor for me as I get older. I like things that work, no matter how long they’ve been around.”
2. In his office, Biddy fishes out an old 8 MM MOVIE CAMERA, noting that his first interest in story-telling came from the impromptu movies he made as a youth. “I think I got this camera when I was 13 or 14 years old,” he says. “I remember making movies, usually with the youth group at church — East End Baptist Church. I think even as far back as then, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. When I got to Ole Miss, I gravitated toward the stage, mainly because that was what most of the theater program was built around.”
3. Biddy has lost track of how many plays he has worked on, either as a director or production manager. He keeps a select few of the POSTERS from the plays he has directed in a cabinet in his home. “I have no idea of how many plays I’ve done, to be honest, but I’d have to say it’s well over 100 now, when you count the plays at The W, New Stage and Sundance.”
4. As noted, Biddy’s contributions to theater have not gone unrecognized by his peers. Yet the “award” that gives him the most pleasure is a construction paper-doll cutout of Biddy’s likeness that occupies a chair in his office, given to him by students from Sale Elementary School. “They had a program in school at the time and part of it was a visit to (The W). We were doing tap dance that day, so I showed them how to tap dance. There were probably 30 to 40 kids.” A few days later, Biddy received the paper doll, whose “vest” opened up to reveal letters written from the children, thanking him for showing them how to dance. “It’s great, isn’t it?” he says, smiling as the picks up the doll and “dances” it around his office.
5. Biddy’s PASSPORT has plenty of stamps, most notably his frequent trips to Italy, where he conducts the The W’s Masters of Fine Arts theater program. There was also a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. “I love to travel and see new places and one the great fringe benefits of my career is that it has taken to me to so many places,” he says.
6. While he wouldn’t go so far as to consider himself a health nut, Biddy says being fit and healthy is something he finds important. His primary means of achieving that is through YOGA. “I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that was the first time I had the chance to take a real yoga class,” he says. “I’ve been doing yoga ever since. In fact, in 2000, I started the yoga class here at The W. I think the thing I like best is that it is a great way to exercise without being involved in something competitive. It’s different every day and you come to understand that that’s OK, too. It’s very personal.”
7. When Biddy decided it was time to get a pet, he did his homework. “I went to the shelter and looked at what they had,” he says. “There were two dogs that really caught my eye. One was a cocker spaniel and the other was KENZIE here,” he says, stroking the border collie’s head. “I went back three times to the shelter. After doing my research, I decided on the border collie and studied how to train her. Then I brought her home, and she trained me.”
Kenzie, now almost 9, has proven to be the steady, faithful, fun-loving companion that is common to the breed. There is something else Biddy noticed, too — a secret talent. “You’ve heard about service dogs, of course,” he says. “Well, I can tell you from watching Kenzie with my mother and my father, before he passed away last year, that everything they say is true. When Kenzie’s around, you can just see how much of a lift she gives them. She does that for me, too. She’s just a loving, fun girl.”