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Seeing Your Destination Through Local Eyes

Submitted: July 29, 2009 by Linda M. Erbele

Many travelers find themselves wanting to know more about a location than the slick brochures or the opinion of the server at the restaurant. Nothing reveals the heart of a community like a folk-life play.

Originating in 1991 in Colquitt, Georgia with "Swamp Gravy," a folk-life play consists of local people portraying stories gathered from those who live there. Not only can you learn a lot about a place through this kind of theater, you may discover a kinship with people in places that you never imagined you would have.

While most include a lot of humor, music and dancing, folk-life plays usually go a little deeper than a musical. In Harlan, Kentucky, prescription drug abuse became rampant in the 90's. The town's play, "Finding Higher Ground" (http://www.ket.org/muse/higherground/index.htm) produced in the spring each year) shows people facing the ripple effects of both the frequently flooding river and the drug abuse. "Headwaters," produced every July in North Georgia's Sautee-Nacoochee, (http://snca.org/performingarts/headwaters.html) portrays issues of diversity and integration. One year Swamp Gravy (www.swampgravy.com, March and October) included a scene about child molestation, based on the memories of an elderly woman who had never revealed the experiences from her childhood. Real issues acted on stage often serve to spark a community dialog that didn't exist before.

There is no centralized source to find these kinds of plays. An internet search reveals "Hillfire" in Winona, MS (www.hillfire.org, October,) "Come Home, It's Suppertime," in Brundidge, AL (www.piddle.org/supper.htm November), Salkehatchee Stew (www.salkehatchiestew.com, April) in Hampton, SC, as well as Boogaloo Folk Life (www.boogaloofolklife.com, June) in Union, SC. Chicago's Scrap Mettle SOUL has been performing plays based on locally gathered stories about the community for ten years. (www.scrapmettlesoul.org.) Try "folk-life play" and "story-play" in your internet search the next time you travel to see a place through the eyes of its people.