Photos by Chris Jones, Melissa Grogan Gore, Tom Hansell, Robert Gipe, Tommie Rodgers, Maria Lewis, Candra Miller, Lauren Adams Arney, Jeanne Marie Hibberd, Chris Green, and others.
Rehearsals for Foglights, the fourth Higher Ground community performance, began August 11that the Eastern Kentucky Social Club in Lynch, Kentucky. Sixty community members came together over the next six weeks to create an original community musical built from local stories and songs. For most of the early weeks of rehearsal, actors worked on individual scenes and monologues with director Richard Geer of Community Performance International and stage managers Maranda DeBusk and Austin Rutherford, and it was not until late August and early September that the cast came together to assemble the show. Throughout the rehearsal period, cast assembled for music rehearsals. Ann Schertz, a Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College professor of music, served as music director for the production which included nine songs. Four of the songs were original to the production. Schertz wrote “Wings to Fly,” which closed the first act.
Justin Taylor, who like Schertz has been involved in Higher Ground since its beginnings in 2005, wrote two songs: “River Taught Me to Run,” and “My Way Home.” Ryan Coots, one of the summer art and theater students, wrote a fourth song, “Pile It Up,” inspired by the junk-filled stage set and the play’s central question: what to keep and what to throw away. Other songs in the production included Caroline Herring’s “Traveling Shoes” and the traditional hymn “Meet Me In the Morning.” Schertz assembled a band of local musicians to provide instrumental backing to the cast’s singing, and later in the rehearsal period, CPI brought in choreographer Kevin Iega Jeff to provide movement to accompany the cast’s singing. During rehearsals, choreography, acting, and music came together to create a new scene, the wordless action that accompanied “My Way Home.” In that scene, high school student Foster Colvin plays a young man who had not fit in Harlan County and had moved to Lexington to open a successful flower business only to return to take care of his ailing coal miner father, visits his father’s grave before leaving again. Suitcase in hand, on the brink of leaving, the young man is showered by flowers from the entire cast as they sing the words to the Justin Taylor composition “My Way Home:”
I think of all the love I’ve counted out
The people never taken in
I’ve been here for the ups and downs
But you’re still wond’ring where I’ve been
And now I’m staring down the lines
Of a dim, forsaken road
I may lose the day – I may stumble my way
But I’ll find my own way home
As the song ends, the cast turns and extends hands to the audience. The compactness of the set and seating design allowed cast members to actually take the hand of our audience, community members, most of them, many of whom were weeping at the close of the show. It is a powerful dramatic moment, and one that evolved as a collaborative act during rehearsals.
Foglights, opened Thursday September 19th at the Eastern Kentucky Social Club in Lynch, Kentucky. Over sixty community residents worked with Director Richard Geer and SKCTC Professor of Music Ann Schertz to produce Foglights. The script for Foglightswas written by Higher Ground cast members and area high school and community college students with support from CPI, and mixes stories from Harlan County’s dramatic history with scenes exploring the fault lines and bridges between the generations in contemporary Harlan County. The musicians and storytellers in Foglightsdramatize the pressures and joys of living in today’s coalfields. The Eastern Kentucky Social Club, the site of Foglightsopening night, is an African-American organization with chapters across the United States. From its headquarters in Lynch, the EKSC helps black families with Harlan County roots stay connected with each other and the homeplace. After playing to capacity crowds made up of family and friends of the cast, visiting former community residents, arts and Appalachian Studies aficionados, and folks from other communities looking to learn how to do their own community performances, Foglights traveled to Pine Mountain Settlement School for shows on the afternoons of September 28thand 29th. Pine Mountain Settlement School, an environmental education and community center on the north side of Pine Mountain, celebrating its centennial in 2013 staged Foglights outdoors under a large circus tent, and the performances included picnics afterwards. A festive carnival atmosphere prevailed.
Higher Ground traveled for shows on October 12thand 13th to the old Evarts High School, headquarters for the Clover Fork Citizens for Progress and Education, the community group working to create a new resource center in the heart of expanding adventure tourism in the county. The shows by this point were standing room only, and by the time of the final shows in the gymnasium of the Harlan Elementary School, people packed into the performances creating an intimacy and togetherness not often seen in our county. The production of Foglightsinvolved not only the participating venues, the college's Appalachian Archives, and the arts and humanities division at the college, but also the carpentry, welding, electronics, maintenance programs at SKCTC.
Spreading the eight performances over four venues, none of which were traditional theater venues, stretched Higher Ground’s logistical capacity. The tour put Higher Ground’s collaborative, family-style process for theater production in front of all kinds of new audience members, and led to new partnerships throughout the county. The cast was younger than it has ever been, but ages still ranged from small children to folks in their eighties. The arduous rehearsal and performance schedule strained and then bonded the cast, as did the challenges set before us by the artists in CPI. Lighting designer Brackley Freyer created a beautiful and dramatic fog-shrouded presentation. Maranda DeBusk and Nick Cornett made sure the lights continued to shine from site to site, and a props team led by Alexia Ault and Loretta Martin, and a moving and construction crew made up of laid-off coal miners and others managed the rental trucks necessary to get the production from site to site.
The work that went into Foglights gave the next generation of Higher Ground artists a chance to take more responsibility for the creation of a Higher Ground play, and set the stage for Higher Ground’s next piece of work: the youth-led initiative that created Higher Ground’s fifth play, Find A Way, and produced the regional conference It’s Good To Be Young In The Mountains.
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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