The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Panel Discussion

Social Activism & Appalachian Theatre

The panelists are Robert Gipe, Maureen Mullinax, Tal Stanley (moderator), and Anita Turpin. The panel spoke on October 8, 2015. TS: Thank you all for being here, and welcome to Emory & Henry. My name is Tal Stanley. One of the formative thinkers for my life and work is Raymond Williams, the Welshman, the cultural critic. And Raymond Williams did a great deal of work in the public and civic implications of drama. Raymond Williams said, “It was in drama that we first began to explore the edges of a new world, that we began to look and think about what it might be to inhabit a palace of hope, actually.” So I think it is entirely appropriate that we should have this panel on social activism and what might come from social activism in theatre. We’re joined today by Maureen Mullinax, who teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati. She works in the Sociology Department, and she has worked at Appalshop. She teaches courses in sociology of art, culture and society, social movements, and qualitative research. She finished her dissertation several years ago; and her subject was the power of place in civic engagement, which is a real key and central idea to much of the work we do here. We also have with us Anita Turpin. Anita is on the faculty in Communication Studies at Roanoke College. She’s taught courses in a variety of disciplines and a variety of areas over the years, including Appalachian Literature and Culture, Major British Writers, Studies in Drama, and Irish Literature and Culture. She wrote her dissertation a number of years ago on Brian Friel, the Irish playwright who has been compared to Chekhov, Pinter, and Miller, and whom all of us are mourning this week; because last week, Brian Friel died. He was truly a voice of his place, County Donegal. And then, Robert Gipe is with us. Interestingly enough, though Robert was born in North Carolina, he spent most of his life in Kingsport. He grew up on a diet entirely consisting of Pal’s burgers and drinking water purified by the Tennessee Eastman Company, which accounts for his hair, I guess. RG: And my mother—she cooked every once in a while. TS: I’m just reading what I got off the internet! He has worked at Appalshop, where he worked with public school teachers on art and civic projects, and he now teaches at

Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland. Robert says that his favorite writers are Flannery O’Connor and Richard Price because they are writers who write by ear; and he talks about how when his writing is going best, he is taking dictation from the voices he hears in his head. Now, as will become apparent, Robert and I are kindred spirits. We have spent an awful lot of time in meetings that were pointless and boring, and we take to those events similar strategies. We go to opposite corners in the far back of the room. Robert draws in a notebook. I didn’t realize he was writing a novel when I first saw him doing that, and I go to the opposite corner with my pad and a notebook, and I write too. Now, should you nod off in the course of this next hour and a half to wake up with Robert and I gone, just look in the back of the room, and you’ll see where we are. That being said, [to MM and AT] don’t take it personally if we go. We’re just doing what we have to do. I’m going to let these folks go. After they present, we’ll open the floor for questions. MM: It’s great to be back in the mountains. I just want to thank Nicole and all of the people who put together the festival. I’m very happy to be here with Tal and Robert and Anita, whom I’ve not met before, and especially at the commemoration of the new art center that you have here on campus. It’s very exciting, and I’m looking forward to going into that building. But I’m especially honored to be here on the campus where my mentor in the field of Appalachian Studies, Steve Fisher, who’s sitting in here with us today, has spent many years laying the foundation and working with others for participatory, community-based education programs, focused specifically on service learning and social justice efforts in Appalachia. I had the good fortune to work with Steve a couple of years ago on a chapter that I wrote for the volume that he co-edited with Barbara Ellen Smith, Transforming Places: Lessons from Appalachia (2012), that documents and critically analyzes much of the social activism—the contemporary social activism in Appalachia. And if you don’t know that book, it’s really a good resource. This morning I want to talk about Higher Ground as social activism; and as a sociologist, I often get the question, “What does sociology have to do with art?” In my academic work, I have spent most of my time looking

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