Host Introduction: A readers’ theater production called “Revelations: Appalachian Resiliency in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People” opened in Huntington last month and will come to Charleston in May. The work is based on oral histories recorded for an academic project that looks at the lives of people who know they are different from family and neighbors. Public Broadcasting’s Susan Leffler reports.
Leffler: “Revelations: Appalachian Resiliency in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People” is a readers’ theatre work taken from research done by Elkins oral historian and folklorist Carrie Nobel Kline. Nobel Kline is a Rockefeller Scholar in Residence at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia at Marshall University. She interviewed 12 men and women who grew up in rural parts of the state and grappled with having sexual orientations that were outside the norms of their families and communities.
Nobel Kline: I was looking at the roots of people’s strength, the roots of people’s ability to survive. And I was wondering if there were elements of Appalachian culture, if there are things that people teach their children, that help them to be strong and resilient.
Leffler: She says she saw common threads in people’s stories. Most talked about being raised to be stubborn and independent as well as deeply religious and attached to the land. She weaves the stories into a play where the characters, whose names have been changed, talk to each other and the audience. They share memories of discovering they were different, dealing with family and community, and eventually accepting themselves. In this section, Sandy who is a lesbian and Corky who is transgendered talk about struggling to survive.
Sandy: When I felt like giving up, I would go for a ride and come back in the woods here and sit by a tree, because you knew if you were just in the same hollow that your grandpa was and he survived it, that you would too. I used to go up to the cemetery where he was buried and just talk to him and say, “If you can do it, I can do it.”
Corky: Sometimes it’s hard for a person to even recognize how much of the grittiness of their own culture or background really plays a role in their ability to cope, but it’s absolutely the case.
Leffler: The production includes a variety of other characters from their 20s to their 70s. Among them are an elderly gay black man, a chemical worker who had a sex change operation and a cross dresser. The hour long drama, which also has live music, seems to move the readers and the audience, Nobel Kline says.
Nobel Kline: This is a powerful one, because it’s first hand accounts as if people in the audience had a chance to sit in all 12 of the living rooms where I sat and people spoke openly and tried to educate me.
Leffler: Many analysts say presenting controversial material as drama often makes people more willing to listen. Dr. Tee Ford Ahmed is an Associate Professor of Communications at West Virginia State College.
Ahmed: Whenever art starts to move toward making statements on social justice, it’s a bit more palatable. People are able to accept it and digest it a little bit more. And it’s very effective. Art is definitely the language of the world.
Leffler: Revelations: Appalachian Resiliency in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People will be presented in Charleston in May. Nobel Kline says she also hopes to video the play and perform for schools and community groups around the state. For West Virginia Public Broadcasting, I’m Susan Leffler in Huntington.
Carrie Nobel Kline continues to conduct recorded interviews with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people from small towns and rural areas. Anonymity is guaranteed unless otherwise specified by those interviewed. To get involved in this project, contact Carrie Nobel Kline by clicking on the “Contact Us” link in the menu.
To book a performance with our actors or host a residency in which Carrie Nobel Kline works with a local cast to bring Revelations to you click on the “Contact Us” link in the menu.