As a teenager, Mil Cox turned pages for pianist Ralph Nolan at the original Spanish Trail Playhouse, which presented plays from 1962 to 1968. Today, she is a vital part of the new Spanish Trail Playhouse—an all-volunteer group that produces a full cache of plays and musicals each year.
“Ralph was the new high school choral teacher back in the 1960s and a leader in bringing live theater to Chipley through the original playhouse that opened in 1962,” says Mil, who grew up in Chipley and remembers the first Spanish Trail Playhouse. “He was a breath of fresh air for the high school, and really influenced our theater and performing community back then.”
Mil was part of The Crescendos—a musical octet of four boys and four girls formed by Ralph to tour the state.
When Mil left Chipley in 1963 to attend Florida State University, she set aside her love of theater to pursue a nursing degree.
The Spanish Trail Playhouse closed its curtains five years later.
Mil was busy with four children and worked full time when she and her husband returned to the area in 1972.
Not until she retired in 2012 did Mil reconnect with the reimagined Spanish Trail Playhouse—this time onstage in the fifth season, playing Louise in “Always Patsy Cline.” She fell in love with the theater again, joining the board of directors and working on and off stage.
While the Spanish Trail Playhouse was dark, eighth grader Kevin Russell met Chipley High School English teacher Luwana Locke. Like teachers before her, Luwana staged productions at the school.
In 2001, she selected Ayn Rand’s “The Night of January 16,” but was having trouble finding the right student to play a pivotal character.
“Kevin had been performing at the First Presbyterian Church, and I had heard about him,” Luwana says. “I never had enough males for roles, and we needed someone to play the judge. People kept telling me to get Kevin for the role, so he auditioned. He was very good and carried it off very well, especially since he was only in eighth grade.”
It was the beginning of a mentorship that lasted the next five years and beyond.
“Kevin just has a natural talent for theater—not only on stage, but as a producer and director,” says Luwana, who retired from teaching in 2017. “Drama was one of my greatest stressors when I was teaching, but it also has given me my greatest rewards. Kevin really stepped up as he got older and became a key member of the theater program.”
By the time he was in high school, Kevin knew he wanted to spend his life in theater, right in Chipley.
“We often had conversations about it, and by the time he was 19 and a student at Chipola College, he was putting his plans in motion,” Luwana says.
In 2006, Kevin began to bring his dream to life. Luwana—whom Kevin calls his “inspiration and driving force”—remains a steadfast sounding board and supporter.
“It has been amazing to see what Kevin has accomplished,” she says. “I never had any doubt that he’d be a success.”