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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Appalachian Festival of Plays & Playwrights at Barter

July 27, 2016

Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia, presents its annual Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, Aug. 18-28 at Barter Stage II. This annual festival celebrates the richness of the Appalachian tradition by showcasing the stories of the region, both past and present, and the inspiration it provides the writers who live here.

Since 1933, Barter Theatre has been developing new works and nurturing area talent. The AFPP has gained national attention by developing a process that has resulted in new plays being produced not only on Barter's stages, but in regional theaters across the country.

"Keep on the Sunny Side" by Douglas Pote, first read at the AFPP in 2001, went on to a full production on both of Barter's two stages before touring to 23 states in 2004-05. Enjoyed by more than 100,000 people, this poignant love story about A.P. and Sara Carter has been produced by theaters throughout the country. "Black Pearl Sings" by Frank Higgins, was first read and developed in 2006 at the AFPP and, in 2010, was listed as one of the most produced plays of that year by Theatre Communications Group.

A brief rehearsal process takes place in June with an emphasis placed on clarity, not effect — getting the playwright's words and story out to the audience. Members of Barter's Resident Acting Company read the plays.

Following each public reading, there are audience and artist discussions about the play, led by Richard Rose, producing artistic director, and a panel made up of local and regional theater professionals. The reading and discussion is an invaluable tool for a playwright seeking to discover what's working in the play and what needs work.

Every year one play is chosen to be a mini-production in the next Barter Theatre season. This year's mini-production is "An Impossible Combination" by George Pate. It runs from Aug. 18-23.

Think Stephen King meets Southern Gothic, as we dive into the life of Abetta Asbury, a woman with an unusual gift. Abetta enters into the minds of others and releases their suffering through a process her family calls "bleeding." This rare ability comes with an age-old warning, but will she ignore it to save her bother Harlan as he slips into decline? Caught between tantalizing dreams and family obligations "An Impossible Combination" examines the unpredictable consequences of trying to mold the world into a happier place. In the words of Mark Twain, "Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination."

The plays chosen from this year's competition are read Aug. 19-21. Readings are at 1 p.m., and 4 p.m., Aug. 18; 1 p.m., Aug. 19; 1 p.m., Aug. 20; and 1 p.m., and 4 p.m., Aug. 21. The plays to be read include the following.

"To Tread Among Serpents" by Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos. In the shiftless summer heat of 1959, an ambitious reporter, Juanita "JC" Cohen, lands the assignment of her budding career, when she is sent deep into Southern Appalachia to cover the gruesome ax murders of two men. The accused, evangelic and humble Violet Haight, is happy to talk about how she butchered the victims, as long as Juanita agrees to satisfy Violet's desire for celebrity and appetite for vengeance.

"Madame Buttermilk" by Ross Carter. In the brand new musical, hapless soprano Carly Speranza has a dream: to sing the lead in "Carmen." Owing to an agent's mix-up, she finds herself singing at a state fair with a country music band called the Car Men. They're the opening act for country superstar Earl Conway, whom Carly recognizes as her old college sweetheart. Agents clash, domineering stage manager and nervous emcee panic, and the singers' temperaments erupt at the worst of possible moments: showtime. Is that an aria or a country song? Who cares? It's l'amour, y'all.

"Dreaming in Black and White" by Ron Osborne. It's summer 1963 in Danville, Virginia. Here and elsewhere in the South, civil rights demonstrations are dividing the races. Half a world away, a war is heating up that'll also have folks choosing sides. Less ominous but vying for attention are a looming presidential election and a down-to-the-wire race for the National League pennant. Dreams and fears collide when Pearlene is hired to care for Sonny who's chased away dozens of other would-be caretakers. But it's not all black and white as these two very different people struggle to find common ground in their mutual love of baseball and the dreams of their sons.

"Though the Mountains May Fall" by Catherine Bush. The Ida May Combs Medical Clinic in Mud Creek, Kentucky, is now open for business — thanks to the efforts of local priest Fr. Timothy Ryan. But before Fr. Timothy can count his blessings, things in Mud Creek begin to unravel; a mysterious stomach virus sweeps the region, a civil-rights dispute breaks out in town, and Fr. Timothy's mentally ill brother shows up on his doorstep. As he struggles to overcome the demons of his past in order to save his friends and community, Fr. Timothy discovers that being present is sometimes the best gift one can give. This the fourth installment of the Mud Creek series by Barter's Resident Playwright.

"The People at the Edge of Town" by A.J. Delauder. Ruth Ellen Eberhart has returned to her hometown of Constance, West Virginia, to serve as its interim mayor. And the first priority on her long thought out hit list, is to remove the Arrowhead Trailer Court at the edge of town. But the people of Arrowhead, including her former best friend Chrissy, refuse to leave the only home they've known. A showdown awaits between the two former friends that puts their town, and its history, at stake.

"Smoke" by Gloria Bond Clunie. It's the 1960s. Camels are Kool and tobacco is king in Carolina. Country store owner Ora Rakestraw wants no parts of the sexy, smart, mysterious Wallace Johnson when he descends upon her tiny southern town to organize tobacco workers. As promises are made and secrets revealed, love collides with small town politics in one sizzling, tumultuous summer.

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