Friday, February 18, 2011

Wilderness Road Outdoor Drama

During the Summer of 1974 I had the pleasure to work the Wilderness Road Outdoor Drama. Distinguished playwright Paul Green from North Carolina had created the Outdoor Presentation for the Colleges Centennial in the mid 1950's.

"Indian Fort Theatre is built as part of Berea College's centennial celebration. The outdoor amphitheatre in the College Forest serves as venue for "Wilderness Road" by playwright Paul Green. The Wilderness Road drama originally ran in the 1950s as a major part of Berea's Centennial Celebration. The 1950s centennial celebration was the brain child of Dr. W.D. Weatherford who put his proposition before Berea College President Francis S. Hutchins. After President Hutchins agreed, a $100,000 outdoor theater was built, Indian Fort Theatre) near the Pinnacles and dramatist Paul Green was hired to write the script. Weatherford had several purposes which he asked Green to incorporate into his story. First was the desire to make America aware of the strong characters of the people of Appalachia. Second, the value of education to the young people of the mountains needed to be emphasized. And last, Berea College's unique role in supplying higher education for mountain youth through its work-study programs needed to become known across the country. The drama, which told of the entry into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap by the Boone party and its journey along Wilderness Road, of the founding of Berea, and of the Civil War in Kentucky, was an immediate success and ran for several years."

Courtesy Berea College Special College Collections

During the 1973 season I got a call asking If I could fill as a replacement for Dewey Lamb who played banjo with his brother Lewis Lamb and his daughter Donna as on stage actor/musicians. He had the summer flu and I told them I'd be glad to, but I'd never acted before. The only thing I had ever done was being a dandelion in a 3rd grade play. They said Lewis and Donna will pull you thru it. I filled in for Dewey several nights and found I enjoyed it.

In the 74 season of the show I worked with Lewis and Donna as musicians.

From: Daily News Bowling Green Kentucky June 4, 1974
“This will be the third season for the revised version of Paul Green’s “Wilderness Road“, the story of a small mountain community caught up in the turmoil of the Civil War.
The drama at Indian Fort Theater in Berea Kentucky will begin June 26th and continue until September 1st with the last performance the only one on a Sunday.
Curtain time is 8:30 pm. CDT for each show.
New York actor Gary Poe heads the cast this season of “Wilderness Road” as John Freeman. Ellen Fiske, also a New Yorker plays Elsie Sims.
The character Freeman has some pacifist which conflict with the general thinking of the community. Elsie, a mountain girl, loves Freeman but her family doesn’t.
Berea College students make up a big part of the cast and Glenda White, known for her work on Kentucky outdoor stages plays Mrs.Sims
Authentic fiddle and banjo music will again be offered by the father daughter team of Lewis and Donna Lamb. Additional banjo help has arrived in the person of Doug Hutchens with credentials from Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass group and the Grand Ole Opry.”

When casting calls went out for the 1975 season I found that Lewis and Donna were not going to work the show that summer so Edd Kellough, Tony Estes and myself decided to try out for the roles for the on stage actor/musicians known in the Show as The Jones Boys; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I had always claimed to be a banjo player, so was Tony and Edd was a guitar man....I was going to learn to play the fiddle Tony on Banjo and Edd Guitar.......But fate stepped in.......and
as casting proceeded Bruce Green, noted old time fiddler and historian came on the scene and Dr. John Forbes from the Berea College Music Department also joined on bass. We had a great little 5 piece band on stage and on pre show we had a great little lady join us which was always a treat....

It was a wonderful summer. We did Wilderness Road 6 nights a week and two or three afternoon Pre-Show's; basically entertaining out at the front of the Theater as the audience arrived.

We also did a good amount of Promotional Performances doing TV in Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington and Knoxville along with the Bluegrass Fair in Lexington.
Our little Lady Friend was none other than Debra Monk who was to go on to New York and become a Highly Successful and Awarded Actress in both stage and screen.(Pep Boys and Dinette, NYPD Blue, Greys name only a few)
She always did a wonderful version of the old Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs tune "I'll go stepping too". She also had a "memorable encounter with "THE" Colonel Sanders" one afternoon. Yes Colonel Sanders was quite real....I hope Debbie will chime in on Paul Harvey say's "The rest of the story".

Debra Monk, Doug Hutchens, Bruce Green, Edd Kellough, Dr. John Forbes, and Tony Estes as we performed as the audience arrived at Indian Fort Theater. Photo courtesy David Davis.

No comments:

Post a Comment