The Devising Lab Experiment Begins!

After climate disaster, Roadside Theater and the Appalachian Media Institute collaborate to create a education focused youth workshop.

Sometimes an idea makes so much sense you never even consider it, or as we say here in the mountains, “If it was a snake, it would have bit you!” That’s how we feel about our summer partnership with the Appalachian Media Institute (AMI). We spent three weeks in an immersive workshop environment with their interns, practicing a variety of performance mediums in support of our shared  goal—creating and staging a new piece of original theater. We’re great admirers of the work AMI does—Roadside Associate Artistic Director Tommy Anderson often refers to AMI’s Summer Documentary Institute as the “regenesis of the energy and values that started Appalshop,” and cites their own participation in the program as life-saving. 

So why didn’t we think of this idea sooner? Sometimes you go about things the way they’ve always been done until something unexpected knocks you off track. The flood did that for us. The loss of our building forced programs across Appalshop to interact in new ways. As we faced uncertainty about what programming would look like post-flood, we also realized how vital our community arts and education are to the region—and what a welcome relief it would be to have consistent, familiar work—not just for the community, but for ourselves too. 

Thus, the AMI/Roadside partnership was born: a smaller group of interns, a shorter project period, and a collaborative experience bridging the divide between documentary filmmaking and public performance. This was the pilot run of Roadside’s Devising Lab—a creative experiment where we practice a variety of performance forms, gather information on participant interests, and build an organic, original piece to debut at the conclusion of the program. 

In the end, we created Big Toe, Little Lies: The Musical, a twenty-minute production with eight original songs, adapting an Appalachian ghost story into a vivacious drama of a troubled marriage and a feminist reclaiming of power. Every intern performed, sang on the soundtrack, and had full agency over their level of involvement in the process. One of the interns, who was not initially interested in being an on-stage performer, even advocated playing a second character during the casting process. 

We could not be prouder of this partnership. In our debrief, students reported having increased interest in theater, film, and other methods of artistic creation. This is vital for Roadside—to offer artistic opportunities where the arts are underrepresented, underfunded, and seen as extraneous to economic production. We aspire to continually prove the transformative power of the arts and believe that inviting people to see themselves as artists creates a stronger sense of place and community. 

We are eternally grateful to AMI for this opportunity, and to our five interns—Patrick, Kaleigh, Deladis, Rebekah, and Tyler—for trusting us, playing with us, and enthusiastically engaging in our process. We look forward to seeing what they continue to create alongside one another and in communion with others. If you want to support this work, you can do so here. And if you would like to work with our Devising Lab process, let us know!

Until then—

Roadside Theater