The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

34 Bremmer, Gregg, Piper, & Rose

our process is to get an audience discussion going. For a playwright, there’s nothing more valuable than hearing feedback from an audience who actually buys tickets to theatre. Oftentimes, a playwright will have their play read in front of their friends, their family, other actors, and artists; and that’s a useful thing, but it’s nothing like hearing it in front of a roomful of people who don’t know who you are, who’ve never heard your work, and who have no obligation to tell you how brilliant you are so that they don’t hurt your feelings. That’s a very different thing and what I think the playwrights who come to visit us find most valuable. I mean, we offer a great week for the playwrights who come. They come down, they get to know us at Barter, they get to see our work, they see plays, we have dinners and celebrations and talks and all sorts of stuff; but nothing compares with the opportunity for a playwright to hear what’s working and what’s not working for a brand new audience. After we read these plays, we compile all the feedback between the panel, our staff, and the audience, and then I send that to the playwrights so then they have this document of feedback by which they can continue to develop their plays. We choose one of those plays to go onto a mini-production the following year or maybe into full production. Mini-production is the second stage of our development process. It’s essentially production with minimal production values, the suggestion of a set, a costume, minimal lights. We joke it’s mini for everyone except for the actors, who have to be off-book; for them, it’s a full production. We give it a short run of about eight performances, which allows the playwright the chance to incorporate the feedback that they’ve received. We work with them over the course of the year, and it gives us a chance to get more feedback from the audience and also start building excitement and momentum for this new play that ultimately will be fully produced. I think one of the most unique aspects of our festival is that it attracts writers of all skill levels. It’s a very egalitarian festival. There’s no entry fees. It doesn’t even cost the price of a stamp; you can email your submission. We’ve even helped people take an idea and realize that into a full production. I think the greatest example of that for us and what I think really reflects the AFPP at its best was a show we developed called Keep on the Sunny Side: The Story of the Carter Family . This started in the lobby of the Barter Theatre with a patron, Doug Pote. He saw Rick afterwards and said something akin to, “You know, you guys should

really write a play about the Carter family. They’re from this region. They’ve been a big influence on country music.” Rick talked to him for a little while and said, “Well, why don’t you write it, Doug.” Doug said, “No, I’m not a writer. I’m a doctor in Marion. I don’t write plays,” and Rick said, “Well, we’ll help you do it.” Doug wrote what he thought was a play about the Carter family, and we read it in our festival and got a bunch of feedback. Over the course of two years, Rick, John Hardy, and several people worked with Doug and honed this into a production that is now our most requested production. It went from an idea in the lobby of the theatre to being seen by over 100,000 people in twenty-three states. It’s really truly amazing. For me, because I was in New York at the time and came back to do this show. It’s always special to me because it’s what brought me home. Also, we became family with the Carters. We met Janette Carter and Joe Carter and Rita and Dale. It’s very nerve-wracking doing pieces where people are still alive. It also provided moments that I will certainly never forget as an actor. We did the play at the Carter Fold; and as I was playing guitar, I saw the actress playing Janette and then the real Janette sitting right in front of her, watching her. It was astounding. This is so meta and strange that it is hard to describe—when we first did the Carter family show, we did a set that represented the Carter Fold. After we did that, the Carter Fold asked us for the set. Now the set is up at the Carter Fold. Doug went on to write two other shows for us. He did a piece about the Stanley brothers called Man of Constant Sorrow and a piece on Jimmie Rodgers. That, to me, is when the AFPP is at its best and most exciting. A community member has a passion; and we help them realize it; and it’s something that’s good for our audience and good for us. That’s what we hope to achieve with the festival: to involve our community in the development of stories that matter to them—not just stories that entertain—but stories that challenge. The festival has become a great testing ground for us in terms of what challenges our audience and encourages them to community discussion. We present a lot of material that would be difficult for us to present if we were just going to do it without developing it and finding out where our audience is at the moment. Are they interested in this? Are they engaged in these topics? And we developed a core audience for the AFPP. People schedule their vacations around it; they ask us to save seats for them; they want to be a part of the process. Each year, I consistently hear two things from

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