The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Panel Discussion

Theatre in Appalachia and the Tourist Impulse

The panelists are Don Baker (moderator), Derek Davidson, Kate Egerton, and Jack Wright. The panel spoke on October 8, 2015. DB: Morning! I’ve been tasked with brief introductions. Basically, I’m going to tell you how we’re going to proceed in traditional Appalachian fashion, with the men first, followed by Kate. KE: I get the last word. DB: This is Derek Davidson, who teaches at Appalachian State, and Derek’s going to talk about the Appalachian character and what it means when we say “the Appalachian theatre.” Jack Wright will follow him. He’s retired from Ohio University in Athens. Jack was with Appalshop for many years, and Appal Records. Jack is going to talk about early twentieth-century Appalachian drama. And this is Kate Egerton, who teaches at Berea. Kate’s going to talk about what happens when non Appalachians do Appalachian theatre. We are not going to have buzzers if they go overtime. We will try to present each paper or talk, then turn it over to questions and have some discussion. Any questions before we start? Derek, all yours! DD: Lake Jocassee is a tourist destination in northwestern South Carolina; it is a little over forty years old, with attractions both above and below its shoreline. In the early seventies, Duke Power built an embankment dam on the Kiwi River, flooding the valley north of the dam to create the 7,500-acre lake. The process of acquisition is a familiar drama rehearsed numerous times over the course of the twentieth century, the exotic catalogue of names the Holston would talk of—Watts Bar, Fontana, Appalachia on the Hiwassee, Jocassee—reveals little history of the social and environmental upheaval that created them. Doubtlessly, few of the thousands of campers, boaters, and picnickers think about the history of these man-made lakes, strange hybrids of industrialization and the natural landscape; but at Jocassee, scuba divers drawn to the lake’s perfect diving conditions can read 300 feet below the surface the silt-covered signs of what used to be. They may skirt the tops of Attakulla Lodge, a final holdout owned by the Fletcher family. The more stalwart divers may swim further to find the Mount Carmel Baptist Church Cemetery. They amble among the tombstones,

absurd flippered tourists, wandering in the underwater dim among the names of the Jocassee Valley dead. There’s one Doris Yvonne Hamilton, and over here Silas Hinkle, who died apparently at eighty-one years old. A smart aleck from previous dives has placed a plastic skeleton astride people’s stones. Here’s another thing—in 2008 I was living in Bristol, Virginia. We hired a local carpenter to fix our bathroom. I don’t recall his name, just that he was a smallish man with no front teeth—not that the number of teeth he had in his head had anything to do with his ability to put in a sink. I remember the first day he drove out to our place (we lived a ways outside of Bristol). He looked around, looked down our small dead-end dirt road, and confided in me, “I know something about this road.” He said, “You know, back up in there.” He pointed conspiratorially down where our road bent into the southwestern Virginia woods. “Back up in there. That is where they filmed that movie Deliverance , no lie.” I had had no idea our little lane had been part of one of the most respected and oft-quoted movies of the twentieth century. Insert tired reference to banjo music here. Oh, and it isn’t true. I’ll return to these two stories later in my talk. For now, what do we mean when we talk about Appalachian theatre? When we talk about the theatre, are we talking about the region? This is ambiguous—it stretches all the way from northern Alabama to Mount Katahdin in central Maine. It includes the Alleghenies, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smokies, and the Catskills, etc., etc., etc. It includes the towns Birmingham, Knoxville, Asheville, Stanton, Bennington, and Pittsburg. According to the audience, there is the ambiguity of what constitutes Appalachian theatre. Do we mean plays set in the region or about the region? That is, for whom is this Appalachian theatre intended, for the locals, for tourists? Neither? In fact, each of these questions compels a different narrative. Therefore, I am going to narrow my examination to Appalachia as a region, and very briefly and more meditatively, Appalachia as a subject. First, a look at the region. Once again, it’s so huge that it encompasses so many different kinds of theatre that I will only outline here today. There are also theatres attached to universities and schools that we would not wish to ignore. The West Virginia University in Morgantown, whose Theatre

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