A! Magazine for the Arts

Barter Theatre sponsors three playwriting festivals

January 28, 2023

Barter Theatre holds three playwriting festivals throughout the year. Two of them are performed in February (Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights and College Playwriting Festival). The other, Young Playwrights Festival, is held in November.

Plays in The Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights must be written by an Appalachian playwright (living in a state that contains the Appalachian Mountain Range) or be set in the Appalachian region. The playwrights are given travel, housing and a stipend for the week.

Each play is given six to eight hours of rehearsal time.

After each reading, a panel made up of three regional theater professionals give a few thoughts on the piece with the AFPP director moderating the discussion. After that, the audience is asked for their comments so that playwrights can get feedback from three separate groups: artists, panelists and audience.

The following plays were chosen for readings at the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. The readings take place Thursday, Feb 23 through Sunday, Feb 26 on Barter Theatre’s Smith stage.

“Hooten Holler” by Ketch Secor is performed Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Shy, unassuming, 20-year-old Wiley Young has never been far from his home in Hooten Holler, where he runs the general store with his father. All that’s about to change, however, when a mysterious man visits the holler, and Wiley discovers something he never knew about himself: the boy can play. Armed with his mother’s banjo and dreams of stardom, Wiley makes it all the way to Music City, USA where he learns that the cost of making it to the top of the charts may be more than he’s willing to pay. A brand-new, honky-tonk musical fable written by Ketch Secor, founding member of the Grammy award winning Old Crow Medicine Show.

“Trouble (at the Vista View Mobile Home Estates)” by Audrey Cefaly takes the stage Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. Struggling, ex-mill worker Euba has told her mother, Bernie, that she does not want a birthday party. But Lila, Fin and her new friend YoYo have different ideas. As the birthday hour approaches, Euba is visited by a raven, sending her spiraling in search for answers to the untimely death of her father. This all-female story traverses the landscape of family ties, mental illness, addiction, and the trials and tribulations of motherhood.

“The Coffin Maker” by Phil Keeling is read Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. Jack Tracker, the patriarch of a family in rural Appalachia, hasn’t left his home in over 20 years due to an archaic blood feud. When a young university student approaches him in order to tell the story of his self-imposed prison, she will uncover his past, his secrets and the truth behind a man who has emotionally and physically controlled his tiny family despite being entirely at their mercy.

“Grandma Gatewood Took A Walk” by Catherine Bush is on stage Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. In 1955, 67-year-old Emma “Grandma” Gatewood called her eldest daughter and told her she was “going for a walk.” What she forgot to mention was that the walk would encompass all 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail. As we join Emma on her adventure, we relive with her the hills and valleys, obstacles and detours of her life that led her to make history as the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

“A Thing of Beauty” by D.W. Gregory takes the stage Feb. 25 at 4 p.m. The leading citizens of a stuffy seaside resort are thrown into an uproar when an anonymous nude takes first prize in the community’s art competition. As local gossips speculate about exactly whose bare butt is depicted in the painting, Mrs. Bouffant, the competition’s sponsor, lobbies the judges to choose a more appropriate winner. But her quest is upended when she discovers that an influential New York art critic is summering on the Cape — and has taken an undue interest in the prize-winner.

“The Transported Man” by Russell Nichols is the 2023 Black Stories, Black Voices selection and is performed Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. Based on a true story, “The Transported Man” is a two-act magic show, a surreal retelling of the journey of Henry “Box” Brown, who shipped himself from slavery in Virginia to freedom in Pennsylvania in a wooden box. Henry’s incredible story explores themes of survival, grief and the search for redemption. It is about the surreal horrors of human bondage -- and the tragic cost of breaking free.

Shine: Illuminating Black Stories begins Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. Shine is an annual evening of storytelling that explores the Black experience in Appalachia. Using prompts derived from our local Black community and Appalachian region, Black playwrights from across the country submit original monologues to be performed and directed by our artists.

College Play Festival

Barter’s College Play Festival is a 10-minute play festival designed to give Appalachian undergraduate college students a professional experience. Selected student playwrights get the opportunity to develop their play with professional Barter artists as well as attend workshops and meet professional playwrights. Each play is assigned a director and given two hours of rehearsal with members of Barter’s resident acting company. Festival is open to undergraduate students in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia

The College Playwriting Festival takes place Sunday, Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. in the Smith Theatre. The event is free.

The plays to be performed are “The Sermon” by Tarrin Chambers, East Tennessee State University; “What I’d Do Without You” by Barbara Kincaid, Oglethorpe University; “Drainer” by Emma McGee, Western Kentucky University; “Killing Gilderoy” by Cameron Michles, Wake Forest University; “Prior Engagement” by Wyn Alyse Thomas, University of Georgia and “A Murder Gently” by Isaac Nelson, Western Kentucky University.

The public performance is free to attend.

Young Playwrights Festival

The Young Playwrights Festival is an annual event that cultivates and celebrates the talent of high school students. The purpose of this festival is to encourage the development of students’ writing skills and creativity, with the added benefit of discovering talented playwrights in thr region. Participating teachers attend playwriting pedagogy workshops in which Barter professionals give them the tools for teaching playwriting to their students. Schools are invited to a morning performance of the plays, where students have the chance to see their peers’ work. A nighttime performance, awards ceremony and reception is open to the public.

The three winning plays are lightly staged at Barter Theatre by professional actors, and the five honorable mention plays are given a reading.

Writers of the top three plays receive cash prizes and a mentoring session with a Barter professional, which allows the students to have valuable one-on-one time with experts in the field of theater and playwriting.

Winners work with Barter professionals to enhance and or lengthen their plays. Awards are presented each year to the winning students and schools.

Since its inception in 2002, Barter’s Young Playwrights Festival has included over 4,600 plays and over 6,900 playwrights.

2022’s first-place winner is “Beginning,” written by Ashely Bobbitt and Victoria Arnder from Carroll County High School, whose teacher is Makayla Tobler. The second-place winner is “The Standoff,” written by Wyatt Peters from West Ridge High School, whose teacher is Seth Grindstaff. Third place is “Mime Your Business,” written by Angelina Fitzgerald from West Ridge High School, whose teacher is Seth Grindstaff.

The Honorable Mention plays are “Mafiosos” by James Greer, Marion Senior High School, Teacher: Todd Necessary; “The Current” by Katelynn Mitchell, West Ridge High School, Teacher: Seth Grindstaff; “The Duel” by Bethanie Haga, West Ridge High School, Teacher: Seth Grindstaff; “Tony’s Dream” by Madelyn Tolbert, Northwood High School, Teacher: David Burns; and “From Hereafter” by Loren Watson, Elizabethton High School, Teacher: Sara Hardin.

For more information on how to enter contests, visit www.bartertheatre.com.