Seminal plays and essays reveal the radical origins and approach of Appalachia’s Roadside Theater
This two-volume anthology tells the story of Roadside Theater’s first 45 years and includes nine award-winning original play scripts; ten essays by authors from different disciplines and generations, which explore the plays’ social, economic, and political circumstances; and a critical recounting of the theater’s history from 1975 through 2020. The plays in Volume 1 offer a people’s history of the Appalachian coalfields, from the European incursion through the American War in Vietnam.
Ben Fink worked with the Roadside ensemble from 2015 through 2020, as a member of the Betsy! Scholars’ Circle, as the founding organizer of the Letcher County Culture Hub and the Performing Our Future coalition, and as the cofounder of the cross-partisan dialogue project Hands Across the Hills. He has also served as dramaturg on the German premieres of two Broadway musicals. His work in theater, organizing, pedagogy, and economic development has been featured by Salon.com, the Brookings Institution, TDR/The Drama Review, Harvard Law School, Americans for the Arts, PolicyLink, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2020, Ben was recognized by Time magazine as one of “27 People Bridging Divides Across America.”
Art in a Democracy overflows like water from a well, chronicling a rural working-class theater’s 45-years of crisscrossing the country bridging bitter partisan, racial, and other divisions by dramatizing the tremendous local intelligence and creativity inherent in every community. This collection of plays and commentary represents the cutting edge of a new democratic art.
~Harry Boyte, Senior Scholar in Public Work Philosophy, Institute for Public Life and Work
Roadside Theater has mustered diverse local folks in declining towns in Appalachia to celebrate their traditions and restore community confidence through dramatization of local stories and music.
~Robert Putnam, author, Bowling Alone
These two volumes are an indispensable gift to our field. These plays, and the insightful essays that accompany them, offer a roadmap to hope, joy, and inspiration.
~Bill Rauch, founding artistic director of the Perelman Performing Arts Center
The impact on Urban Bush Women from our work with Roadside Theater over two decades cannot be overstated. Art in a Democracy unveils the way we can build strong bonds through working, living, and creating art with communities while addressing social inequities. The history embedded in these volumes is priceless.
~Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Founding Artistic Director, Urban Bush Women; 2021 MacArthur Award Fellow; 2022 Gish Prize recipient