The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Bremmer, Gregg, Piper, & Rose 33

nice marriage for Barter Theatre and the culture of the region. It was a nice marriage from an economic standpoint as well. If you come from a Scots-Irish tradition, you already have a tradition of storytelling and a great connection to stories about yourself, about history, about what’s going on in your region, and about what went on with your ancestors. That model of storytelling also made the region very ripe for great theatre. Barter had a history from its inception through all Bob Porterfield’s years of doing world premieres. I’ve done over eighty world premieres in my twenty-three years at Barter Theatre. Bob Porterfield did a minimum of two a year from the time he started, all the way through; and in many cases, he did as many as five or six. These works were mostly from New York playwrights, but some were also from local playwrights. Bob Porterfield tells a story in his memoirs. Because he had been on Broadway, he had good connections with New York agents, and he got to choose playwrights. These particular agents he was working with had three playwrights whom they wanted him to consider: one was William Gibson, who went on to write The Miracle Worker , one was Tennessee Williams, and the other was another gentleman. Bob Porterfield said, “To show you how good I was, I choose the other gentleman. He went on to work with us for two seasons, and his plays were awful.” And he said, “The other two, obviously, went on to illustrious careers.” He said, “Shows how good I was at choosing playwrights.” Many Broadway shows began at Barter Theatre in one form or another, and many famous playwrights actually worked at Barter Theatre with Bob over the years. Tennessee Williams came back and did Milk Train , which, for those of you in theatre history, Milk Train was directed by the then-twenty-year-old Adrian Hall, who went on to found Trinity Repertory Company and become one of the great directors in the United States. Barter has had a deep, deep, deep, history with the Appalachian culture, with world premieres. I’ve run two theatres now on each end of Appalachia. I ran the American Stage Festival in Milford, New Hampshire, which is one end of Appalachia. The Peterborough Players was just across the mountain from us and was very definitely started as an Appalachian theatre and a summer stock company and still is in existence today. And on this end of Appalachia, I’ve been here now for twenty-three years. I also worked with a group out of Cincinnati, and I worked with the poor in Appalachia. I spent three

summers of doing that in West Virginia and in Kentucky. I actually have a background in working with Appalachians for some time, allowing me to get to know people very well, and I have developed a great respect for this region. Nick, I’ll turn it over to you to talk about the AFPP. NP: My name is Nick Piper, and I’m the director of Barter Theatre’s Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights (which we refer to as the AFPP). I’ll spend a little time giving you a broad overview of the festival and its purpose, and then, I hope that during the question-and answer session, you might have more specific questions that we can get into. The AFPP was founded in the year 2000 in order to give voice to the stories of the Appalachian region. I think at the time we felt that there was a gap in the theatrical canon of plays that authentically reflected the Appalachian experience. We set out to create a program that would help us develop new work that mattered to our audience: plays that celebrate and also investigate what it means to be Appalachian, plays that challenge long-cemented stereotypes that haunt our region, plays that might even examine why those stereotypes exist, and plays that look at what it means to be Appalachian today. I think most recently, that’s where you get a lot of new plays when you’re dealing with coal mining plays and plays that are set in hollers with haints; and while those are an important part of our history and our tradition, what it means to be Appalachian today is a little different, and that’s what we’ve been investigating a lot. Over the past fifteen years, we’ve grown from a week long festival to, just with this year’s festival, a month-long festival that included film, food, and music. Most importantly, it’s grown from a reading series that helps us develop plays to a vital audience and community outreach and development program. Here’s how our festival works. Each year, we receive scripts from all over the country. We receive about a hundred plays a year; we go through panels until we whittle them down to seven. Of those seven, one is given what we call a mini-production, which I’ll talk about in a minute. The plays are cast out of our resident acting company and rehearsed for a total of about six hours. We have just enough time to do whatever minimal staging is necessary for clarity; we do a read through of it, and then we put it up in front of our audience. During the festival, we read the plays; and after each play is read, a panel made up of local and regional theatre professionals give us some feedback. Primarily this method is meant to just start a discussion, and what’s by far the most important part of

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