New Voices

Barter Theatre’s 16th Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights.

Shake, Rattle and Roll: A Rockin’ Tribute to the King.

“It’s a Southern murder mystery with a psychological bent,” says Nick Piper, director of Barter Theatre’s Appalachian Festival of Plays & Playwrights of this year’s production, An Impossible Combination. “It’s Stephen King meets Mark Twain.” 

The play, by University of South Carolina at Beaufort assistant professor of drama and theater George S. Pate, will be performed Aug. 23-28 at Barter’s Stage II, capping off the eight-day festival that has been developing new works about the Appalachian experience and by Appalachian writers since 2001.

Pate’s play takes place in a small northeastern Georgia town and centers on a woman named Abetta Asbury who possesses the otherworldly power of being able to telepathically penetrate the minds of others. She can “cut out the parts that keep them from being happy,” explains Piper. But, the process comes with a generations-old warning not to perform it on family members. Abetta is pressured to do it for her brother, which starts a chain of events that lead to murder. “It has this gothic-y feel to it,” says Piper, who is also Barter’s associate artistic director, “it’s not just a typical murder mystery, it’s subtle, it’s about happiness and what it means to us. Is making everyone happy always the best thing?” 

The festival comprises a series of readings of seven new works that are performed by members of Barter’s resident acting company in front of a public audience of 100-150 who turn out for the free readings. Afterward, they’re invited to ask the playwright questions and share their reactions to the work along with a panel of local and regional theater pros who offer criticism meant to help develop it for production. Says Piper, “It’s rare you get to hear feedback from an audience of people who will actually be buying tickets to the theater.” 

Plays must either be set in the Appalachian region, or be written by an Appalachian playwright. From the seven or eight chosen to be read over the course of the festival, one is selected to go to the next stage of development and be performed by Barter actors the following year. 

“We get lots of plays celebrating iconically Appalachian experiences, coal mining and things like that,” says Piper, “but we also get plays that challenge and investigate what it means to be Appalachian today.” Aug. 18-28. BarterTheatre.com

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