We are proud to announce the newest iteration of our Roadside Theater Ensemble, the first complete leadership transition in Roadside’s 46-year history. The transition began in 2019 with the hiring of Becca Finney and Tiffany Turner. Now, with the recent addition of Tommy Anderson and Tucker Leighty-Phillips, the theater is buoyed by a four-person, full-time leadership ensemble.
Our new leadership will further the work initiated nearly fifty years ago: the creation of community-driven and community-owned theater that bucks the trend of theater as an elite bubble and restores it to its rightful place as an inclusive space where the plurality and beauty of peoples are made manifest.
It’s possible to view the history of Roadside Theater as a series of cultural questions to which the ensemble sought answers through community playmaking and grassroots cultural exchange. In 1975, for example, Roadside asked, “Could a small group of community-trained musicians, storytellers, and writers create a professional theater in a place with no history of the same?” In the 1990s, we began to ask: “Who is in the audience, who is left out, and how do we bring them in?”
In 2021, the Roadside ensemble continued this tradition of deep inquiry, meeting in local community partner spaces to begin to surface, through discussion and play, contemporary questions of our own. In the new year, we are committed to continuing these conversations with Roadside partners, new and old, across the nation. These conversations will drive forthcoming programming from the ensemble as we approach expanding the accessibility, complex communion, and playful possibilities of live storytelling.
Like those storytellers who came before us, we believe this expansion is vital for building a better future for the generations that will follow. Being that this is the first major leadership transition in the theater’s long history, we recognize that no single communication or announcement will cover all aspects of the transition and the new work that is to come. We also recognize there are stories and voices from Roadside that still need to be heard by our community, and are committed to seeking them out and holding space for them. Therefore, we will continue sharing our reflections, actions, and new ideas, and we invite you to join us! We’ll be posting more announcements like this one, organizing partner meetings for discussions, making personal phone calls, and sending letters to keep the Roadside network exchanging our collective knowledge and experiences. The new Roadside ensemble is committed to joyful and transparent communication that does not shy away from complexity.
Want to ask questions or give us feedback? Just want to say hello? We are always happy to hear from new friends, allies, and partners––send a message to [email protected]! Or, shoot us a postcard at: Roadside Theater Ensemble, Appalshop Inc., 91 Madison Avenue, Whitesburg, KY, 41858.
You can also start getting to know us a little more by reading the biographies below.
Becca Finney (she/they) has spent the last decade as a maker of original, collaborative theater in rural spaces. She is a character-based physical theater artist who fashions her work from the images, sounds, stories and textures discovered in her (both local and global) neighborhood. Becca believes all theater-makers should also be good neighbors. She was born and raised in central Kentucky into a family with a history of civic service, a legacy which she embraces and which fuels her work with both generosity and political persistence. She believes all groups possess an inherent genius: the creativity, experiences, and power to both envision together and organize toward that vision, without an authority figure telling them “how.” She is most moved by artwork that is funny and sad at the same time. Becca earned her BFA in Dramatic Arts from Centre College (KY), and her MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International (CA).
Tiffany Turner (she/her) is a Florida-born, Mississippi-raised Southern girl. In her former career, she was a healthcare professional (Nurse) for 13 years. Her expertise spanned across home healthcare, pediatrics and geriatrics. She is a community activist in Columbus, MS, where she and her husband have spent a decade leading a youth-based nonprofit organization focused on growing the community through fun and festivals. Tiffany is a voting rights advocate and has assisted with voting rights restoration in both Mississippi and Alabama. She is currently lead organizer of Performing Our Future, a national coalition of four delegations (Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, and Wisconsin) where we co-create and share knowledge to collectively own what we make. She enjoys singing, dancing and changing the world one day at a time.
Tommy Anderson (they/she) was raised in the sunshine and the shadows of the Pine Mountain ridge in Shelby Gap, Ky. As a musical and charismatic youth facing unique challenges, Tommy’s passion and energy were brought into focus by Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute (AMI) where she learned to tell her stories and appreciate her Appalachian roots and identity in a way she never knew possible. After 5 years at AMI, Tommy left the Appalshop nest, studying Psychology and English at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, theater/performance studies at UVA-Wise, and Old-Time mountain music and art at Mountain Empire Community College. While studying and working in the region, Tommy began teaching for the Wise County Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAMs) Program through Pro-Art Association until advancing to the position of Program Manager/Project Coordinator. While teaching old-time fiddle to school-age kids 4-5 days a week in Wise County, Tommy managed booking, coordination, and promotion for a spectrum of fine arts events for Pro-Art, expanded the enrollment of the Wise County JAMs programs, was a mentor, and volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) through the Lonesome Pine Office on Youth in Big Stone Gap, VA. After six years at Pro-Art, Tommy came back fully into the Appalshop fold, taking on a number of important duties until she finally nestled in a destined and well-suited spot as Associate Artistic Director for an all-new generation of Roadside Theater.
Tucker Leighty-Phillips (he/him) grew up in Laurel County, Kentucky, where he booked punk rock shows before becoming a road crew member for a number of national touring bands. In 2018, Tucker graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in English Literary Studies after transferring from Harrisburg Area Community College. He returns to Kentucky from Tempe, Arizona, where he recently completed an MFA in Creative Writing and taught undergraduate fiction courses. He hopes his passion for storytelling and narrative will find a place among the community and engage a larger network of enthusiastic storytellers.