The Athens Community Theatre will present “Sincerely, Ours” for one weekend only, Thursday, Oct. 18, through Saturday, Oct. 20, at The Arts Center in Athens.
This original production was conceived and compiled by Jan Burleson, featuring excerpts from personal letters, journals, and oral histories from families in this community.
“Sincerely, Ours” takes the audience on a sentimental journey through personal histories dating from 1836 to the 20th Century. Many local individuals and families contributed letters, journals, and stories to this project, which were excerpted by Burleson, as well as friends who contributed texts to the project. Burleson then crafted a narrative to shape the production.
Burleson, who co-directed “Rupert’s Birthday and Other Stories from Appalachia” in 2017, was inspired by the Jo Carson monologues performed in that show.
“Carson’s short pieces sharing personal stories from different voices were so well received by our audience that it encouraged me to think about how we might stage our own stories. That is, how we might tell the stories of our community on stage in the Black Box,” she said.
It occurred to Burleson that many in this community have troves of personal history stashed in boxes and closet corners in the form of family letters. As she began collecting letters, the show grew into a celebration not only of the personal narratives of generations of McMinn County residents, but also a celebration of the lost art of correspondence in handwritten form.
“These letters allow the audience to feel the heart and soul of the authors and delight in the daily details shared therein,” said Burleson. Many local families have authorized the use of their letters in this ACT production. Also included are original poems by Patricia Waters and Lauren Brown Shepherd.
The show’s opening letters were penned by Charles Goode — a farmer writing to his son in 1836 and sharing details about the Cherokee Removal and slave trade. It takes the audience through three wars as experienced by many young soldiers, including love letters, letters home to Mom, one famous, historical letter from Mom, and even the musings of Burleson’s mother, who left home for Vanderbilt University as a 16-year-old in 1934.
The performers bringing poems and letters to life are: Bobby Bee, Sandra Burn Boyd, Trey Byrge, Autumn Lowry Carusillo, Jason Carusillo, Jedi Gabel, Dave Graybeal, Andrew Kimball, Art Kimball, Ellen Naff Kimball, Alexandra Lauterbach, Chris Livingston, Emerson McKenzie, Colby Pilkey, Chris Shepherd, Lauren Brown Shepherd, Pam Thigpen, and Emma Trew. Storytellers providing narration are: Melonie Carideo, Autumn Lowry Carusillo, Whitney Kimball Coe, Lindsey Kimball, Beth Allen Mercer, Sarah Lewis Philpott, Lauren Griffith Trew, and Jenny Yates.
Each performance is preceded by 30 minutes of live music selected by Burleson and Ellen Kimball and directed by Kimball. The musicians performing songs spanning the generations of the production are Whitney Kimball Coe, Andrew Kimball, Ellen Kimball, Lindsey Kimball, Lauren Brown Shepherd, Jenny Yates, and Maddie Yates.
The pre-show music begins at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. each night. On Friday, Oct. 19, Arts Ambassadors are hosting “Cocktails & Correspondence” — a pre-show event encouraging patrons to write a letter as they enjoy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar from 6 to 7 p.m.
Stationery and pens are provided and admission to the event is included with a ticket to the performance. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and are on sale now.
All productions of Athens Community Theatre are sponsored by Dogwood Dental Care, Grover Thurman, CPA, Muddy Waters Wine & Spirits, and Starr Regional Medical Center, and additional support for this production comes from Mayfield Creamery. All AACA performances are sponsored by Edward Jones of Athens.
All AACA programs are sponsored by Financial Guidance Partners, Willsonthropic, Inc.-Mintie C. Willson-Willson Family Fund, and Wolfenden Family Pharmacies and supported by the Tennessee Arts Commission. The Arts Center is located at 320 North White St. in Downtown Athens. For more information about this and other Arts Council events, call The Arts Center at 423-745-8781 or visit athensartscouncil.org