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Ensemble Stage to present “Appalachian Jack” at Historic Banner Elk School Courtyard August 8 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

By Harley Nefe

As part of their Summer Saturday Theatre for Kids Series, Ensemble Stage’s “Appalachian Jack” will be presented again this Saturday, Aug. 8, in the courtyard of the Historic Banner Elk School at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., with free admission.

“Everybody has been having to make compromises, and everybody has been having to make sacrifices, and so this is what we can do to support the community and doing what we do on a regular basis and what we do best,” said Gary Smith, Ensemble Stage Artistic Director. “We want people to be able to come and enjoy the show and not have to worry about paying.”

These two showtimes come after a successful performance of the show on July 25. 

This performance acts as a little taste of live theater in the High Country that is kid oriented and family friendly.

“Theater is about connection and is a living, breathing organism, and you’ve got two main components to that living, breathing organism, and that’s the audience and that’s the actors on stage,” Smith said. “And when you don’t have that, something is lost when it comes to theater, and it basically becomes television, and I think people have had enough of watching TV.”

Graphic courtesy of Ensemble Stage.

According to a press release from Ensemble Stage, “Appalachian Jack” contains two older mountain stories adapted by Director Derek Gagnier from tall tales that have been told to Appalachian children for generations. In the first story, Jack has decided that he’s had enough of the cold northwest wind and decides he’s going to find where the wind starts and plug it so it can’t blow. In the second story, Jack heads out to sell his old milk cow for some much needed food. But instead, he comes across an old mountain man that convinces Jack to trade his cow for a magic bean and something amazing happens as a result. Both stories are bound to keep kids and adults alike, engaged and entertained. The total length of the two stories is approximately 40 minutes.

The show was made to be short in length because the Historic Banner Elk School building is closed to the public. There will be no access to the restrooms in the building.

The show will be performed outside in the Historic Banner Elk School Courtyard. Attendees can drive their vehicles around and park in the back or side parking area and then walk to the courtyard.

Some sort of mask that covers the mouth and nose is required to be properly worn at all times, and there are no exceptions. The actors will also be wearing masks.

“The way I see it, is my actors have had to go through all their rehearsals and had to perform in front of the audience keeping socially distanced and wearing a mask, the least they can do in return is do the same thing in the audience,” Smith said.

Social distancing guidelines for audience members will also be strictly enforced.

“We’re encouraging people to bring their blankets and sit like they’re having a picnic, and we’ll keep family groups separated from other family groups,” Smith said. “They get to spread out there on the grass in areas, and then the next group is going to be appropriately distanced from them and once we reach capacity of not being able to have people distanced a good distance, then we stop letting people in to come see the show.”

Attendees can also bring lawn chairs; however, there is limited space for chairs as they will be placed toward the back of the viewing area to not block the view of people sitting on the grass.

“We’re encouraging people to call up and make reservations for the event,” Smith said. “It will help us because if they call, we will reiterate what we are doing as far as requiring masks and social distancing and stuff and remind them to bring out a blanket or something to sit down on the grass.”

For those interested in attending and would like to reserve a space, call (828) 414-1844. Calling and reserving a space is strongly encouraged because the Aug. 8 11 a.m. performance is already at 3/4 capacity.

According to the press release from Ensemble Stage, “We feel very strongly that theatre and the performing arts play an important part in the health and well-being of everyone. That is why we are trying this sort of theatrical ‘experiment.’ The logistics of performing any kind of theater is daunting, but with the way things are right now, it is especially true. We will do everything we can to make this show healthy, safe and fun for everyone so please be patient and respectful to the staff, volunteers, actors and fellow audience members.”

Actors of the performance consist of Watauga High School Playmakers graduate Fiona Marty, senior Sean Crothers and App State student Julia Urh, who is a senior majoring in Theatre Arts.

“They have been working really hard, and we have had to cancel shows all the way leading up to this,” Smith said. Finally, these kids have worked too hard and have done too good of a job to put the show together and not have anybody see it. I want them to be able to have an audience in front of them and give some people a chance to see something that they haven’t been able to see all summer.”