By Drew Menard, February 26, 2019

Original, all-female play teaches students lessons in problem-solving and creativity

From the bold stand of Rachel Findlay, fighting for women’s freedom from slavery, to the story of country music icon June Carter Cash, the women of Virginia’s Clinch Mountain share a rich history, rooted in strength to endure and rise above the challenges of the day.

Sophomore Esther Eaton as Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis

A team from the Liberty University Department of Theatre Arts brought several tales from the region (a ridge in the Appalachian Mountains that runs through parts of Tennessee and Virginia) to life with an original play, “Bloodroot: The Ballad of Clinch Mountain,” written and performed entirely by female students. The play was recently recognized as an outstanding university production by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. As a Region 4 finalist, the play was performed on the festival’s opening night on Feb. 6. It has also been invited as part of a presentation at the Appalachian Studies Conference March 14-17 at UNC Asheville.

Junior Jabrea Kohn as Rachel Findlay

The project was significant beyond the retelling of touching stories — “Bloodroot” was born as students identified a problem and then were encouraged by their professor to solve it. Theatre Arts Department Chair Linda Nell Cooper explained that a handful of women from the department approached her last year with the concern that there were not enough substantial roles available for women in the department’s shows, even though they outnumbered men five to one.

“Every university has this problem; it is typical in theatre,” Cooper said.

Under Cooper’s guidance, the students decided that rather than bemoan the problem, they could offer a solution — by writing their own roles.

Members of the “Bloodroot” creative team (back row, from left): Linda Cooper, Maria Reginaldi, Laura Falcione, Stefania Smith, Kylie Sanborn, Madison Levine, Teagan Cooper, Kaylee Nedrow, Sarah Beattie, Shelby Mason, Adell Ehrhorn, Lucia Standridge, (front row, from left) Faith Giammarco, Grace Martin, Courtney Gill, Becca Schultz, Maggie Paul, Ashlind Browne, Rebecca Pickard, Mattea Harrison, and Kristin Lindquist.

The writing team of 24 female students began mining Virginia’s rich history for stories of strong women who faced various challenges and showed resilience, ingenuity, and bravery in the midst of them. The team tied the stories together with music (original lyrics put to an old mountain tune) and the imagery of the bloodroot, a beautiful blossom that is native to the area and known for its hardiness.

“I’m so proud of the students for finding these stories — for finding the beauty and richness of them and making them come to life for people who have never heard of them,” Cooper said.

Senior Adell Ehrhorn (pictured above) was a lead writer on the project and played the role of June Carter.

“These stories are so important,” she said. “Most of these stories are ones that have not really been told or have only been told in history books, briefly. However, the stories show how much women have persevered through history.”

The project was funded by a grant from Liberty’s Center for Research & Scholarship, allowing the women to research and write in the spring and then produce the show on campus last November.

“I had never written any sort of script before,” Ehrhorn said. “This experience was amazing. It is one thing to get to write a show and have others read it and like the concept or the dialogue; however, it is a whole different animal to see something that you have written. It is not finished until the full product is on the stage and an audience is in the seats laughing or crying. It was a crazy process, but oh so rewarding.”

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