In 2005, Roadside Theater began working with Appalshop's Holler to the Hood (H2H) media component to address criminal justice issues in central Appalachia. Holler to the Hood's young filmmakers hosted a hip-hop radio program on WMMT-FM, and found that there was a large listening audience in the region's prisons.
Roadside and H2H created the Thousand Kites project in response to aggressive state and federal initiatives to build prisons to offset a failing Appalachian coalmining economy. (Nine prisons were located within a 100-mile radius of Appalshop and two were super-maximum security facilities).
Using art, communication strategies, and campaigns to engage citizens and build grassroots power, Thousand Kites developed into a national forum for prison reform that worked directly with an inclusive range of stakeholders. Performance, web, video, and radio opened a public space for incarcerated people, corrections officers and officials, the formerly incarcerated, grassroots activists, and ordinary citizens to dialogue and organize around U.S. criminal justice issues.
Thousand Kites connected Roadside Theater’s live play development and performance methodologies to H2H's radio, video, and new media innovation. The collaboration developed a campaign model that emphasizes spotting and responding to opportunities that quickly advance the strategic goals of the project and its national partners.
The model’s assets included: A “living” play script, "Thousand Kites;" Multiple radio programs; A dedicated, interactive website, that includeed a web-based radio station; A database and capability for viral communication campaigns; A prison research on-line archive; Webcasts and broadcasts of a weekly live radio program; Webcasts and broadcasts of “Calls from Home,” an annual holiday call-in show; and A national radio broadcast network of more than 200 stations signed-up to air Thousand Kites programming.
Simultaneously grounded in telling the central Appalachian story through the use of multiple media and focused on the process of creating strategies and movements for positive social change, Kites’ campaign model was fulfilling Appalshop’s mission is new ways.
By its completion in 2013, Thousand Kites had become a successful national project with seven community-managed criminal justice campaigns taking place across the U.S. It was so successful that communities across the country took up the work themselves.
Thousand Kites co-creator and innovator, Nick Szuberla, departed Appalshop to create a new organization, Working Narratives. Working Narratives is a national endeavor that provides training, technology, production, and networking that "helps social justice movements tell great stories that inspire, activate, and enliven our democracy."
WMMT-FM has maintained a criminal justice radio program, "Hip Hop from the Hill Top/Calls from Home," that reaches surrounding prisons.
Roadside Theater now regularly combines media with theater to fulfill its mission.