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‘Life Lines’ opens today in Jonesborough

Submitted by Trevor Rice • Feb 28, 2020 at 10:30 AM

A play based on more than a thousand pages of oral story transcripts collected from area residents premieres this evening in Jonesborough.

McKinney Center’s StoryTown program will present “Life Lines,” penned by Jonesborough playwright Jules Corriere, Feb. 28 through March 8.

Real-life characters and moments in local history take the stage as the play explores a common challenge: How to keep a community (or a family, or a life) together as outside forces and influences work to pull them apart.

It is 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, flooded in 1948 by the TVA in order to create Lake Watauga. A dozen members from the Old Butler community, including Joyce Dean Garrison, Ella Mae Wiggins, Billy Milhorn and Herman Tester, were interviewed for the scenes. The Butler community, which began in the late 1700s, was systematically dismantled over the course of one year, with houses being moved on trailers to new locations in Johnson City, Elizabethton, Telford and beyond. Homes were saved, but the geographical community was not. However, residents decided to keep the heart of the community together and continue to hold annual reunions to this day. Butler descendants Kate Pierce and Beverly Harrison are actors in the production.

The family-friendly play is also filled with lighthearted comic scenes. A 1920s “modern romance” has its characters tongue-tied and tripping over each other as they try to keep their cool in a world filled with the changing etiquette rules of the roaring twenties. This hilarious scene is based on the true-life romance of musician and choir director Joe Huffman.

Floods and fires are common themes of the production. Several stories, including Jonesborough’s devastating fires of the late 1800s, are brought to life, along with modern stories recalling 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 Polaha Jones of Johnson City, an open-water swimmer, is also a character in the play. She is portrayed 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 World War II Navy pilot; young Ben Casson and his “Buddy Bench” who made national news; musician Aaron Jackson from Johnson City; the 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.

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.

The play features several original songs. Heather McCluskey returns to compose the rousing title song, “Life Lines,” as well as the moving song, “Carry it Forward” and the uplifting number, “This Town Never Gives Up.” Several soloists, including Ashley Cavender and Sydney Townsend, will be featured in the performance. Additionally, Brett McCluskey has created a musical underscoring, giving the entire production an almost cinematic feel. Brett also serves as the accompanist and music director.

Tickets for “Life Lines” are $12, general admission; $10 senior/student. Show times are Fridays (Feb. 28 and March 6) at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays (Feb. 29 and March 7) at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays (March 1 and March 8) at 2 p.m.

For tickets, call the Jonesborough Visitors Center at (423) 753-1010 or buy them online at jonesborough.com/lifelines. A sign interpreter for the hearing impaired will be available for one performance on Feb. 29 at 2 p.m.

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