Barter Theatre Opens New Play OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN Tonight, 9/27
"There is a steel framework underneath every mother I know," believes playwright and Kingsport native, Lori Tate Matthews.Barter Theatre presents the world-premiere of "October, Before I Was Born" tonight, September 27 on the Main Stage. Set against the backdrop of the 1960 Eastman explosion, Matthews' story focuses on the strength and courage of a family in Kingsport, Tennessee, as they desperately await word on the fate of their loved ones after the accident.
With limited access to information, Mother Martha waits with her pregnant daughter-in-law and her unmarried son while praying for strength and courage to face what comes. Can this family support one another and cope with the unknown or will the anxiety of not knowing lead to a different kind of explosion?
"October, Before I Was Born" stars Barter Theatre Resident Actors, Ashley Campos (Judy Bernly in "9 to 5: The Musical"), Tricia Matthews (Fräulein Schneider in "Cabaret") and Nicholas Piper (Beau Weeks in "The Road to Appomattox") and is directed by Barter favorite Mary Lucy Bivins.
Special 360° panels will be held on October 2 at 7:15pm (performance at 7:45) and October 3 at 1:30pm (performance at 2pm) at Barter's Main Stage. Attendees can hear Playwright Lori Tate Matthews, Eastman executives, Director Mary Lucy Bivins, and actors Ashley Campos, Tricia Matthews and Nicholas Piper talk about details surrounding the production and give testimony to the overall impact and importance of the play. The 360° panels are free with ticket purchase and are designed to enhance the play going experience. Panels are held before and after the performance.
"October, Before I Was Born" is a close-to-home story for playwright Lori Tate Matthews, who believes the story of the actual accident at Eastman should be told to honor all of the people that went through this event.
"Both my parents were working on October 4, 1960. Like many other people who lived through the experience, my mother considered that afternoon to be a defining moment in her life. Over the years she often mentioned the details of her day, including her admiration for the people who stayed to help, managers who ran to the fire, townspeople who stepped up to lend a hand."
Eastman was a big part of growing up for Matthews. "When I was little I thought everyone worked at Eastman. Everyone I knew did. My mother was always proud of the career she had at TEC before she had children, and we were grateful for my dad's job. The income he made at Eastman put a roof over our heads and food on our table. In large part, I was able to go to college because my dad had a steady job at Eastman. And Eastman wasn't just a job, it was a culture. My sister and brother and I went to Horsekrickers on Saturdays. We picnicked at Eastman Cabins and went to the carnival on TEC day," said Matthews.
Matthews understands the strength and the courage of everyone who experienced that day. "At this point in my life, I know what it is to wait. I know how crazy things become when you're waiting for news that could change your life. That's the story I felt prepared to tell. What do you do when you don't know what news will come? How do you prepare? How do you cope?" said Matthews.
Now a mother herself, Matthews has come to understand and appreciate what it takes to be a mother and what mothers must experience in these moments that test their faith. "I feel that it is important for theatre to honor how much goes into creating a family and holding it together," said Matthews.
"October, Before I Was Born" was developed through Barter's Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, where it was awarded the winning prize in 2011. Barter Theatre presents the world premiere production on its Main Stage more than 50 years after the occurrence of the event surrounding this story.
"Developing new plays has long been an important mission to Barter Theatre, particularly those that tell stories of people in our region," said Lori Hester, director of patron services. "The play has had a profound effect on me, and I think it will connect with anyone who sees it. This is a story of strength, courage and faith in the face of adversity, and, most important, about the need for family to look out for each other."
Also playing at Barter Theatre in repertory this fall is "Tarzan: The Stage Musical" at Main Stage and "Zombie Prom" and "The Sunset Limited" at Stage II. The world premiere of "The Wind Farmer" begins on October 11. For more information, call Barter Theatre's box office at 276.628.3991 or visit BarterTheatre.com.
Pictured: Ashley Campos, Nicholas Piper and Tricia Matthews in Barter Theatre's "October, Before I Was Born" set in Kingsport, Tennessee.