10. AN APPALACHIAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, PT. 1
The following was written prior to the 15th largest snowstorm to hit Western North Carolina, which subsequently cancelled this event. Something did happen at the site that night, however, which will be a focus of the next entry. The event has been rescheduled for January 19th and 20th, the experience of which will be reported here in the final part to this saga. But first, the beginning...
This weekend, December 8th and 9th, we will unveil our first new American Myth, An Appalachian Christmas Carol, at and in collaboration with the Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace in Weaverville, North Carolina.
First, a little backstory. Zebulon Baird Vance is, in many ways, a favorite son of North Carolina. He was the “War Governor of the South,” later a senator, and is given credit for many vital improvements to the state and Asheville, in particular. Blessed with influential oratory skills, he developed a speech called “Scattered Nations,” which laid out a case against anti-Semitism and “the wickedness and folly of intolerance.” He would give this speech hundreds of times for sold-out audiences across America. While all of this is true and should be said, this is where the narrative often stops.
To go further would be to witness the very plain fact that the great improvements he brought to the state was done so on the backs of enslaved people. You would have to acknowledge that, while he brought the vital artery of the railroad to Asheville, he did so willfully ignoring safety concerns that cost the lives of hundreds of workers, mostly African-American convicts. You would then have to confront that he adopted the strategies of many Southern Democrats, infusing white supremacist policies into North Carolina politics.
The great challenge, as I see it, is how do we start telling the entire story? How to we push the narrative past where it has stopped for so long? How do we talk about Zebulon Vance as a complex human being, who did great and terrible things? That last question seems particularly relevant these days.
It is my hope and my belief that storytelling, and specifically a new American Myth, can help. It holds no answers, but it can spark the conversation. It can give voice to the silenced side of the narrative and offer up an opportunity for thought, consideration, and confrontation. The Greeks used myth to illuminate the darkest sides of human nature. It was an act of communal witnessing that they thought to have a healing effect. America has a long history of ignoring those darker sides and hoping they go away. I would argue that path has proven false.
So, here we go. This weekend, we will put on a 30-minute, site based, promenade, toy theatre experience based on A Christmas Carol with Zebulon Vance right in the middle. We’ll run it for 15 folks, every half hour between 5 and 9, for two nights. I’ll report back on the fire that it sparks.