Photos by Alexia Ault, Robert Gipe, Lauren Adams Arney, Jeanne Marie Hibberd, and others.
During the summer of 2013, the SKCTC Appalachian Program coordinated two Higher Ground summer courses as part of developing the fourth Higher Ground play Foglights. The first course was a theater course. Half the students worked with SKCTC theater director Michael Corriston to execute a complex stage set design produced by Joseph Varga on behalf of Community Performance International, SKCTC’s partner on Foglights. SKCTC students and local craftsmen used locally produced lumber to produce a portable bleacher system seating 150 theater-goers and an interlocking system of seven stages. The stage pieces combined with the seating to create an intimate theater environment that eventually traveled to three locations in Harlan County. Corriston and his students worked in partnership with Kenneth Bowling’s carpentry students on SKCTC’s technical campus.
The other half of the summer theater class developed scenes to be incorporated into the Higher Ground script. The script that the summer students inherited included a variety of scenes exploring local history and interactions between older and younger generations. One storyline followed a young woman who depended upon an aunt to help her know who all her kinfolks were and to keep her up to speed on family history, and explored how that young woman reacted when her aunt died. Another storyline followed a grandmother who had to raise her granddaughter after the girl’s mother became a drug addict and eventually died. A third storyline looked at a young woman who wanted to stay in the community but whose father, an oblivious hoarder, would not make room for her amongst his junk.
The scriptwriting students developed new scenes improvised and wrote a number of scenes, including several that developed the character of a young man who gets his girlfriend pregnant and has to tell his grandfather. The students fleshed out a scene in which a young woman has to pretend to be a much older woman trying to talk the electric company into turning her juice back on without giving her social security number. The students also wrote a number of short monologues that ended up in the final script. One of these monologues, written by SKCTC student Lauren Adams, has been quoted often in audience reaction to the play:
I can’t get out of here fast enough. The buildings are falling apart and so are the people. All anyone cares about is coal. Out of all the things we are, we pick coal? I appreciate every miner that’s ever been. But I am more than a rock in the ground. And so is this place.
Students working during the summer of 2013 with SKCTC professor of art Joseph Scopa created nine four-foot by eight-foot mixed media panels incorporating found objects which became part of the Foglightsstage set. These panels, which drew inspiration from the art of Alabama-based artist Thornton Dial, combined old tires, refrigerator doors, toys, appliances, smokeless tobacco cans, miners uniforms, curtains, storm doors, and myriad other pieces of physical detritus collected in the community. Students used liquid nails, zip-ties, screws and nails to fix their found objects to plywood and rabbit wire frames. Students then spray painted the panels with a black undercoat and white highlights. The young artists used a process developed by the Harlan County High School art department in the spring of 2013 in collaboration with Higher Ground. The resultant “junk art panels” were integrated into the multi-stage performance space. The panels became an integral part of the production, which is, among other things, a rumination on the future of Harlan County, a place defined by tradition. The panels served as a fitting backdrop as the play’s characters contemplated the script’s central question—what to keep and what to throw away as the community moves into the future.
The second project the summer 2013 students worked on was the creation of seven by twenty-five foot murals, printed on cotton using inkjet transfer technology. The mural students worked in collaboration with guest artists Chris Dockery and Paul Dunlap of the University of North Georgia. Dockery and her UNG students use the inkjet transfer and needle craft to create what she calls “communigraphics,” arts-based research projects that use visual art to explore aspects of community history and culture. Higher Ground became aware of Dockery’s work through her participation in the Appalachian Teaching Project. Dunlap creates life-size portraits using his own photography, inkjet transfer, and quilting, appliqué, and other fabric artistry. Higher Ground became aware of his work through an exhibition that was part of the 2013 Appalachian Studies Association conference. Dockery and Dunlap led SKCTC Higher Ground students through a community photography process, and also worked with them to create collages in Photoshop of the pictures they took of both local scenes and found objects. The students combined their collages into four large-scale collages which they then printed one 11 by 17 inch sheet at a time and then ironed onto large pieces of fabric. The collages incorporated family pictures, images of decaying buildings, pictures from the Higher Ground 4 performance sites, and pieces inspired by scenes from the play. The murals, once assembled and mounted on collapsible frames, traveled with the stage set to the four locations at which Foglightswas performed during the fall of 2013. Our next chapter will tell the story of those performances.
Chapter 1: 2001-2005. A Lot of Listening & A Grant Proposal.
Chapter 2: 2005-2008. Higher Ground Is Born.
Chapter 3: 2008-2009. Playing With Fire
Chapter 4: 2010-2011. Talking Dirt
Chapter 5: 2012-2013. Introduction to the Foglights years
Chapter 6: Spring 2013. Solving For X
Chapter 7: Summer 2013. Summer of Fog
Chapter 8: Fall 2013. Foglights Performed
Chapter 9: 2014 -2015. Find A Way
Chapter 10: 2015 & 2017. It's Good 2 Be Young In The Mountains 1 & 2
Chapter 11: 2016-2017. Hurricane Gap, Shew Buddy!, & Life Is Like A Vapor.
Chapter 12: 2017 -2018. Needle Work & the Southeast Kentucky Revitalization Project
Chapter 13: 2019. Perfect Buckets
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