Art in a Democracy
Selected Plays of Roadside Theater, Vol 1 & Vol 2
by Edited by Ben Fink
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Pub Date 14 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 23 May 2023
This two-volume anthology tells the story of Roadside Theater’s first 45 years and includes nine award-winning original play scripts; ten essays by authors from different disciplines and generations, which explore the plays’ social, economic, and political circumstances; and a critical recounting of the theater’s history from 1975 through 2020.
The award-winning plays and their accompanying essays trace Roadside’s rural coalfield origin through its 45-year development of Appalachia’s first regionally-produced body of original musical drama, its experience touring 48 states and seven foreign countries, and its proven methodology for building diverse, inclusive audiences reflective of whole communities.
Art in a Democracy: Selected Plays surveys Roadside’s exuberant and widely-performed People’s History of Appalachia series, its intercultural plays co-created with other culturally specific ensembles, and its collaborations with folk artists in Appalachia and Native America. The anthology makes public the ensemble’s grassroots creation and presentation process. Its two illustrated volumes explore a century-plus legacy of place-based theater in the United States and make the democratic populist theater tradition both attractive and widely accessible.
The plays in Volume 1 offer a people’s history of the Appalachian coalfields, from the European incursion through the American War in Vietnam. The plays in Volume 2 come from Roadside’s intercultural and issue-specific theater work, including long-term collaborations with the African American Junebug Productions in New Orleans and the Puerto Rican Pregones Theater in the South Bronx, as well as with residents on both sides of the walls of prisons.
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Ben Fink worked with the Roadside ensemble from 2015 through 2020, as a member of the Betsy! Scholars’ Circle, as the founding organizer of the Letcher County Culture Hub and the Performing Our Future coalition, and as the cofounder of the cross-partisan dialogue project Hands Across the Hills. He has also served as dramaturg on the German premieres of two Broadway musicals. His work in theater, organizing, pedagogy, and economic development has been featured by Salon.com, the Brookings Institution, TDR/The Drama Review, Harvard Law School, Americans for the Arts, PolicyLink, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2020, Ben was recognized by Time magazine as one of “27 People Bridging Divides Across America.”
MEDIA RESPONSES TO ROADSIDE THEATER
"What emerges in Roadside Theater's work is a portrait of Americans in a locale, Appalachia, that's more rich and immediate than you're likely to read in any social history. The theatrical and artistic reverberations are unceasing." —National Public Radio, Morning Edition
"Roadside is dramaturgy with a difference: a hybrid form of play-acting as organic to this hardbitten coal country as the Cumberland walnut." —Smithsonian Magazine
"These delightful tales are told with a lively home-grown warmth that endears them at once to anyone who's grown up with storytelling in the family. . . . Roadside's charm is also due to the broad range of voices, their vivid mountain accents, and the beautifully timed pacing of the stories." —Southern Exposure Magazine
"The only innovative, and by far the most authentic and affecting expression of regional consciousness . . ." —Alan Lomax, folklorist
"Roadside Theater was founded on such true stories and an awareness of what constitutes cultural roots, background, a whole heritage."—London Financial Times
"Roadside aims to describe Appalachia to others and inspire its own people to cherish their traditions rather than abandon them for an homogenized American way of life." —Keene Sentinel
"Roadside Theater may be geographically from a remote region of America, but spiritually this company exposes the territory of the human heart." —Los Angeles Herald Examiner
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 1 member
Art in a Democracy, edited by Ben Fink, provides a history of Roadside Theater through both essays and an actual history as well as a selection of plays. Volume one focuses on its roots in Appalachia while volume two focuses on its intercultural and issue-specific work.
While I suspect most readers will be drawn more to one volume or the other, reading both is essential for understanding the work they do. Admittedly the second volume was the one I was most interested in, but I think I would have cheated myself if I had skipped the first.
This is, I think, a perfect example of how important reading some plays within the context of their creation can be. Alone, I probably would have appreciated them to some extent. Knowing how and why they came into being made them more powerful as well as more meaningful.
Recommended for those interested in drama and those interested in Americana. Regional history and/or literature buffs will find a lot here as well.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.