To see a place you once were a vital part of, albeit for four years of High School in a state of perpetual seediness and neglect is sad. We age. Places age. People come and do not have the same love of the space that you may have. They do not respect the past at all. They see it as a fallen colossus, or rather a remnant of what once was. To me, I adhere to the belief of one of my fictional heroine’s: A fallen colossus is far more sad to see than a felled weakling.
The stage I began my love of theatre and acting is gone. Dozed away into another place of my small Appalachian counties pride, atop the Drama site. It was built as buildings should be built in 1936: full of hardwood, pomp and practical circumstance. She was the grand old Dame of our county. A place that replaced the Academy that my grandfather attended in 1915. A shining light for the hope of knowledge that was brought into our county for children. Brick and hardwood. Strong, with a bell tower and a wonderful all hardwood gymnasium, pillars in the hallway and a wonderful stage! It had the horrible addition of a BASKETBALL goal that extended onto it that I recall was only used for The Presidential Physical Fitness things we did back in the elementary days, passed by President JFK. I never could hang by my hands the requisite time to receive that accommodation! It was attached to the stage and I have used the basketball goal to play ball as I was on the team, although I did not have a way to the ballgames. Anyway, on that stage, I said my first poem in a monthly program. I sang my first song accompanied by piano and learned music taught by our only songstress with musical knowledge, Mrs. Betty Lawson, who did not have the voice of an angel, but the heart of one. All gone. All in the past. Buried. A vision of what we once had and is replaced by cold , institutional cinder block walls, hospital like smells, test scores paramount leaving the children with no character of their own, cookie cutter personalized to the states standard and creatively dumbed down when they should be children: creative, brilliant, unique and shining!
Yet, the space that prompted this nostalgic cogitation remains – neglected, abused, silent, stained, argued over. And we, who wish to have something for the children of our small ‘culturally deprived’, ‘morally bankrupt’, ‘ Unemployed and highest welfare’, ‘Drug addicted STD infested’ and ‘3rd poorest county in the United States, let alone Tennessee’, tackled the face lift of the second stage at the old High School building. What we found was depressing but not to be a surprise in a small place that emphasizes sports above all. Sports at least gives the children a viable alternative to the above ‘disadvantages’ of staying in our small Appalachian county until graduation from High School.
The Arts have never been a luxury that we can afford here. The main thing our ancestors were famous for is our usage of the materials at hand and works of ‘art’ that were practical in nature, ie. the late Alex Stewart. He was the maker or ‘cooper’ of well used cedar woodwork buckets, churns. He crafted many and they are even housed in Washington DC at the Smithsonian in an exhibit and in the Appalachian Museum of Norris Tennessee. These were ‘arts’ that were for a practical use that people here needed to survive. With the depressing facts of the above stated problems for those who choose to stay in my home county, many of the bright children head north, south, east or west to escape from this depressing reality to begin a successful life.
We want to give them something besides sports to spend their teenage and youthful angst upon. Somewhere that the brilliant student who has no sports leanings or even if they do, a chance to step into the limelight as someone else for a time. A place to grow and entertain the people of our county. A small thing, but a wonderful one in a world where everywhere else the number one fear is ‘public speaking’ and here it is whether or not to escape to a life of pill addiction, teen pregnancy to draw a check, work at a fast food restaurant or in retail or work in a small factory for minimum wage. Reality is harsh.
That is the sad truth. Reality is a harsh thing and thus people with no hope or not enough drive to excel, perhaps, find the large ‘opium-den-like’ succor of the pill mills and escaping into addiction. Like our Victorian forebears before us we turn a blind eye to the dens of addicts escaping to their own particular dream worlds. We who willfully do not and see the reality perhaps wish we could, apparently since the government seems to do. They have ‘iron masks’. They seek only what is good for them and theirs. This is harsh reality and it is true from our county to the marbled halls of Nashville to the shining facade of our national White House and Washington DC’s governing bodies, especially our Senate and House. We really wish we could be blind, deaf and dumb to the rape of the natural world, the ones who do not ‘matter’ to us in a ‘family way’ and the remnants of what was once bright and good in our small hamlet, or should have been. Maybe it is a vision of the Elysian Fields we are seeking. An ideal that never existed. On thing is sure: it never will if some do not stand up and provide an alternate arena for the self expression inherent in every human from the cave to this moment in time. We all have that desire. ALL of us. Even athletes and politicians.
The stage is a space about 50 foot long, 22 feet high at the backstage wall with a proscenium arch of 13 by 31 feet. It is not a performance venue for it is inside a gym, so there are no rising seats for the audience, only a room with chairs to put down on a mat for that purpose. On this stage countless students have crossed since 1967 to get their diplomas and start their lives. Far more left than stayed, yet something remains of their passing. Many have done Senior Plays or come from the ‘Grade School’ to watch Senior plays in the day before the cinder block cell mentality made us never take the children to anything to learn stage etiquette or ‘how to behave’ during a performance. Many remember the assemblies for various honors, seasons, Glee Club performances on the risers, political visitors and county speeches we have heard. We learned how to ‘behave’ during events. They even walked us down to the movie theatre in town in the 2nd grade and we new how to comport ourselves because we were instructed.
We wish to give creativity a place to blossom. We wish to clean the grand old lady up for the advent of more life changing and talent sharing events that she has seen in the past up till 2001. We want to utilize her for what she is: the speaking, sharing, learning, defining venue for young peoples expression and elders use for entertainment. She is not to be spit upon, reviled, used as a bathroom or a repository for horseplay with her curtains swung upon and cut for the amusement of the barbarians who would do so with no regard for themselves, let alone a valued space.
THEN, we will move on to our own place to begin memories for the new generation. Hopefully, leaving something behind that will have a young person smiling and telling the same above wonderful memories of their childhood when they were, for a moment in time, in front of an audience of their peers and relatives in the spot light! It was THEIR time. It was their place to shine and they did it there! This place is worth redeeming. It is worthy of remembrance. It is a part of their heart they carry everyday. It is where someone thought they were important enough to be the center of the stage for awhile for once in their lives. And believe it or not, that MATTERS to all of us.
I was asked the most important question this year I have ever received from a young person of my acquaintance. ” ‘ Why did YOU stay here?’ ” My answer surprised even me. I ruminated for a long time when having discourse with someone, finally saying, ” ‘ To pull one person lose from the stalactites and stalagmites of the cave that everyone wants to cling to and show them there is LIGHT here! ‘ ” Yes, it is the ‘Allegory of the Cave’ that we live in here. Just like everywhere else. There is love outside it here! There could be a future outside of here, if only we had those who have left outside to return and begin new endeavors outside the cave of our self imposed limitations. Invest in our county. Love our county. Help inspire and elevate our county above the statistics of the people who compile them. That is why. Whether or not it happens in my lifetime or in the next generations, someone has to pull back the clouds from all our ‘DIS-advantages’ and shine light on our ADVANTAGES without the hope of MONEY for themselves but for the greater good of us all. As John Lennon says, ‘ you may say I’m a dreamer’ but I hope I am not the only one.
Well. I certainly went the long way around to express one day of cleaning what was one of the most important places of my youth, but this is what I believe. After all, we are the sum of all our experiences. We remember. We exist. We live. We either influence positively or negatively and every action and reaction is equally reciprocated by the same tenor. Matter is neither created nor destroyed. What we do MATTERS. Even if it is from the voice of an aging idealist who returned home after venturing out into the world for a space and found it flat (literally! I would die without my mountains!) cruel, cold, impartial and not ‘home’. Every person, practically, that I know wants to come ‘home’ and misses the beauty of our county, the mountains, their people, the atmosphere of our lovely piece of world that we live on. I wish it were better. I wish it were as wonderful with the people inhabiting our world here. That everyone had the same beauty as the hills surrounding us, but that will never be so. We are humans and we are, inevitably and tragically to me, flawed.
The beginnings have been initiated. We have more to do. There is a light springing tentatively from the darkness! Nurture the flame. That is our objective, then to blaze up and burn with the brightness of a Phoenix rising!