The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Baker, Bush, Harvey, House, Mitchell, Parson, & Shelby 43

If you could see how they flip back and forth from this story about a miner who—if he’s working the continuous miner machine, he had to have been working in there several years to have the experience to be able to do so—and then they flip back to a slide that says “an inexperienced miner was working. There was horseplay.” That doesn’t tell the whole story. Horseplay is a way to mitigate the danger. It’s how they cope with it. It’s how they survive. You’ve got dangers from above and from the front. Then you pull back out and you hear about all that later, but telling the story in context is a part of the ethics of performance ethnography work. That’s part of the ethics that guide the kind of work and storytelling work that I try to do as a scholar. There’s this movement from talking about people to speaking with communities. I’m always questioning how my positionality and my body is radically different from y’all’s: how that impacts the stories that I can tell and the stories that the miners trust me enough to share with me. These are the stories they tell me, and they called me a “little girl.” I’m thirty-six years-old and have two kids, and they called me “little girl.” But those were stories that they would tell to me while telling very different stories to other people. Then I create characters, not caricatures. I’m not reducing, but I’m opening up a world. People are complex and require an embracing of their ambiguity. A large part of what I’m trying to do is present people. I’m never going to tell the full story of Appalachia. People try, yeah? That’s the narrative a lot of people want to believe about Appalachia. Mining and contemporary mining are so much more complex; human beings are much more complex than the reductions. What I’m creating is this collage: a patchwork quilt that is a cultural mosaic, coming together in different pieces. I’m presenting the pieces, and that’s the aim of performance ethnography. SH: I don’t have any technology because I’m not a technology person. I just wrote a few words out. I do want to thank Nicole Drewitz-Crockett for putting us on the show over the last couple days and Felicia Mitchell for trying to wrangle this lot. I was first bitten by the playwriting bug when I was in sixth grade, and I was chosen to write the class play about FDR. It took me nearly twenty years later to finally have a play produced on stage. I came into playwriting because the University of Kentucky (UK) asked me if I would be interested in writing a play for them. I immediately agreed because I thought it sounded fun. I quickly realized how naïve I was. I love all forms of writing; and in fact, I feel

like I can’t hardly survive without writing. But I would never think of my main forte as a novel writer as fun. This is something that I really lecture my students about, not thinking of it as a fun hobby, but they do. It was really condescending of me to assume that writing a play would be fun because playwriting is very, very difficult. I think that any real creation of art is difficult. For me, playwriting is the most difficult; but it also may be the most rewarding in many ways for reasons I’ll explore later. At any rate, right after I agreed to write the play for UK, they told me they’d like for the play to be about Christmas. Well, this was quite a daunting task. I didn’t know how to write about Christmas without it becoming a sap fest. In my case, UK may have gotten more than they bargained for; because to avoid the sentimentalism, I wrote a play about homesickness that also revolved around the drowning of a child, five coal miners who were killed in a mine collapse, a woman paralyzed by grief, and the only mine disaster survivor numbing himself with alcohol and denial. But what was so rewarding about the activity was that I got to work on the premiere and go through the workshopping process that’s available to playwrights when you’re able to work with the opening production. What was the best part for me was the collaboration that occurred, and this was totally new. As a novelist, I was not used to that degree of collaboration. And I don’t mean to perpetuate the myth that the novelist is a solitary creature, locked away in his or her writing space, spinning his or her tales all alone. I’m not a very solitary novelist. For me, as a novelist, I must be of the world to properly catch the world; but there was not collaboration and camaraderie, not in the same way. With the play, I learned so much from seeing the exercises the actors were put through by the director, by watching the way the director had thought through the whole process, by listening to the dramaturge present to the cast on things they should understand about the place and the time period, about dialect and square-dancing and colloquialisms. I loved seeing the way the lighting design and set design took my play to a new place and, of course, seeing the way the actors interpreted the words. I think, all in all, writing plays has made me a better writer altogether because in playwriting you get to have this team of people you want to do your best for in a different way than the other forms. They’re all working so hard and giving so much of their time and their hearts and souls that it pushes you as the playwright to live up to that passion. That’s the thing that strikes me about the world of theatre. I think that in some way theatre people respect art in a deeper way. They honor it in this visceral and beautiful

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