Roadside Theater was founded in the coalfields of central Appalachia in 1975 as part of Appalshop, which had begun six years earlier as a War on Poverty/Office of Economic Opportunity youth job trainingon, young Appalachians saw Appalshop as a means to subvert the national stereotypes of their mountain home and celebrate their culture by telling the region’s story in the voices of the people living there.
In 1975 television was contributing to the loss of Appalachian storytelling traditions, so the young founders started telling, in a new ensemble way, the stories they had grown up hearing from their families – tales that were more intact in Appalachian communities than they were in the British Isles where they originated.
Roadside Theater is dedicated to artistic excellence in pursuit of the proposition that the world is immeasurably enriched when people and cultures tell their own stories and listen to the unique stories of others. Our goals are to enlist the special power of theater to:
- Document, disseminate, and revitalize the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of Appalachia;
- Tell stories the commercial cultural industries don’t tell;
- Support communities’ efforts to achieve justice and equity and solve their own problems in their own ways;
- Celebrate cultural diversity and cultural expression as a positive social value; and
- Participate in local and national theater projects of high aesthetic value toward these ends.
The Work – Grounded in Central Appalachia
Mountain hunting grounds to Native Americans, including the Cherokee and Shawnee, in 1767-1775 Central Appalachia attracted frontiersmen and frontierswomen. By the 1890’s the coal and timber barons from
the northeastern U.S. had arrived, and the region eventually became a rich land with poor people. From one perspective, the region has been a mineral colony at first of national and then global energy corporations. Despite their challenges, Appalachian people have kept their rich cultural traditions alive. The region’s music, storytelling, oral history, and the drama of its indigenous church services are known worldwide.
Roadside Theater situates itself historically within equal opportunity movements, like the labor and civil rights movements of the last century, and more specifically within the tradition of U.S. democratic arts and humanities movements which developed theories and practices to preserve and perpetuate the culture – the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and material traditions and features – of exploited communities. Roadside Theater:
- Creates and presents an indigenous body of plays richly reflective of the lives of Appalachian people;
- Collaborates with other professional ensemble theaters to create intercultural plays that explore issues of race, place, and class;
- Strives for artistic excellence and a vital relationship with its mostly economically poor, working class, and middle class audiences;
- Serves as a resource to communities regionally and nationally that desire to explore and stage their local life.
In its home region, Roadside’s audience is almost all working and middle class and economically poor people – in other words, the region’s general population. This Appalachian audience doesn’t attend a Roadside play as spectator, but, rather, to bear witness to its own cultural identity. Roadside’s national audiences are a broad cross-section of the American public, including a significant number of habitual theatergoers as well as many attending professional theater for the first time. Based on six years of tracking by the AMS Planning and Research Corporation in Connecticut, 70% of Roadside's national audience live in rural communities and 33% are people of color. 43% of the company's national audience earn between $25,000 and $50,000 annually; 30% earn less than $24,000 a year.
Roadside Theater has toured to 43 states, performing and conducting community cultural development residencies; been in residence at the Manhattan Theatre Club, Theater for the New City, Dance Theatre Workshop, and Pregones Theater in New York City; performed at Lincoln Center; and represented the United States at international theater festivals in London, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
Roadside Theater, P.O. Box 771, Norton, VA 24273
276.325.0313 - phone & fax