Experiments in Theater
By Dudley Cocke, Artistic Director
Thanks, Barry and Arlene, for inviting me to join your Blogfest. I accept with some trepidation, not about the topic per se, but because of my tendency to get on the high horse when a subject this broad appears. I’m sure I’ll not be able to completely avoid this habit, but perhaps I can spare the reader until the conclusion.
Research firm WolfBrown interviews artistic director Dudley Cocke as part of a report published by Theatre Bay Area in March 2012. Cocke describes Roadside Theater's intimate, 37 year relationship with poor and working and middle class audiences at home in Appalachia and nationally, and some of the strategies Roadside has employed to make its theater an inclusive space for the generation of democracy.
We're an indigenous ensemble located in the coalfields of the Appalachian Mountains. Our home community is comprised of parts of the four states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. For the past 120 years, our region's economy has been organized by absentee energy conglomerates and marked by high rates of poverty. Culture has been our saving grace. So many pickers and singers and songwriters and storytellers have risen from these hills that just outside my window I can see Country Music Highway, Route 23. Here is a rich place from which to make theater.
Thirty-three years ago, Roadside Theater’s founding artists asked: Can a theater that taps local life at its source appeal to a variety of people at home and away? How would such a theater fare against the increasingly strong waves of homogenization generated by commercial art with its mass advertising engines? And how would such a theater do at home in the face of the large investment in a single story about Appalachia promoted by the absentee energy conglomerates that have controlled the coalfield economy for the past 100 years?