‘Promises’ premieres at ASU
Joel Williams, a theater faculty member at Appalachian State University, was looking for tourism destinations in Western North Carolina when he stumbled upon an almost forgotten past of the Great Smoky Mountains that he thought needed to be told.
Following the creation of the Fontana Dam along the Little Tennessee River in the southwest corner of the state, a road that belonged to Swain County became unusable with the impounding of the new reservoir.
Because the road was wiped out, several families were displaced, Williams discovered.
“When the war with Japan was over, the TVA said it would rebuild the road,” Williams said. “The road was never rebuilt due to environmental concerns.”
The families that left the area that surrounds Fontana Lake, which marks the southern most border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, also left behind dozens of family graveyards and cemeteries.
“For 30 years, these gravesites went unintended until the 1970s, when a cemetery association began to hold decoration days,” Williams said.
Every year, elderly men and women, who were teenagers when the river was dammed, make the pilgrimage across the lake to participate in decorating the almost forgotten gravesites — Decoration Day.
Upon learning this, Williams took it upon himself to write a story to forever capture the human spirit of those families who make the journey every year.
Williams’ first penned play, “Promises” tell the story of those men and women.
The play won a competition at the Southern Appalachian Repetory Theater at Mars Hill University. Williams said the show will premiere during the school’s summer season in 2014. The Appalachian State production is directed by Derek Davidson.
“We are doing a debut or a preview of the show here (at Appalachian) to sort of work out the kinks of being on stage before next year,” Williams said.
The characters in the play are fictitious, but are based on the historical events centered on Fontana Lake and the gravesites.
“Basically, a man shows up on Decoration Day, and through this he meets a woman and they narrate the story,” Williams said. “He tells her the story of his parents; his parents and the woman who raised him who he thought was his mother, but turns out not to be his birth mother. He finds out later in life that his birth mother is buried on the north shore.”
In addition to the main story, Williams said there is an interesting side story to the play, when he incorporates elements of an environmental impact study that sheds more light on Decoration Days.
The play will be presented in the state-of-the-art Valborg Theatre Oct. 2 to 5 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee performance on Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices start at $8 for students and are $15 for general admission. Tickets are available at the Valborg Theatre box office Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., by phone at (828) 262-3063.