The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

6 Baker, Davidson, Egerton, & Wright

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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