During the summer of 2013, the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College coordinated two summer courses as part of the Higher Ground community performance coalition’s collaboration with ArtPlace America. The first of these classes was a theater course and had two tracks. Half of the theater students worked with SKCTC theater director Michael Corriston to execute a complex stage set design produced by Joseph Varga on behalf of Community Performance International, SKCTC’s artistic partner on the fourth Higher Ground play.
SKCTC students and local craftsmen used locally produced lumber to produce a portable bleacher system seating 150 theater-goers and an interlocking system of seven stages. The stage pieces combined with the seating to create an intimate theater environment that eventually traveled to three locations in Harlan County. Corriston and his students worked in partnership with Kenneth Bowling’s carpentry students on SKCTC’s technical campus. While the stage carpentry students worked on stage construction, the other half of the summer theater class developed scenes to be incorporated into the Higher Ground script. During the early months of 2013, a community script committee worked with Jules Corriere of Community Performance International to gather stories and assemble those stories into a workable script. The summer theater students’ scriptwriting built on that work. The script that the summer students inherited included a variety of scenes exploring local history and generational interaction from a variety of angles. One storyline followed a young woman who depended upon an aunt to help her know who all her kinfolks were and to keep her up to speed on family history, and explored how that young woman reacted when her aunt died. Another storyline followed a grandmother who had to raise her granddaughter after the girl’s mother became a drug addict and eventually died. A third storyline looked at a young woman who wanted to stay in the community but whose father, an oblivious hoarder, would not make room for her amongst his junk. The scriptwriting students worked with Higher Ground coordinator Robert Gipe to develop new scenes particularly focused on the youth perspective. The students improvised and wrote a number of scenes, including several that developed the character of a young man who gets his girlfriend pregnant and has to tell his grandfather.