Since its founding in 1975, Roadside Theater has developed and maintained a local program. The company’s original Appalachian plays and community cultural development methodology were, and continue to be, developed with the people in southwest Virginia and east Kentucky, a home-base that is culturally rich and economically challenged.
From 1980 to 2001, Roadside toured nationally 35 weeks of the year. Because more funding was directed toward bringing performing artists to a community than to pay performing artists to perform in their own communities, Roadside could use some of its earnings from national touring performance fees to subsidize its work at home in the mountains.
By 1997, cumulative budget cuts at the National Endowment for the Arts, reorganization of the agency’s discipline programs into generic themes, and drastic reduction of arts presenting subsidies for national touring productions began knocking the financial props out from under theater companies creating and touring original work. This meant that the company needed to form more partnerships at home to fund local work. Today, these partnerships not only provide some income for the work, but also drive it deeper into the community.
In 2004, Roadside began expanding its local program to include a myriad of partners in an initiative to perpetuate and make new its Appalachian traditions and to use this strength to address pressing local issues. Led by ensemble member Ron Short, the following outlines some of the Program's accomplishments to date.
A traditional Appalachian music program developed in Southwest Virginia including:
- Traditional music classes added to Mountain Empire Community College’s curriculum, and credit for these classes accepted when students attend East Tennessee State University.
- An ongoing week-long summer “Mountain Music School,” where people of all ages learn to play an instrument aurally.
- New music venues for playing and listening to traditional music in collaboration with the Crooked Road Music Trail, Southwest Virginia Museum, and Natural Tunnel State Park.
- “Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields,” two-CD and book combination released on Lonesome Records & Publishing in collaboration with Lonesome Pine Office on Youth and Maggard Studios.
Home Season of Performances and development of three Roadside musical plays:
- Music from Home, written and performed by Ron Short.
- Christmas in Appalachia, a new version developed every year in collaboration with Old Indian Bottom Church and the Jettie Baker Center.
Multiple community cultural development residencies conducted. Two examples are:
- Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Project, in collaboration with the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association and Natural Tunnel State Park, which resulted in a new form of outdoor, site-specific theater.
- Capturing and Telling Your Community’s Cancer Story, in collaboration with Mountain Empire Older Citizens, East Tennessee State University’s Nursing Department, and cancer survivors and their families in Southwest Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
Partners in this work include, but are not limited to:
Public Schools & Public Colleges:
- Mountain Empire Community College, Big Stone Gap, VA
- University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Wise, VA
- MEOC’s Education Outreach Program to the Public Schools, Big Stone, Gap, VA.
- East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN
Social Service Agencies:
- Mountain Empire Older Citizens, Big Stone Gap, VA
- Lonesome Pine Office on Youth, Big Stone Gap, VA
- New Beginnings Treatment Center, Pennington Gap, VA.
Cultural Heritage Tourism Enterprises:
- Crooked Road Music Trail, SW VA
- Ralph Stanley Museum, Clintwood, VA
- Southwest Virginia Museum, Big Stone Gap, VA
- Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association, TN & VA
- Clear Creek Music Festival, Clear Creek, KY
- Tri State Singing Convention, Big Stone Gap, VA
- Natural Tunnel State Park, Duffield, VA
- Lonesome Records & Publishing, Big Stone Gap, VA
- Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival, Appalshop, Whitesburg, KY
- Old Indian Bottom Church, Blackey, KY
- Cowan Creek Community Center, Cowan, KY