Rural Academy Theatre saddles up for Boone

Article Published: Sep. 27, 2012 | Modified: Oct. 5, 2012
Rural Academy Theatre saddles up for Boone

The Rural Academy Theatre from Burgaw will bring ‘your standard horse-pulled theater’ to Boone, with a wagon full of props and costumes and eight actors on bicycles.
Photos submitted

Sometimes ideas that seem innovative and new actually harken back to earlier times.

Boone is one of the first stops on the inaugural tour of the brand-new Rural Academy Theatre from Burgaw.

Gabriel Harrell started this endeavor along with his brother, Noah, and describes it as “…your standard horse-pulled theater.”

By Oct. 3. the Harrell brothers, horses Doc and Dolly, a wagon full of props and costumes, and eight actors on bicycles will complete their journey to demonstrate to Boone audiences what a low-tech, mammal-powered theater looks like.

The cast transforms the wagon into a stage for the entertainment, which includes a new short play, local experts demonstrating a skill, puppets, a section about local news and, finally, a bicycle-powered film projector (ridden by an audience volunteer) showing a silent film accompanied by live music.

Gabriel Harrell describes the project as an attempt to produce local entertainment with minimal environmental impact.

“It’s a response to living and working in New York in professional theater and feeling unsatisfied,” Harrell said. “Art can be done cheaply and quickly, and it doesn’t need a big theater and an extensive light grid, and the actors can also do all of the tech needs of the show…there are other models, and we’re trying to present another model.”

Harrell explained that part of the Rural Academy Theatre mission differs also from mainstream theaters in that its own artists are not “…‘bringing culture’ to small towns, we’re very aware that these small towns are full of culture. We’re thinking of it much more as a cultural exchange…we try to involve the communities into the show, so it’s more of a co-presentation.”

In Boone, the Harrell brothers and company will literally involve the community. Any area resident who wants to participate in this production should contact Anna Ward in the Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance at ( A rehearsal will be held Oct. 3.

Local residents are housing the actors while they’re here in Boone, but the company will camp during most of its journey. And although the brothers are committed to low-tech methods and materials, they default to practicality rather than strict authenticity. They decided on rubber, rather than more authentic wooden wheels for the wagon, and although they explored using a standard projector bulb for the bike-powered film projector, they found that to run the 2,000-watt bulb would take about 14 bicycles.

“We scrapped the idea,” Harrell said, “and we got an LED projector that needs about 20 watts…so we’re melding new technology with pretty old technology.”

Harrell admitted wondering if groups booking this inaugural tour would know what to do with the diverse caravan.

“We have 10 people and two horses,” he said. “We’re asking a lot of unusual things. We’re asking for hay and grain and a place to keep the horses overnight.”

Harrell said that ASU provided the company’s first booking, thanks to the enthusiasm of theater faculty member Gordon Hensley.

The Rural Academy Theatre performs at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 4 at Sanford Mall at ASU and at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 5 at the Hickory Ridge Homestead at the Horn in the West grounds.

Those interested in participating can email Anna Ward or call (828) 262-6971. For more information, visit

Additional Images

The Rural Academy Theatre from Burgaw will bring ‘your standard horse-pulled theater’ to Boone, with a wagon full of props and costumes and eight actors on bicycles.
Photos submitted

The Rural Academy Theater transforms its wagon into a stage for performances.

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