The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Baker, Davidson, Egerton, & Wright 7

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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