I Am Home, a compelling theater piece created from the stories of the people of Jonesborough’s past and present, and featuring an incredible cast of seventy community members, comes back home to perform at the McKinney Center beginning February 23.
The play features stories of Jonesborough, and the courage, strength, humor, and tenacity of its people, in this play made up of dozens of vignettes, adapted from oral histories that were gathered over a year-long process.
The current cast is comprised of actors of all ages, and from many diverse backgrounds. Many of the adult actors have commented on what an important experience it is for them to be playing a role of someone from their own community- a real person, who may be sitting in the audience when the show is presented. Dana Kehs, an actor in the show, as well as the show’s costumer, plays the role of Virginia Kennedy, and said, “I feel honored to play Mrs. Kennedy, and help tell the story of the work she and her husband have done for Jonesborough. It is incredible to be in a play that is so real, that the person you’re playing might show up that night at the performance.”
The stories in the play are taken from oral histories, and are all based on true events, or, as playwright Jules Corriere likes to say, “They started out true.” The vignettes cover a wide range of time periods, to include Jonesborough’s famed Buffalo Soldier, Alfred Martin Rhea, to Sidney Smallwoood’s recollections from his grandmother, who was a little girl during the Civil War, to Alfred Greenlee’s accounts of Jonesborough’s railroad days, life growing up on Depot Street, and his role in the integration movement of the Town’s schools. Vignettes about the migrant march, the coming of electricity and the effect it had on families out in the country, and memories about coming to town for the first time, and visiting beloved businesses such as Lavender Grocery, Hoss McCall’s and Jarman Shoes, and of course, the Jackson Theatre, all help to paint a picture of the Town’s continued changes, growth, and perseverance. All of these stories also speak to the important sense of what it means to find “home” in Jonesborough.
The play was originally performed in the McKinney Center back in 2011 before it was renovated, as a project initiated by the International Storytelling Center, and later adopted by the Town of Jonesborough. The original intent of the play was to embrace the Town’s legacy of storytelling by telling its own story. Jimmy Neil Smith, founder of the National Storytelling Festival, brought in Community Performance International artists Dr. Richard Owen Geer, Jules Corriere, and Iega Jeff, to develop a unique play that told Jonesborough’s fascinating story. Composer and lyricist Heather McCluskey and her son, composer Brett McCluskey, were brought in to create five original songs for the show.
After spending a year collecting oral stories from local community members such as Alfred Greenlee, Sidney Smallwood, Nancy Robinson, Sue Henley and nearly eighty others, the play was crafted as a way to bring people together through their shared stories, highlight the important stories of the people who helped shape the community, and provide a sense of pride in community, all while strengthening neighborhood bonds, as the large cast of actors and crew worked together to bring the show alive. The original show proved its purpose, creating a strong community among the participants that has since radiated out in the community in many ways, including the creation of the Yarn Exchange Radio Show, the story-based radio show now in its seventh season.
The McKinney Center, now fully restored, is welcoming the play to be performed back in its original home. Stage manager and founding Yarn Exchange member Phyllis Fabozzi stated, “I think it is important that we’re performing at the McKinney Center again. This is where we started, and what this place has become now is really powerful.” Fabozzi is likely speaking to the fact that the building, whose story is featured in the play, was once a building meant to separate the community, as it served as the African American school from 1940-1965 when integration was complete. Now, the building serves to bring people together, through storytelling and the arts.
The show will run February 23, 24, 25 and March 2, 3, 4. Performance times will be Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $14 general admission, $12 for seniors and students. Special rates are also available for groups of 15 or more. To purchase tickets or for more information, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at 423-753-1010 or online at jonesborough.com/tickets.