The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII
The Iron Mountain Review Appalachian Theatre Issue The Iron Mountain Review Appalachian Theatre Issue
Published under the auspices of the Department of English of Emory & Henry College. Correspondence should be addressed to Nicole Drewitz-Crockett, Editor, The Iron Mountain Review , P.O. Box 947, Emory, VA 24327. The Iron Mountain Review
Thomas Alan Holmes, Guest Editor Nicole Drewitz-Crockett, General Editor
Jennifer Daniel, Assistant Editor, Graphic Designer John Lang, Editor Emeritus Robert Denham, Editor Emeritus
The Iron Mountain Review thanks Robert Gipe and the Higher Ground company for their gracious permission to present the script to the tenth anniversary production of Higher Ground , and it also thanks the songwriters whose lyrics are reproduced here: Kenny Colinger (“Find a Way”) and Justin Taylor (“Better You Find My Devil, Lord,” “What’s Next,” and “River Taught Me to Run”). The Iron Mountain Review also offers its thanks to Morgan Cahill for her work in formatting dramatic texts in this issue. Additionally, please note that we have backdated this issue to Spring 2019 in order to keep it in chronological sequence between our Karen Salyer McElmurray and Jim Minick issues. Length, transcription, fundraising, and permissions for original work caused delays in publication. We have faithfully represented all content, including contributors bylines, as they were at the time of the Emory & Henry Literary Festival in 2015 and the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in 2016. Maureen Mullinax’s passing has been commemorated at the end of the issue.
Copyright © 2019 by The Iron Mountain Review
The Iron Mountain Review
Appalachian Theatre Issue
THE GUEST EDITOR’S PAGE .......................................................................................................................... 2
THE EDITOR’S PAGE .......................................................................................................................................... 3
THEATRE IN APPALACHIA AND THE TOURIST IMPULSE Panel Discussion ................................................ ............................................................................................... 4 SOCIAL ACTIVISM AND APPALACHIAN THEATRE Panel Discussion ...................................... ....................................................................................................... 17 REGIONAL THEATRES AND ACADEMIC PARTNERSHIP Panel Discussion ........................................... ................................................................................................... 28 PLAYWRITING AND PERFORMANCE IN APPALACHIA TODAY Panel Discussion .................................................... .......................................................................................... 41
ROBERT GIPE AND HIGHER GROUND COMPANY Higher Ground: 10th Anniversary Review . ...................................................................................................... 51
THOMAS ALAN HOLMES Crawling from the Muck: Stereotyping Appalachia in The Other Side of the Mountain ........................... 67 KATHLEEN CHAMBERLAIN ‘Like Watching a Zoo with Hillbillies in It’: Cultural Positioning in The Other Side of the Mountain .... 73 ROSALIND PATRICE HARRIS In Memoriam: Maureen Mullinax ................................................................................................................... 80
The Guest Editor’s Page
same queries occurred from panel to panel, such as what defines Appalachian theatre, who can write Appalachian theatre, what subjects should Appalachian theatre address, and to what audience should Appalachian theatre appeal? As panelist Derek Davidson states, “First, the Appalachian theatre, like the region, is not monolithic. It cannot be neatly summarized in terms of its contents, its diversity of artists, its plethora of missions and audience bases.” In a similar manner, this issue of The Iron Mountain Review cannot neatly contain the events of the festival; in a literal fashion, this issue goes beyond the festival, because reactions to the performance of The Other Side of the Mountain led to a panel at the thirty-ninth annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference, where participants in the Emory & Henry event presented a session titled “Voices from the Other Side: A New Appalachia, an Old Affront.” This issue contains two of the essays from that panel. Aside from the scholarly papers presented at the festival, this issue also features transcriptions of the less scripted, more animated (but always companionable) parts of sessions, the inclusion of which has required some discrete editing, emendation, and bracketed insertions for clarity. Finally, The Iron Mountain Review has the privilege to offer the complete script of the tenth anniversary performance of Higher Ground , which includes touchstone scenes from previous performances. We have a full issue, and it still does not seem big enough. The opportunity to revisit the 2015 festival through these documents has reminded me how vital this creative impulse proves in enriching our day-to-day lives, and I appreciate my role in helping to preserve this record of the event. I also thank The Iron Mountain Review ’s general editor, Nicole Drewitz-Crockett, and its assistant editor, Jennifer Daniel, for their patience, advice, and encouragement during my guest editor stint. I am eager for late fall, when it will be time for the next festival.
When Nicole Drewitz-Crockett, editor of The Iron Mountain Review , invited me to guest edit the Appalachian Theatre issue, I agreed without hesitation. I have come to consider the Emory & Henry Literary Festival one of the more important functions in our Mountain South region because it conventionally celebrates the work of active Appalachian writers: people who reflect and direct our understanding of Appalachian culture. In turn, The Iron Mountain Review , which collects the proceedings of the festival such as author interviews, transcriptions of panels, and scholarly papers, serves as a valued, sometimes first resource in the study of rising Appalachian authors. Each festival is a generous gift to the Appalachian community, and each Iron Mountain Review issue preserves the bonds this event nurtures among our diverse culture, our writers, and their works. I could not turn down Dr. Drewitz-Crockett’s invitation, as the thirty-fourth annual festival offered a major shift in content and presentation. Rather than focusing on a single author’s work, it explored Appalachian theatre. This change in focus occurred because in 2015 the literary festival commemorated the opening of the Woodrow W. McGlothlin Center for the Arts, a significant addition to the Emory & Henry campus, with an art gallery and many performance spaces. The building’s layout even permits those in the upper hallway to look through windows into the set design and construction space of the Theatre Department. The festival’s events showcased the center’s amphitheater with a storytellingpresentationbyHannahHarvey, thecenter’sblack box theatre with the Theatre Department’s full production of Catherine Bush’s The Other Side of the Mountain , and the center’s main stage with the tenth anniversary performance of Higher Ground . This range of live drama demonstrated in a mere couple of days the McGlothlin’s status as a worthy venue. The festival’s presentations also offered a wide range of perspectives regarding Appalachian theatre. Many of the
The Editor’s Page
At its groundbreaking in 2013, the McGlothin Cen ter for the Arts was heralded as “a beacon for arts and culture in this region” by then President Rosalind Re ichard and a space that would “stimulate the imagi nations and hone the skills” of students by then Vi sual & Performing Arts Division Chair Lisa Withers. It only seemed fitting then that the first literary festival following the building’s completion not only be held in the space, but also that the event itself focus on regional theatre. Using John Lang’s 25th Anniversary gathering as a model and working in collaboration with the E&H Theatre Department, the 2015 literary festival included panel discus sions, readings, and live performances. Designated “A Cele bration of Appalachian Theatre,” the two-day event brought together well-known regional theatre scholars and perform ers as reflected in this issue of The Iron Mountain Review . Topics of discourse highlighted Appalachian Theatre’s relationship to tourism, social activism, academic institu tions, and contemporary playwrighting. These robust ex changes added much to our understanding of the field; and for their faithful transcription, we are indebted to Morgan Cahill. In conjunction with scholarly conversation about Ap palachian theatre, theatrical performances were central to the celebration. Storyteller Hannah Harvey brought min ers’ experiences to life through her interpretation of oral histories collected in the region. Writer Robert Gipe gave a spirited reading from his debut novel Trampoline (2015) and participated in Higher Ground: 10th Anniversary Review , a compilation of previous pieces crafted especially for this festival. The full script is available in this issue. The festi val’s final performance, Catherine Bush’s The Other Side of the Mountain , highlighted LGBTQ+ issues in the region. In many ways the performances helped to illustrate the topics discussed during the panel sessions. It was an obvi ous and seemingly natural fit to highlight the work of Cath erine Bush, Barter Theatre’s playwright-in-residence, during the literary festival and to have award-winning theatre pro
fessor Kelly Bremner direct it. While The Other Side of the Mountain does portray the concerns of a lesbian couple as they wrestle with familial acceptance in rural eastern Ken tucky, it also relies on stereotypical places and people to set its scenes. As with any depiction of a culture, images that contradict lived experience can emerge, even in surprising places. As festival participant Anne Shelby writes in “The ‘R’ Word: What’s So Funny (and Not So Funny) about Red neck Jokes,” “unlike the mountains, which can be seen from some distance, stereotypes jump out at you in ambush-at parties and meetings, at dinner with friends, from movies, from magazines and newspapers, from your favorite TV show. Even in college classes” (153). During Karen Sabo’s talk-back following the play it became evident that such an ambush had occurred; many audience members, includ ing Appalachian Studies scholars, had been taken aback by inaccuracies. While the resulting tension was uncomfortable, it also became the impetus for fruitful discussion about the play itself and the larger context around Appalachian stereo types including the desire to move beyond them as well as the seeming impossibility of doing so. At the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in the spring of 2016, I convened a panel entitled “Voices from the Other Side: A New Appalachia, An Old Affront.” It featured schol ars Jack Wright and Anita Turpin, both of whom partici pated in the festival, as well as Thomas Alan Holmes and Kathleen Chamberlain. Their presentations considered dramaturgy, diversity, controversy, time, types, and cultural positioning as it pertained to The Other Side of the Mountain as well as other works by Catherine Bush. Essays by Kath leen Chamberlain and Thomas Alan Holmes are included in this issue. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Thomas Alan Holmes for his work as guest editor on this issue and to Jennifer Daniel for her tireless work as assistant editor.
Robinson, Allie. “E&H Breaks Ground on Woodrow W. McGlothlin Center for the Arts.” Bristol Herald Courier , 19 April 2013, https://heraldcourier.com/ archive/e-h-breaks-ground-on-woodrow-w-mcgloth lin-center-for-the-arts/article_b0937236-ab8d-11e2- a477-0019bb30f31a.html#tncms-source=signup.
Shelby, Anne. “The ‘R’ Word: What’s So Funny (and Not So Funny) about Redneck Jokes.” Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes , edited by Dwight B. Billings, Gurney Norman, and Katherine Ledford, University Press of Kentucky, 2000, pp. 153 – 160.
Theatre in Appalachia and the Tourist Impulse
The panelists are Don Baker (moderator), Derek Davidson, Kate Egerton, and Jack Wright. The panel spoke on October 8, 2015. DB: Morning! I’ve been tasked with brief introductions. Basically, I’m going to tell you how we’re going to proceed in traditional Appalachian fashion, with the men first, followed by Kate. KE: I get the last word. DB: This is Derek Davidson, who teaches at Appalachian State, and Derek’s going to talk about the Appalachian character and what it means when we say “the Appalachian theatre.” Jack Wright will follow him. He’s retired from Ohio University in Athens. Jack was with Appalshop for many years, and Appal Records. Jack is going to talk about early twentieth-century Appalachian drama. And this is Kate Egerton, who teaches at Berea. Kate’s going to talk about what happens when non Appalachians do Appalachian theatre. We are not going to have buzzers if they go overtime. We will try to present each paper or talk, then turn it over to questions and have some discussion. Any questions before we start? Derek, all yours! DD: Lake Jocassee is a tourist destination in northwestern South Carolina; it is a little over forty years old, with attractions both above and below its shoreline. In the early seventies, Duke Power built an embankment dam on the Kiwi River, flooding the valley north of the dam to create the 7,500-acre lake. The process of acquisition is a familiar drama rehearsed numerous times over the course of the twentieth century, the exotic catalogue of names the Holston would talk of—Watts Bar, Fontana, Appalachia on the Hiwassee, Jocassee—reveals little history of the social and environmental upheaval that created them. Doubtlessly, few of the thousands of campers, boaters, and picnickers think about the history of these man-made lakes, strange hybrids of industrialization and the natural landscape; but at Jocassee, scuba divers drawn to the lake’s perfect diving conditions can read 300 feet below the surface the silt-covered signs of what used to be. They may skirt the tops of Attakulla Lodge, a final holdout owned by the Fletcher family. The more stalwart divers may swim further to find the Mount Carmel Baptist Church Cemetery. They amble among the tombstones,
absurd flippered tourists, wandering in the underwater dim among the names of the Jocassee Valley dead. There’s one Doris Yvonne Hamilton, and over here Silas Hinkle, who died apparently at eighty-one years old. A smart aleck from previous dives has placed a plastic skeleton astride people’s stones. Here’s another thing—in 2008 I was living in Bristol, Virginia. We hired a local carpenter to fix our bathroom. I don’t recall his name, just that he was a smallish man with no front teeth—not that the number of teeth he had in his head had anything to do with his ability to put in a sink. I remember the first day he drove out to our place (we lived a ways outside of Bristol). He looked around, looked down our small dead-end dirt road, and confided in me, “I know something about this road.” He said, “You know, back up in there.” He pointed conspiratorially down where our road bent into the southwestern Virginia woods. “Back up in there. That is where they filmed that movie Deliverance , no lie.” I had had no idea our little lane had been part of one of the most respected and oft-quoted movies of the twentieth century. Insert tired reference to banjo music here. Oh, and it isn’t true. I’ll return to these two stories later in my talk. For now, what do we mean when we talk about Appalachian theatre? When we talk about the theatre, are we talking about the region? This is ambiguous—it stretches all the way from northern Alabama to Mount Katahdin in central Maine. It includes the Alleghenies, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smokies, and the Catskills, etc., etc., etc. It includes the towns Birmingham, Knoxville, Asheville, Stanton, Bennington, and Pittsburg. According to the audience, there is the ambiguity of what constitutes Appalachian theatre. Do we mean plays set in the region or about the region? That is, for whom is this Appalachian theatre intended, for the locals, for tourists? Neither? In fact, each of these questions compels a different narrative. Therefore, I am going to narrow my examination to Appalachia as a region, and very briefly and more meditatively, Appalachia as a subject. First, a look at the region. Once again, it’s so huge that it encompasses so many different kinds of theatre that I will only outline here today. There are also theatres attached to universities and schools that we would not wish to ignore. The West Virginia University in Morgantown, whose Theatre
Baker, Davidson, Egerton, & Wright 5
Department just put on as diverse a program as Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House , Kiss Me, Kate , and Mary Zimmerman’s The Arabian Nights . Pittsburg, again, is home to Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburg, two of the most prestigious theatre programs in the country. There are also East Tennessee State University and University of South Wales Swansea; their current season including Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well and a new work about the children of Terezin. There’s Virginia Tech, whose current season includes Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and the farce Boeing-Boeing . Hollins University, Shenandoah, Western Carolina, Warren Wilson, Marietta. I would include the schools represented at this conference as well: Berea College, Appalachian State, and Emory & Henry. Technically, since they’re part of the region, I have to note the theatre programs in the southern tier of New York: Ithaca College, Cornell, Binghamton. A discussion of schools and their seasons would, therefore, report productions covering every genre and style, from the classics and O’Neill to postmodernism, musicals, contemporary playwrights, farce, and murder mysteries. There’s even an annual “Gay in Appalachia” event held in Blacksburg, Virginia, that explores through song, storytelling, and drama the resilient but often overlooked LGBTQ+ population in the region. In other words, if we were to ask what was being done in Appalachia, the answer would be a resounding “everything.” But since this study is turning in my hand like a snake, I will look only at a few locations as representative. What is missing from this examination is overwhelmingly more populous than what is actually in the examination, but I am nonetheless going to further break down the region into three major subregions: the north, the middle, and the south. The middle also kind of bisects North Carolina and eastern Tennessee (“Subregions”). I want to point out that the material I have used—this map—has been borrowed from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which was established in 1965 and reflects the ARC mission, which was “to address the persistent poverty and growing economic despair of the Appalachian region” (Burnette). Their maps therefore tell a slightly modified though related tale, a tale whose particular hue has colored much of the outside perception of the region. When we think—when we close our eyes and think Appalachian, we think a particular image—“we” being also a monolithic “we.” I’m also going to show you very briefly only theatres that are professional theatres, and I’m going to ignore those college programs and university programs. I’m also,
woefully, missing a discussion of the origins of theatre in this region which start as far back as the 1830s with the birth of showboat theatres, by Pittsburgh, that plied the Ohio River. I’m going to overlook such brilliant work as Roadside Theater and Appalshop. Hopefully, you will touch a little bit on that today. Also, I’m not going to talk about Richard Owen Gere’s wonderful work with Community Performance International, all deserving a panel, a semester of talks of their own. Although it is part of my larger research, I will do little more than mention the history of the Appalachian as typology as well. But I would direct you to the work of Anthony Harkins. His Hillbilly: The Cultural History of an American Icon (2004) summarizes very nicely that typology going all the way back to colonial days and the amalgam of the early frontiersman and the northern Yankee, a very interesting study. I will, therefore, examine very briefly the following theatres: the Oldcastle Theatre Company, the Contemporary American Theater Festival, the Barter Theatre, and the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre. Oldcastle is a professional theatre company in Bennington, Vermont. It has been in existence since 1972. It has a solid tradition of touring as well. In its early years, it confined its tours to New England states, but it’s expanded its travel to all over the world. It dedicates itself to performing new works, recently producing an original work, Ethan , about Green Mountain boy and revolutionary Ethan Allen. And it did Civil Union, a play examining the effect of Vermont’s same-sex union law on the residents of the state. So, in other words, it is performing a service for its own community in a very real and interesting way. I would like to highlight the work of the Contemporary American Theater Festival as one of the most exciting festivals in the country, as far as I’m concerned. This annual festival, begun in 1991 by Ed Herendeen, does exciting new work. In fact, “to produce and develop new American theater” is their sole mission (“Mission”). Located approximately seventy miles northwest of Washington, DC, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, it caters to sixty percent of its audience members, which are from outside the state—in other words, tourists. I’ve mentioned the Barter Theatre just to whet the appetite of the panel tomorrow and this weekend’s performance from Barter Theatre’s own playwright Catherine Bush. This is a theatre that has an age of lineage. It was created in 1933 by Robert Porterfield. It does every kind of theatre you can imagine, from tragedies to classics to musicals. But, additionally, it has hosted an annual Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights every
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summer since 2001. This festival draws playwrights from all over the region, although the subject matter itself can vary. At least a few plays each festival deal with distinctly Appalachian issues. For example, one play from the 2015 festival recounted the story of workers in a Pennsylvania mountain town. The Barter has a devoted local constituency but also sees thousands of tourists each year. I’d like to end this brief overview of the kinds of theatres that you can experience in Appalachia with Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre. It was created in 1975 by James T. Thomas in order to put on professional productions, paying special attention to, in the words of its mission, “‘plays concerning Appalachia that portray the rich culture and heritage of its people’” (“Southern”). In its mission, it has stated a specific goal of connecting with its local region. Although the current season betrays a little bit, or at least belies, their straying from their mission with Pump Boys and Dinettes and As Time Goes By . Its performances take place at the Owen Theater at Mars Hill University, so it is also connected to a campus. Time has permitted me only the briefest of introductions. There are so many more and such interesting ones. The message, though, and my larger point, sort of, as an overview for this festival, is a two pronged investigation. First, the Appalachian theatre, like the region, is not monolithic. It cannot be neatly summarized in terms of its contents, its diversity of artists, its plethora of missions and audience bases. The theatre in Appalachia is happening; it’s vital; it’s necessary. It serves a host of different communities: urban, educational, religious, rural. It entertains, it informs, etc. You know the cant. Often, it offers up its audience members recognizable images of themselves. In a certain sense, there is no Appalachian theatre if what we mean is the kind of theatre that is unlike the theatre affair elsewhere in the country and that, using the term from Gerard Manley Hopkins, it “selves” (1.7). It does not “self ” in the way we think. How is the American Shakespeare Center distinctly more (or less) Appalachian or less than Barter or SART? That is, we use the term “Appalachian” as a reference to something else—what one might call the Appalachian character. When, therefore, we speak of Appalachian theatre, are we speaking about theatre that exclusively focuses on stories, people, and issues of the region? Must we restrict our usage to allude to Horn in the West or Higher Ground or the handful of plays coming out of those artistic experiments going on at SART or Barter? Then I return to the anecdotes with which I began
this paper—Lake Jocassee and the carpenter who referenced Deliverance . Because, truly, this character which can quickly move into stereotypes is as beautiful and as slippery as the theatres discussed, if the stereotype does rear its head, as it continues to do so on rare occasions. I’m thinking of Robert Schenkkan’s embattled Kentucky Cycle or Romulus Lenny’s Gint or Holy Ghosts or the cardboard cutouts encountered in any number of outdoor dramas, which, to be fair, have a different agenda entirely. When I say the stereotype appears, it is either reinscribing itself in a spasm of incompleteness, solecism, undermining itself, or ignoring the idea of itself as stereotype altogether. So, again we must ask, of what use, to what purpose? One possible answer is that Appalachia, like Moore’s Utopia or Hilton’s “Shangri La,” is a composite “no place,” nowhere, housed in our nation’s collective unconscious. “Appalachia,” as a concept, not the actual region, is a refigured warehouse of the mind, a memory theatre not unlike those Renaissance structures employing images grotesque and beautiful and infused with place—a mountain, a field, a building—in service to prodigious recollection. This “Appalachia,” the invocation of a stereotype rather than a true physical area, accesses a nostalgia of high contrast and low density, a rarefied place of primary colors, simple lines, and uncomplicated affect. The religious are sweeter while the uneducated are either kindly simple or devilishly ignorant. The old are wise. The homespun truths hovering in the air of this place are vague and poetic. This is a place outside our periphery, so that it is almost always in focus but never actually here or there. We need this place. We need it to remain opened, our little “away from things.” The geography of the mountains lends itself to this process. Even now we can find roads leading back into corners where the twenty-first century makes its way slowly, only after it has infiltrated all urban, suburban, and/ or open rural regions of our country first. So, the twenty first century has come. So, this concept “Appalachia” and its attendant wistful stereotypes appear less and less, ghosts of ghosts. We are talking, then, about another instance of Derridean erasure in the sense of region rather than of race or gender. But the world has changed. Progress has overtaken the valley, requiring we dive deeper for theatrical evidence of erasure. And this erasure serves others. It is a tourist’s enterprise, if by tourism we can also talk about the colonial enterprise. So, we’re talking, in other words, about a kind of “Appalachia-fication,” which happens elsewhere. It can serve those tourists of the region, as well; and it can serve ourselves, but it is a kind of elsewhere, tourist enterprise. And we see this, in fact, among searches for Appalachian
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theatre going as far as the Taproot Theatre in Seattle, which is doing an Appalachian Christmas Homecoming . What is Appalachia to them? Appalachians are people. They like Shakespeare and musicals. They suffer through O’Neill or Miller and laugh at Simon the way Northerners do and Southerners and Westerners do. They sometimes go to the theatre, sometimes not. They occasionally encounter an image, supposedly of themselves. But there remains an obstinate pull toward reinscription, a mass production of stereotypes that are no longer or perhaps were never useful or relevant. I’m thinking now of some of the photography of Shelby Lee Adams, who pronounces “app-uh- latch -un” “app-uh- lay -shun,” by the way. He recognizes the rendering of the mental impresses that we have of the region as increasingly irrelevant. Adams watches from his camera, waiting to capture this thing, this special look, this “salt of the earth” look that he helped to create in the national consciousness, this viewpoint that’s reflected in the economic focus of the Appalachian Regional Commission and, as already observed, one that fails to speak the whole truth. But we all watch, even we of this hardscrabble country, cringing at grotesque images of what we perceive to be representations sometimes of ourselves. “No, surely,” we say, “these are representations of other people.” And our disconnect is as strong as that of the carpenter, who believed that scenes from Deliverance , that iconic example of the othering of Appalachians in popular culture, had been filmed on my road, he who, and with all due respect, himself looked like an extra from the movie. We cringe because the “why” of our search is stronger than the “what’s” tenuous connection to reality. The hillbilly of Gint or of the Adams portraits does not exist anymore than does Shakespeare’s Queen Mab. These are shadow figures conjured of scraps from historical, political, prejudicial agendas that should have been laid to rest but persist, if with little of the potency of even a decade ago. The good news, as we have seen, theatre in Appalachia, if not Appalachian theatre, is healthy, diverse, growing. Yet we are drawn—even we, an elite band of tourists in our own landscape—to dive into the waters and to follow in the dim, silt-hazy light the traces of a time come before. We make out shapes that are recognizable and titillating. For instance, we see a marker beneath which rests some very real and amazing eighty-one-year-old man, for instance, named Silas Hinkle, who died in 1918 and knows nothing of the changes in his environment and can offer nothing now in the way of insight or meaning of life. Some relative of Silas may have witnessed the flooding of
Jocassee Valley and the gradual disappearance of his grave. They may even have been around to watch the filming of a scene from Deliverance , for, as a matter of fact, it was filmed, in part, beside this lake. Here, the seemingly unrelated anecdotes with which I began this paper about the carpenter and Lake Jocassee come together at last. So, tourists that we are, having gazed long enough at the murky stone, we float away, wondering about what is real—what fantastical—fascinated more by what our imaginations conjure than by what we can see or know. We ease back to the surface because it’s dark, and soon we will run out of air. JW: I’m going to give you a survey of my topic, as I didn’t come to any real conclusions yet. But I really appreciated Derek’s presentation. First of all, I wanted to dedicate my portion of whatever we’re doing here today and tomorrow to a colleague and dear friend of ours, Jo Carson. She was blessed with the ability to capture the spoken word from those around her. She spent over twenty years working with people’s stories in communities across the country, crafting more than thirty plays from the oral histories she collected. In performance, these works have illuminated and invigorated the communities in which they were forged, as the people see themselves onstage in a new light. So, here’s to you, Jo. I’d like to start by reading an account by Thelma Cornett, a student actress from Kingdom Come High School in Letcher County, Kentucky, about a tour she took in 1927. She writes, I remember the first Thanksgiving play that was given here in Kingdom Come High School. [ . . .] We also gave a play, “Eleanor of Pine Mountain,” loaned to us by the young writer, Earl Hobson Smith, and we used that for a fundraising plan for our school, which had just been getting started. It was given in Big Stone Gap, Va.; Middlesboro, Ky.; Appalachia, Va.; Norton, Va.; MacRoberts and Whitesburg in 1927. The play was given by local talent, and we had a young lady, Miss Florence Singer, of Philadelphia, who sponsored the play and was our chaperon, and also the Reverend Frakes was the chaperon for the boys. Our trip was successful in raising money, for we had a large audience each place, and the students had their first experience traveling and staying at small, old-fashioned hotels and boarding houses. The mountain highways were not finished then, but the one between Virginia and Jenkins, Ky., was under construction. We rode taxis to the top of the mountain on the Virginia side, but had to walk on down to Jenkins. We mountain youngsters
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play, Wilderness Road , ran through several years of Berea College’s Indian Fort Theater, and, incidentally, was actor Ned Beatty’s first acting job the summer before he moved on to the Barter Theatre. There was also a playwright named Kermit Hunter who started his collegiate career here at Emory & Henry and later went on to graduate school. He wrote over forty plays, and some are still being performed. He wrote the Cherokee drama, Unto These Hills , which is a long-running play. It has been revamped and revised through the years. But it is a very historical play, and I really enjoyed it when I saw it the summer before last. I went there thinking I wouldn’t like it. As a general rule, I tend not to like outdoor dramas because of what they are. But anyway, speaking of the Barter Theatre, the organization was very active in community outreach in the 1960s. I remember once in 1960, Ned Beatty and Jim Mitchum came to my high school, J. J. Kelly in Wise, with a traveling troupe from Barter Theatre. They put on two plays, one for the school assembly in the afternoon and the other that evening. Their performance of Rapunzel became the first professional theatre many of us youngsters had ever seen. Later, when I was a senior, I played Demetrius in The Robe , which was also a popular movie of the time though I had yet to see it. In 1974, I became an early member of the Roadside Theater, which was founded by playwright Don Baker at Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky. At the beginning, we performed The Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales , collected from our neck of the woods by Richard Chase, whom I later met in California. We brought him back to Letcher County; and he went school to school, telling his stories—and he was quite an eccentric man. Our ensemble toured with these folk tales to various regional communities and schools. We had a week’s run at the American Folklife Festival in 1976 for the bicentennial celebration at the Capitol Mall in Washington. I also worked for Lime Kiln Theater which Don Baker founded in 1984. I did two summers with Don. It “is our mission to give artistic voice to the issues and dreams of people who have been silenced by” the many “forms of oppression” (The Carpetbag). That is a part of the mission of the Carpetbag Theatre in Knoxville. It serves communities by returning their stories to them with honesty, dignity, and concern for the aesthetic of the particular community, helping culturally specific communities to redefine how they organize. Through the work of renowned Black playwright Linda Parris-Bailey, the company works in partnership with other community artists, activists, cultural workers, storytellers, leaders, and others, creating original works
didn’t mind the hike down, but the lady from Philadelphia considered it a real hardship, and it was a hardship for her. (Cornett 17) The story of Eleanor of Pine Mountain is one of many interesting examples I found while researching the long tradition of playwrighting and performance in Appalachia. For my presentation today, I decided to dig a little deeper into the particular story as well as give some history on plays within our region. Early on, Earl Hobson Smith, a 1923 graduate of the University of Kentucky, worked with a group called the Kentucky Playmakers. Not much is yet known about the Playmakers, but Smith wrote many plays of regional and historic flavor. For Eleanor of Pine Mountain , he spent a year in the mountains, collecting what he called “local color.” Eleanor was first presented at the Woodland Auditorium in Lexington, Kentucky, and had the distinction of being the first play written by a UK [University of Kentucky] graduate and presented to the public off-campus. Among the other plays Smith wrote was his adaptation of John Fox, Jr.’s Trail of the Lonesome Pine . I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Smith when I was cast in the Trail in Big Stone Gap in 1968. It’s Virginia’s longest-running outdoor drama. This past summer marked its fifty-first year. Another early influence on early Appalachian playwriting was Professor Frederick Koch—not to be confused with the Kochs we know of today—who came to UNC Chapel Hill in 1918, where he taught the school’s first playwriting courses. He also started the Carolina Playmakers, so the original student plays could be produced. Professor Koch wrote, The Aim of the Carolina Playmakers [. . .] is to build up a genuinely native drama, a fresh expression of the folk-life in North Carolina, drawn from the rich background of local tradition and from the theatre and a new folk-literature. (qtd in Greene[sic]) Among his early notable proteges were Loretta Carol Bailey, Paul Green, and the young Thomas Wolfe, who went on to study playwrighting at Harvard. Green and Bailey he touted as his best students. Miss Bailey wrote and produced Strikes On based on the 1929 Gastonia Textile Strike; and as the southern textile industry denounced it, she must have done a good job. And Paul Green received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1927 for In Abraham’s Bosom and later became famous for his pioneering work in outdoor drama. His Civil War vigorous new life of the present day. In these simple plays, we hope to contribute something of lasting value in the making of a new folk-
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through collaboration and a style based in storytelling and song. But Carpetbag covers more than just Appalachia. Much like the work of writer Jo Carson, they go all over the country and do their workshops. They were just in Miami this past spring. For more than the last decade, Robert Gipe has followed suit and added to Carson’s model by producing work that is collected and scripted by the community and shaped into highly-attended performances, giving the community back its stories in much the same fashion that educates both the actors, the musicians, the techies, and the community members. This process also gives voice to issues that are sometimes divisive and hard to talk about in the communities struggling to survive. Gipe’s students at Southeast Community College in Cumberland, Kentucky, get a first-hand education through this multilayered creative search for story. The community slowly changes. I wanted to talk a little bit about the University of North Carolina’s situation. They were very active in producing plays and producing playwrights. Koch was the first guy to teach scriptwriting at Chapel Hill, and he trained many, many playwrights, such as Paul Green, whose first play was The Lost Colony out on Manteo Island right off of Virginia. It was one of the first outdoor dramas that he called symphonic outdoor dramas. Romulus Linney, who passed away just a few years ago, spent his early childhood and many summers with relatives in Boone, North Carolina. In 1952, he took a course called “Balance and Folk Songs of Appalachia” at Appalachian State, taught by Dr. Cratis Williams. According to Linney, “The course and Professor Williams made a deep and lasting impression on me. It led me later on to write both fiction and drama set in Appalachia” (qtd. in Appalachian). I talked with a storyteller and playwright named Gary Carden who lives in Sylva, North Carolina, not far from Western Carolina University. And he was inspired to write by a French woman who taught at his high school. She brought a stack—she had been in Frederick Koch’s class—and she brought a stack of student one-act plays to the class. He went through them, and they acted two or three of them out in the room each week; every Friday they would do a play, and he just got drawn to that. He has spent the rest of his life as a storyteller and writer. He’s not very well-known outside of his little region, but I urge you to get familiar with him. He’s eighty years old now, and he’s diabetic. He lives at home alone with his dog, Pumpkin, who’s a rescue dog. He’s a wonderful character; I had a really great conversation with him over the phone. Also, my friend Billy Edd Wheeler has written many
plays. He wrote a play about the Hatfields and McCoys for a local playhouse in Beckley, West Virginia, that ran for several years. He’s written about twenty plays and a couple of screenplays and two books. Now he’s working on another screenplay. He’s eighty-two and in really good health. He’s a graduate of Berea College, where he got turned on to writing; he wrote his first one-act which was then taken off campus and produced in Danville, Kentucky, by a man named Eben Henson. Eben started the Pioneer Playhouse, which is still going today and is run by his son, a very great filmmaker named Robbie Henson. Angie Debord, who lives in Scott County on Clinch Mountain, has written several plays—one-woman shows—and, of course, Robert Gipe has worked with five plays that his group has produced in the last ten years. [To KE] So I think I will just turn it over to you. KE: I’m calling this “Where Does the Tourist Impulse Take Us: Staging Appalachia for Insiders and Outsiders.” And I’ve been asked for today to talk about this thing called “the tourist impulse in Appalachian theatre,” and that first made me think of outdoor drama, of which I am also not the largest fan. Maybe it was because I went to graduate school with Paul Green’s biographer and got a little overloaded early in my career. Laurence Avery is a fabulous scholar, and I respect him highly, but our tastes do not align—let’s just call it that. Things like the Trail of the Lonesome Pine and Wilderness Road were of great interest to me when I first got to Berea and realized that Wilderness Road had been really firmly put into Berea College’s past. It had been produced for many years at the Indian Fort Theater. The whole structure of that theatre at this point is basically gone. There’s still a stone amphitheater out at Indian Fort. There have been several levels of institutional erasure of that play, and that’s a really interesting story to tell, but I might have to leave Berea to tell it. There are some very hurt feelings around this, and I only tenderly touched on a couple points and, sort of, said, “Ooh, I’m too new here to stir this up.” But there are a couple people I’d like to interview before we lose that opportunity because I’m really interested in how community drives theatre, particularly theatre that grows in a particular place. But I’m also interested in how much space there really is between these long-running site-specific works like Trail of the Lonesome Pine , inspired by the novel of the same name by bluegrass born John Fox, Jr., and new iterations of theatre in Appalachia, such as Higher Ground and Silas House’s recent play, The Hurting Part , which in different ways have begun
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to travel the region beyond their first homes. Since coming to Berea in 2006, I’ve been looking at the intersection between my primary research field in modern and contemporary American drama and Appalachian literature; and I’ve been surprised by the widely divergent critical conversations that make up a decidedly odd scholarly landscape. Plays that take up Appalachia as a serious topic thrive in many regional theatrical settings; however, when playwrights from outside the region take on Appalachian themes, the results are often sensational, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Robert Schenkkan’s The Kentucky Cycle , which won the 1992 Pulitzer for drama, produced an extraordinary amount of criticism inside Kentucky. This response stemmed in part because Schenkkan’s first view of eastern Kentucky came from a single weekend trip to Harlan County, and he drew on sections of Harry Caudill’s 1962 Night Comes to the Cumberlands as he wrote many parts of his theatrical epic. Schenkkan’s concern with theatre’s myth-making capability put him at odds with Kentucky audiences who saw only more derivative and demeaning stereotypes. Gurney Norman in his “Notes on The Kentucky Cycle ” saw Schenkkan’s “portrayal of Kentucky mountain people as passive victims of fate,” as “people so dumb, greedy, and shiftless that they have indeed caused their fate” (328). And as I’m interested in the rift between Appalachian drama produced within the region and plays produced in other American theatres, using Appalachian settings and characters, controversy surrounding The Kentucky Cycle , I thought, might just provide the model for a new debate. This debate was initially triggered by another play I’m very interested in called The Burnt Part Boys , which is a new musical set in a West Virginia coal town that opened in New York in May of 2010 after a multi-year development process at several theatres and workshops in the Northeast. And I’ll get back and talk about that play at some length. But within the region, Appalachian drama has a rich tradition of engaging communities where they live, as we’ve been hearing this morning. The other theatre I want to add, building on with the reference to Billy Edd Wheeler, is the Kentucky Repertory Theatre at Horse Cave. And one of the great things, great contributions to those folks who study this material is a recent anthology published by Motes Books of plays that premiered at Horse Cave, which includes Billy Edd Wheeler, as well as some other things. It’s a big, fat collection of scripts, and I think it’s going to be a great resource for those of us who want to both teach and produce this material. So that’s
something I would encourage you to look at. When The Kentucky Cycle won the Pulitzer in 1992, few mainstream commentators failed to mention that this was the first Pulitzer for a play yet to be staged in New York. But these same voices did not recognize the importance of the play’s West Coast origins. So “out of New York” is actually a larger, more diverse area than people in New York like to think. Once The Kentucky Cycle finally made it to Broadway in 1993, it lasted less than four weeks, which pleased many of its Appalachian critics (although, to be fair, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America made for some very stiff competition at the box office). Broadway only has so much room for plays that are very long, and the audience of people who are willing to go to multi-part, many multi-hour endeavors is limited. And Kushner just flattened The Kentucky Cycle at the box office. The ongoing controversy excited by The Kentucky Cycle carried over to its 2002 production at Breaks Interstate Park. Breaks Interstate State Park launched the Artist Collaborative Theatre and provided a fascinating model for how many voices clamored to define what James Manning in his 2001 article “Appalachians in the Spotlight: Focus for the Future” calls the “dramatized Appalachian” (301). Manning looks back to the 1920s when plays with Appalachian settings and characters were all the rage in New York. Patrick Hue’s Hellbent for Heaven , for example, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924. Comparing these plays, whose content can be pretty well assessed by titles, like The Shame Women and The Dunce Boy , both by Lula Vollmer, to The Kentucky Cycle, Manning concludes Broadway has been no friend to Appalachia. In 2009, Appalachia returned to the New York stage, this time in the guise of a musical. Peter Mills and Cara Reichel in Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge adapted J. M. Synge’s 1907 play The Playboy of the Western World by setting the story in Depression Era Appalachia. Reviewing the show for the New York Times , Anita Gates opines “Why not move The Playboy of the Western World from the Aran Islands to hillbilly land, from the turn of the 20th century to the Great Depression? Well, dang, if that don’t turn out to be a mighty fine idea!” In the New York Times , I found that interesting. And the title of that 2009 review was called “Old Time Moral Confusion with Music and Moonshine.” What Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge lacked, as Synge himself would have been the first to point out, was a fine ear immersed in the language of place on the stage. Synge himself wrote in the preface to Playboy of the Western World , one must have reality and one must have joy; [. .
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.], and people have grown sick of the false joy of the musical comedy that has been given them in place of the rich joy found only in what is superb and wild in reality. In a good play every speech should be as fully flavored as a nut or apple, and such speeches cannot be written by anyone who works among people who have shut their lips on poetry. (xx) Cara Reichel, the Prospect Theater’s producing artistic director, grew up in Rome, Georgia, but it seems she has been a long time gone from home. So, in May of 2010, another musical set in Appalachia opened on West 42nd Street in New York at Playwright Horizons: The Burnt Part Boys. And this title is hard to pronounce; and I think it, sort of, affected the show in some odd ways. The book is by Mariana Elder, and the music is by the team of Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen. The play emerged from an intensive development process funded in part by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Edgerton Foundation for New American Play Awards. In 2014, as they were working on a musical theatre adaptation of Tuck Everlasting , Miller and Tysen also won the Fred Ebb prize, which awards $50,000 to theatrical songwriting teams who have not yet had significant commercial success. So, they’re still out there working. I haven’t heard the Tuck Everlasting score yet, though. Writing on the New York Times Arts Beat blog in 2009, Patrick Healy described the new show The Burnt Part Boys as “set in West Virginia in 1962, a coming-of-age story, centering on a group of teenagers whose fathers were killed ten years earlier in a coal-mining accident and their actions after they learn the mine will be reopened.” Funding sources for The Burnt Part Boys stressed its development in a regional non-profit theatre which would seem to suggest a potential synergy with a regional non-profit theatrical world of the southern mountains. However, from the beginning, The Burnt Part Boys seems likely to be about and not of Appalachia. I saw the show twice in New York, back to-back. I went to go and see it and to take notes. And while I came away pretty severely disappointed, I also then realized, “Oh, but there’s so much to talk about!” But it was not a fun two days. The play opens on a bare wooden stage with an illuminated backdrop showing a mountain’s silhouette, and all of the show’s set furniture is constructed from four large wooden ladders on wheels and some
wooden chairs. Throughout the performance these pieces are rearranged to create each setting. The musical revolves around two brothers, Pete and Jake, whose father has died in the 1952 explosion. Their mother, apparently like the other women affected by this tragedy, has become totally incapacitated by her grief and never appears onstage. The Disney-mother treatment of women in this show is worth a whole other essay, but I will spare you that today. I start ranting at that point. Jake has raised his younger brother, who is now fourteen and has recently begun his own career as a coal miner. As the show starts, Pete hears on the radio that the section of the mine in which his father died is about to be reopened. And Jake admits that he’s been offered a promotion to take part in that work. Pete wants the mine, his father’s tomb, to remain undisturbed. Here’s where things get weird. The “burnt part” of the title seems to be a literal tomb; the characters suggest that the miners’ bodies were never recovered, although grave markers have been set nearby. “The Company,” which is named for the town, makes vague promises draped with misery and atonement which have now been swept aside in the name of progress, or something. Pete and the other characters in the play seem amazingly uninterested in how the original accident happened, if they know at all. There’s no mention or awareness at all of ownership (absentee or otherwise) land rights, unions, or anything else that those of us in the region would expect to be there. The children, orphaned by the 1952 explosion, seem to live in a vacuum, relying only on themselves. The younger brother Pete is obsessed by his favorite movie, The Alamo , and, at different parts of the play, has dialogues with characters from that movie in his imagination. The actor who plays Davy Crockett also plays the ghost of Pete’s father later in the show, but The Alamo characters are more real to Pete than his memories of the father, who died when Pete was four. Additionally, I think the action of The Burnt Part Boys invokes Walt Disney’s own Davy Crockett project starring Fess Parker, which brought the frontiersmen legend to the attention of American children in 1954 and ‘55. A great PBS piece on Disney aired a few weeks ago and, sort of, recaptured the somewhat fanatical cultural moment of making Davy Crockett this obsession of American children. The older brother Jake and his friend Chet first appear onstage after a mining shift, drinking Schlitz
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