When Roadside Theater began telling the tales and singing the songs its members had grown up hearing from their families and neighbors, it had no formal theater space.
Since its beginning in 1975 the company’s purpose has been to develop a kind of theater that makes sense in its central Appalachian Mountain home -- one that relies on the region's strong heritage of storytelling, dramatic church services, and music -- a theater with a strong obligation to the people who, in a cultural sense, created it.
In 1975, there were no formal theater spaces or theater companies in Roadside's mountainous home, so, of course, there was no tradition of attending theater. The company built its audience from the ground up by performing in churches, schools, festivals, civic clubs -- any place where people gathered.
Reasoning that folks in the mountains were used to attending summer revivals in tents pitched up mountain hollers, in 1977 Roadside bought a used 90 seat revival tent and some portable lighting and initiated it's first Tent Tour .
After arranging with a local resident or organization to pitch the tent on their property and tap into electricity, and promoting the performance with radio spots and newspaper articles and advertisements, a Roadside person advanced each performance by four or five days by walking around the neighborhood, talking up the show, and putting up posters.
A free afternoon performance of Mountain Tales & Music preceded the evening presentation of one of Roadside's mainstage plays. Admission was $2 for adults, $1 for teenagers, and kids and dogs got in free. The tent was almost always full, and after the show folks stuck around into the night to swap tales with each other and the performers.
Six years later, Appalshop was able to purchase a building in downtown Whitesburg, Kentucky. The renovation included building a 160 seat theater, and the audience Roadside developed with its Tent Tour followed the company into its permanent space. Even so, Roadside continued to tour to schools, community centers, and churches in its home territory spread across four rural states.