What does it mean to be Appalachian? Many urban Appalachians cannot answer that question, especially the youngsters. They have no real sense of connection to their cultural identity, their music, their stories because parents and grandparents who moved to the cities are many miles and many years away from the mountains of home. The old ways – traditions, skills, the connection to nature – have been lost in the wake of such migrations. Through a poignant, emotional and always lively journey to research, identify, gather oral histories to celebrate the lives of urban Appalachians who live in and around Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the center of the project are the Jack and Mutsmag Tales, a collection of ancient Celtic stories brought over to the Appalachian Mountains by their Scotch-Irish ancestors which have been lost to many Appalachian people. Jack, and his female counterpart Molly (Mutsmag), are folk heroes of the first degree – plainspoken, honest, quick of wit and full of humor. They always defeat the Giant and take home the pot of gold. Goodness and humor triumph against all odds, a valuable and much-needed message of hope to a poor and disenfranchised community.
By interweaving Jack Tales with community oral histories, an evening of song and story that, according to Gurney Norman, “is reminiscent of the old days when people got together every Saturday night to entertain each other, to make music and tell stories, homemade in the best sense of the word.” In the year long process of putting the piece together, the collaborators learn much about themselves and and create something that Faye Massey, who plays one of the Mollys in the production, calls ‘magical.’ Both on stage and behind the scenes, Jack in the City is a moving tribute to the human spirit.
Jean St. John, theatrical director
Gurney Norman, Appalachian scholar and Kentucky author
Faye Massey, Appalachian storyteller
Brenda Saylor, poet
Bet Stewart, folk musician
Peg Baldock, photo documentarian
Eddie Kerr, Irish playwright and advisor