The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Baker, Davidson, Egerton, & Wright 9

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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