Roadside Theater draws the form and content of its plays from its central Appalachian culture. Before Roadside’s founding in 1975, conventional theater seldom reached into the back hollows, farming communities, small towns, and mining camps which made up so much of the central mountains, and when it did, it made little impression.

Roadside's members, all natives of the region, called on their heritage of storytelling, music, oral history, and the mountain church to develop their original theatrical form and content. They developed a natural storytelling style woven with acting and music that allowed them to speak to their audiences in a forthright and intimate manner.

Like any group of people telling a story together, the performers batted lines back and forth, saying some phrases in unison, feeding off each other's rhythms, and at the same time not forgetting that they were individuals telling the whole story.

By enlarging the storytelling form in this way, Roadside could now reach much larger audiences, and because they didn't need elaborate costumes and sets, the company could perform almost anywhere.

Smithsonian Magazine described this content and style as "dramaturgy with a difference; a hybrid form of play-acting as organic to this hardbitten coal country as the Cumberland walnut, an Appalachian oral history carefully crafted into down-home docudrama."

Roadside’s plays are written from stories passed down orally from generation to generation in the families of the company members and their neighbors. Music is essential to the productions as it is essential to the culture.

Many of the plays seek to illuminate regional realities. For example, South of the Mountain, a musical, looks at a family and the personal, dramatic changes they face as hillside farming yields to coalmining.

Several of the theater's plays have been published, and one of its plays, Red Fox/Second Hangin', adapted for television.

Cite This

“Original Appalachian Plays.” April 30, 2014.

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