The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

22 Gipe, Mullinax, Stanley, & Turpin

(22). According to Schinina, “social theatre does not seek catharsis but metaxis (pluralization). Its ultimate goal is to empower differences and create solidarity [. . .]. In social theatre, the objective is to question society, with the living presence of its differences” (24). Thompson and Schechner point out that in social theatre two disciplines are melding: social work and theatre and, ideally, both disciplines are altered in the process. Social theatre can serve to help a community heal, to take action, and/or to take control of the story being told about them. The interdisciplinary nature of social theatre illustrates an abiding principle of the field of performance studies, that all of human experience is essentially performative in nature. According to Thompson and Schechner, “What the most effective social theatre does is to rub up against and reveal the performative in the setting, complementing or undermining it, challenging or further heightening it” (13). This revelation of the performative serves a vital purpose in Higher Ground as it helps the community offer a corrective to the inauthentic representations from the outsider perspective. Performances of social theatre can take place in traditional theatre spaces or in prisons, in refugee camps, in war zones, in nursing homes, or, in the case of Touchstone Theatre’s 1999 production, Steelbound , in an abandoned steel mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In addition to liberating performance spaces, social theatre expands the notion of what or who a performer is, calling for broad participation of the communities it moves into. The community members become what Schinina calls the “polyphonic” chorus, “a group made up of differences” being shaped by a leader, “ the choragus ,” who could be “an actor, playwright, [or] a social worker” (24). Even if the primary goal is social change, the resulting theatrical work is often elevated into the realm of the sacred by the transformative power of performance as a community rises up to claim agency over its cultural identity. Social theatre has been taking place in Appalachia since the mid-1970s through the fine work of Roadside Theater, a professional ensemble theatre company. Founded in 1975 as a part of Appalshop, the intent of Roadside Theater from its inception was to stage the stories of Appalachia. Within the first year, Roadside Theater had a successful production ready to go, the full-length play, Red Fox/Second Hangin’ written by Don Baker and Dudley Cocke. Using three storytellers playing multiple roles, the play presents the story of Wise County, Virginia, and Letcher County, Kentucky, 1885-1895. In the opening scene, the storyteller named D. H. sets the stage:

Hello. For those of you who haven’t read your programs, we come from the coalfields of Appalachia, the Cumberland Mountains where Virginia backs up on Kentucky. And we’ve come here to tell you folks a tale. It’s a true story about a man who lived down home back in the 1890’s, time of the first big coal boom. (60) That true story about the Appalachia coalfields would be told on stages across the nation for the next twelve years and would be staged off-Broadway in 1977 and 1978. From that successful beginning, Roadside Theater has continued for forty years to fulfill its stated mission, which is, in part: to enlist the special power of theater to: Document, disseminate, and revitalize the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of Appalachia; Tell stories the commercial cultural industries don’t tell; Support communities’ efforts to achieve justice and equity and solve their own problems in their own ways. (Roadside) Today, Roadside Theater continues to be a highly respected professional ensemble theater living out its creed of using performance to help “exploited communities” tell their own story as well as to collaborate “with other professional ensemble theaters to create intercultural plays that explore issues of race, place, and class” (Roadside). While Roadside and Higher Ground are both telling stories of Appalachia, Roadside is a professional theater company, and Higher Ground, as indicated earlier, comes to us from the particular branch of social theatre called community-based theatre. Syracuse University Professor Jan Cohen-Cruz, author of Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the U.S. , describes community-based theatre as offering “a varied mix of social justice, spirituality, therapy, and/or education as well as aesthetics” (364). Unlike community theatre (without the “based” or the hyphen), community-based theatre, Cohen-Cruz explains, “features original work or material adapted to and with the community performing it” (365). Often community-based theatre uses a resident playwright to help turn community gathered stories into a performance work. One of the best-known resident playwrights was Jo Carson. In addition to writing plays herself, such as the successful Day Trips , Carson collaborated with communities to create scripts for community-based theatre. One of her first collaborations began in the early 1990s in Colquitt, Georgia; variations of the original

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