The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII
Bremmer, Gregg, Piper, & Rose 31
We did a lot of research on this, and the triggerman was not really Keith or Barnes, although Keith may have given the orders. A young Captain Nelson, a wealthy young man from Albany, Georgia, who was known for turning in insurgents and similar actions, was actually charged with taking the prisoners to Knoxville. He probably made the decision on his own that such a journey was unnecessary and to rid himself of the task as quickly as possible. There’s a flashback sequence of when the massacre actually occurred to show details like this one. This production is viewed as our most successful, being in the community and showcasing our own county. We extended this play for three weeks because it sold out before we opened, and people could not get enough of it. We actually took it on a brief tour into the Shelton Laurel community, and one of the older descendants of the Shelton family of Shelton Laurel was there to see it. She was too old at the time, in her mid-nineties, to come to see it at the theatre on the campus of Mars Hill, so she came to see it there. We had a talk-back after the play, and I asked her, “Well, how did we do?” She said, “Well, you did pretty good. Not exactly the way I heard it, but you did pretty good.” She was not at all overly critical; but she certainly was not about to give up her side of the story. Perry Deane Young and I wrote another play called Thomas Wolfe: Home Again, the story of Thomas Wolfe in the last year of his life. It was taken from texts that are underlaid through Look Homeward, Angel (1929). They’re all from newspaper accounts, journalistic writings about Thomas Wolfe during this time, and the historical facts about Thomas Wolfe in his last year of life—the only time he came back home to Asheville after he wrote Look Homeward, Angel . He witnessed a shootout in Burnsville and had to go to court. The nice thing about SART’s being on campus of Mars Hill University now is that is where we started. We are umbrella-ed by the Department of Theatre Arts. In 2003, we became our own 501(c)(3) corporation. The university was not in a good place at that time, so we created our own 501(c)(3). We are still being housed on campus there. The benefits of being there have a lot to do with the fact that the university gives us a lot of in-kind contribution. As a matter of fact, I’m an in-kind contribution. I have a year-round contract with Mars Hill University, but my summer duties and duties as the executive producer now of SART are all paid for by the university. The same is true of our artistic director, Joel P. Rogers and our designer/technical director, Richard Segal. Likewise, we bring in actors from out of town. They
are housed in university housing. We also have office space. We have use of the theatre. We have all of the support services that the university has to offer to us during our stay there on campus. It’s quite a benefit to be connected to the university in that respect, having always been a college theatre from our inception, to have to go somewhere else and to get that kind of support from a community that we’re not a part of already is almost insurmountable. Those people who start theatres these days can tell you. If all of that is going to have to be a part of your budget, that’s quite a nut to take care of. Our most recent plays include A Tennessee Walk by Rob Winn Anderson and Promises by Joel Williams. A Tennessee Walk is about an event that happened in Erwin, Tennessee, in the early 1900s when a circus came to town. This event ultimately ended with the hanging of Mary the elephant for killing a trainer. The story of what happens to Mary is connected to the racial tension in Erwin, Tennessee, during this period of time. While Mary the elephant is hanged, a young woman is raped and murdered by a man who is lynched. As it turns out, a mob lynching happens with him, parallel to the elephant. Last year, in Joel Williams’ Promises , we examined how the TVA and the Duke Power Company flooded not just Lake Jocassee, but Fontana Lake and Lake Lure and other places. There are, in the bottoms of these lakes, the culture and heritage and the graveyard of different folk. Joel’s play deals with how you have to get to Decoration Day now that the cemetery’s on a little mound in the water. You have to take a pontoon boat and cross the lake to get out to take care of the cemetery. Joel was quite wonderful to work with, and that was our most recent Appalachian play. That’s where we are in the present. In the future, I think our challenge is going to be to maintain a relationship with Mars Hill University. Right now, we have a president of the university who’s very supportive. He’s also a native of western North Carolina, a first-generation college student of Mars Hill in the 1960s. But I think the challenge has been and will continue to be finding material that gives an honest portrayal of the people of our region in all aspects of their lives. I’ll admit that over the years, we’ve done mostly historical texts and stories as they reflect where we came from. I want to start doing things of a more contemporary nature. I want to examine where our next generation is and the kind of things they’re dealing with now in Appalachia; and I think that Robert Gipe is definitely addressing those things in Harlan County. I would like to come up with more stories that are reflective of things that Ron Rash is doing.
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