During October, the Higher Ground community performance coalition, working under the coordination of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College in Harlan County, Kentucky, continued its tour of an original musical drama exploring the rich past and foggy future of the community. After two successful weekends in Lynch and at the Pine Mountain Settlement School, Higher Ground traveled for shows on October 12th and 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, located downtown in the county seat, people packed into the performances creating an intimacy and togetherness not often seen in our county. The production of Foglights involved 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 the logistical capacity of the Higher Ground coalition. 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. In 2012 and 2013, with the ArtPlace America grant as a catalyst, Higher Ground offered new summer courses in art and drama in a building purchased in downtown Cumberland; a new organization formed in Harlan to explore the possibility of expanded arts education taking place in downtown Harlan in the summer of 2014; plans have been made for an expansion of arts education in the Tri-Cities in the summer of 2014; the college has collaborated with the College of Design at the University of Kentucky, Lincoln Memorial University, filmmaker Tom Hansell, and the Department of Art and Appalachian Studies at the University of North Georgia on residencies to expand opportunities for the region’s creative development. In late October, Higher Ground staff presented its work at a Community Institute on Rural Design workshop on creative placemaking sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council. It has been a whirlwind of a year.