Program Facilitator, Appalachian Program
Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College
Where do you currently work?
I work full-time as the Program Facilitator for the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.
Tell me a bit about your career?
For the past five years the focus of my work has been as part of the production team for a community theatre project. The first play "Higher Ground," was produced as part of a Rockefeller PACT (Partners Affirming Community Transformations) Grant. We wanted to see how we could use arts to transform our community. Southeastern Kentucky is experiencing a prescription drug epidemic. We saw that almost every family in our county was being touched in some way by drugs, either directly or indirectly. What we also saw, was that no one was talking about it.
Harlan County is a place rich is stories, of survival, hardship, family relationships, beauty, and humor. We gathered stories for two years and wound up with over 1500 pages of transcripts. We sent that collection of stories to Jo Carson, a noted community playwright from Johnson City Tennessee. She drafted a script, and working with our director and community production team we crafted it into our final script.
We gathered a cast of sixty local people, most of whom had little or no theatre experience, brought in a professional director, choreographer and lighting designer. The production played to a full house every performance, gained funding to do a revival of the production the next year and was taken "on the road" to an Appalachian Regional Commission Governors meeting and to the Charleston, West Virginia to the New Horizons Substance abuse conference. In 2008 the show was revived again and was filmed as part of a KET documentary "Finding Higher Ground."
Also in 2008 we received funding from NEA and the Steele Reese Foundation to produce two more of these community dramas. We are currently working on the second play in our Higher Ground Production series. The new play is called "Playing with Fire" and will open in April 2009.
I guess Ann Schertz, the production's music director who is also an ethnomusicologist, sums up this project best for all of us, "Stories are so tremendously powerful beyond their just being art-they are essential to the fabric of communities. Faced with such a danger-the effects of prescription drugs-it's so easy for individuals to feel helpless and out of control. At the core of what we've done with Higher Ground is its strong sense of community integrity, and that's exactly what's going to help us the most. This process of telling our story gives us the same voice that could help any community during hard times.
For more information about the KET documentary of this project go to: http://www.ket.org/muse/higherground/.
For more cast comments about Higher Ground go to: http://www.ket.org/muse/higherground/performers.htm