Looking Back, Looking Ahead
A reflection on Roadside Theater's second half of 2022.
We must admit, 2022 was not the year we anticipated.
The floods in Eastern Kentucky devastated our region, taking lives, toppling homes, and forever changing our relationship to land, water, and the community around us.
Our losses were small in the larger scheme of things, but still losses nonetheless. We no longer had a workplace. Our relationship to our work felt vastly different. The abrupt change pushed us into new territory. How were we expected to make theater in a time like this? If we're community-powered, what can we do to uplift our communities? We've mentioned in prior newsletters that we halted our regular operations, opting instead to participate in mutual aid efforts, supporting local community centers and churches as they distributed items to people across the towns and hollers. For weeks, we did what we could to ensure that the immediate needs of our region's people were met.
After nearly eight weeks of these efforts, we tried to settle back into our roles, working remotely, as the Appalshop building was still closed. We found ourselves looking at our programming plan and wanting to make changes; it felt so good to be amongst our communities that we wanted to further integrate them into our creative work. We wanted more partnerships, more public events, more sharing space with folks we love and strangers we'd like to meet.
So we changed our plans.
First, we coordinated with WMMT-FM and CANE Kitchen to host a community dinner and concert, nourishing our local community in both body and spirit with free meals and music. In October, we partnered with the Pound Historical Society to host the Red Fox Storytelling Festival, which was a weekend featuring nearly a dozen storytellers, a slate of musical performances, a new theatrical production by Harlan’s Higher Ground Theater Troupe, a square dance, an Appalshop film screening, and a variety of local artisans showcasing and selling their work. We have hosted a number of author events–including labor journalist Kim Kelly, coal historian Mitch Troutman, and an upcoming event with former West Virginia State Folklorist Emily Hilliard; all in partnership with Hazard’s Read Spotted Newt bookstore–looking to further bridge our two communities in Letcher and Perry County.
Simultaneously, we participated in the Cowan Community Center’s Kids on the Creek after school program–where Roadside member Tommy Anderson led a semester-long Theater class, teaching children of all ages how to act, prepare scripts, design props and sets, and many other aspects of theatrical production. Tommy’s work culminated in a performance of “Jack in the Christmas Stump”; a new Roadside play that featured child performers, voice actors, and shadow puppets designed and created by the children in the class. It was a massive success, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work with the afterschool program; we believe it not only encourages further development in child literacy, but also empowers creativity and showcased the imagination and abilities of children.
Although this was not the program plan we anticipated in early 2022, it is a slate of programming that we look forward to continuing in the new year. Our work is less insular–more focused on community partnerships, supporting the material needs of our citizens, and finding ways to uplift those who we believe have a story to tell and voice to be heard.
We were grateful for the support of Fund For The Arts, The Shubert Foundation, The Network of Ensemble Theaters, The Mellon Foundation, AEP Foundation, New England Foundation For The Arts, Kentucky Foundation For Women, and our individual donors for generosity, flexibility, and kindness as we navigated these troubled waters. As we begin 2023, we are finding stability and comfort in our neighbors near and far, and we can't thank you enough for your support.