The McKinney Center’s StoryTown program will bring to life a brand-new play this February and March as Life Lines is set to open its world premiere. Written by Jules Corriere, this play is based on more than a thousand pages of oral story transcripts collected from area residents. Real-life characters and moments in local history take the stage as this moving play explores a common question: How to keep a community (or a family, or a life) together, as outside forces and influences work to pull them apart.
This will be the third in the series of community plays presented by the McKinney Center. An important storyline in the play revolves around the story of Old Butler, which was flooded in 1948 by the TVA in order to create Lake Watauga. A dozen members from the Old Butler Community were interviewed for these scenes, including Joyce Dean Garrison, Ella Mae Wiggins, Billy Milhorn, and Herman Tester. The Butler community, which began in the late 1700’s, was systematically dismantled over the course of one year, with houses being moved on trailers to new locations, including Johnson City, Elizabethton, Telford and beyond. Homes were saved, but the geographical community was not. However, residents decided to keep the community of heart together, and continue to hold annual reunions to this day. Butler descendants Kate Pierce and Beverly Harrison are actors in the production.
This family-friendly play is also filled with lighthearted comic scenes. A 1920’s “modern romance” has its characters tongue-tied and tripping over each other as they try to keep their cool in a world filled with changing etiquette rules of the roaring twenties. This hilarious scene is based on the true-life romance of musician and choir director Joe Huffman.
The story of the famous Seavers Bakery takes to the stage, and actual Seavers Bakery descendant Desiree Raynor performs in this fun-filled scene about her own family.
Other floods and fires make appearances throughout, and are common themes of the production. Several stories, including Jonesborough’s devastating fires of the late 1800’s are brought to life, as well as more modern stories of wildfires and house fires, with stories from or about Caroline Light, Brett McCluskey, and Fire Chief Sabin.
More floods, both physical and metaphorical, are also portrayed, including the flood of opioids, and their continued devastating effects on individuals and families in this region.
The play is filled with true-life characters who have overcome floods and fires, including new Jonesborough residents Angie and Ivan Millan, who located to Jonesborough after the devastating Hurricane Maria and the floods in Puerto Rico.
County Commissioner Jodi Jones of Johnson City, who is also an open-water swimmer and recently swam the distance of Lake Watauga, is also a character in the play, performed by local actor Kari Tuthill. Other characters of interest include the late Ric Hawley, beloved Alderman for the Town of Jonesborough, and his wife, Marcy Hawley; Lifelong Jonesborough resident Nancy McCracken’s story of her Uncle Harold, a WWII Navy Pilot; young Ben Casson and his “Buddy Bench” that made national news; Musician Aaron Jackson from Johnson City; the story of Bethel Christian Church men’s singing group, “We Five” from an interview with John Russaw; and young Sadie Hyatt, a sassy elementary school student at Grand View Elementary School, who writes an unusual request to the PTA and receives a surprising answer.
Importantly, the scenes in the play illustrate how different facets of community and family come together to serve as “Life Lines” to each other during times of trouble.
Several original songs will be part of this production. Heather McCluskey returns to compose the rousing title song, “Life Lines,” the moving song, “Carry it Forward,” and the uplifting number, “This Town Never Gives Up.” Several soloists will be featured in the performance, to include Ashley Cavender and Sydney Townsend. Additionally, Brett McCluskey has created a musical underscoring, giving the entire production an almost cinematic feeling. Brett McCluskey also serves as the accompanist and music director.
Also joining Corriere, who is directing the production, is E.C. Huff, who serves as the Assistant Director; Costumer Dana Kehs, artists Doniqua Joyner and David Kehs; lighting designer Wayne Lawrence, sound engineer Jared Christian, stage manager Angie Millan, and technical director Jason Richards. More than forty-five actors from across the region will portray these true stories.
A sign interpreter will be available for one performance on February 29th at 2:00 p.m. for the hearing impaired.
Tickets for Life Lines are $12 general admission, $10 senior/student and group pricing is available by calling 423.753.1010. The play opens February 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee. It will also be performed on February 29 at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m., March 1 at 2:00 p.m., March 6 at 7:30 p.m., March 7 at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m. and March 8 at 2:00 p.m.
This play is sponsored in part by a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission.