The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Bremmer, Gregg, Piper, & Rose 35

playwrights who come in from all over about this festival. First, they’re just shocked. People who are working in theatre outside the region come to this region and are shocked that Barter exists the way that it does. First of all, they say, “I can’t believe how good your company is at reading plays.” They love our actors when they get here. I could tell you horror stories about what they’re used to. But they also say, “I can’t believe what great feedback I get from this audience.” They can’t believe how many people show up. Again, if you’re a playwright in New York or Chicago or whatever, you’d be lucky if you’re reading your play in front of ten people. When they come into the theatre and see there’s a 125 people there who’ve never heard of them, ready to read their play, it’s pretty heavy. It’s a pretty exhilarating and intimidating experience. But that audience is what has made the festival great, and to have that kind of investment is great. We’re at a very interesting time with our festival. We’ve expanded it to include other events, such as film, music, and food; and we’re hoping that with this, we can bring more people to our region to experience Appalachia and this community. Most interesting to me is what people are writing about. What is going on culturally is reflected in what is submitted. Every theatre across the country is looking for a new comedy, something that is fun and engaging for the audience. They’re fun to do. They’re easy to sell. Out of, like, a hundred plays, there might be two comedies in there. No one’s writing them, which is odd in a way because you’d think, “That’s what we need. We need some laughs.” But people are writing what they’re experiencing. What does it say that no one’s writing comedies? I don’t know. What people are writing about and how they’re writing directly affect our audience and can rub up against them. We had a very important, fantastic discussion at this year’s festival about language or “bad words” in plays. Again, out of the plays that are submitted, there aren’t plays that don’t have language in them anymore because that is reflective of who we are. Theatre is not just a place where you go to hear nice things, but it’s a place where we challenge these notions and where we bump up against them. We have lots of examples of plays that we’ve done that have been very important in cementing our community of audience. We did a play called Thicker than Water , which was about Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children, and it was very difficult material, but it was very poetic in the way it was written. We did not play to

huge audiences, as you would expect; but it did play to people who needed to see it. We joined up with Highlands Community Services; and after every performance, there were people there who shared their experiences and demystified a little bit about depression and things that were very important for our community to hear. Those to me are every bit as successful as something like Keep on the Sunny Side . So what does it mean to be Appalachian? You hear a lot of the same things: “Well, we’re tough and we’re resilient and we talk funny.” But, ironically, what I’ve learned through ten years of doing this festival is not so much what makes us different, but how we’re the same. This is one reason why we produce plays that deal with northern Appalachia as well as southern Appalachia. We produced a play last year called The Gnome , which took place in the northern Appalachian region, and it’s interesting to see these people who talk funny (but in a different way than us), but are struggling with the very same things that we struggle with here. People all over want the same: they want better lives for their kids; they want a better life for themselves; they want their communities to be stronger. It’s interesting to see how much we are the same. There are aspects of us, the way we deal with things, that are different. Yet we’re all kind of going for the same thing, which for me has been very edifying to learn over the course of ten years; and I’m happy the AFPP has been a part of that. I’ll turn it back over to Rick here to talk a little bit more about academic partnerships, and actually AFPP has been a part of that as well. We use college students—some from Emory & Henry—who were actually read in the festival. It’s a great opportunity for college kids to get experience and for us to get to work with young artists. RR: I’m going to give you a lot of laundry lists here. In historical migration from the East Coast to West, settlers went one of two ways: up through Pennsylvania if they were going west or through upstate New York to Canada if they were going north. But if they were going south, they came through Abingdon. And if you know the history of the region, you know that Daniel Boone charted most of Kentucky through Abingdon and through southwest Virginia. Much of Tennessee and North Carolina were charted in the same way. This was a big pass-through region, and it had an immense impact as a first frontier for what eventually became the United States. We founded the AFPP for four reasons. One was to celebrate Appalachia. As you know, Appalachia has always

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