The story of Tennessee and its people has always been one of fascination. Learning what brought so many individuals beyond the western borner of North Carolina during those pre-Revolutionary days continues to draw the attention of native and newcomer alike.
In a supreme display of local talent, the Jonesborough Repertory Theater will be telling some of these stories of the beginnings of Tennessee in its upcoming production, Toward the Setting Sun.
The production's title is taken from a line spoken by American frontiersman Daniel Boone in 1775 when he challenged a group of men to follow him "toward the setting sun" to the land of adventure and promise that lay just beyond the western colonial boundaries of the North Carolina hills.
With the purchase of the present-day Tennessee and Kentucky from the Cherokee Indians in that year, the great Western Expansion began. And thus came to life the sixteenth state and the story of its people, the Tennessee Volunteers.
From the pages of time, legendary figures will once again be heard. The legendary trailblazer carving his name in the historic tree on Boones Creek will be seen as well as an appearance by Andrew Jackson. From pre-Revolutionary days forward, the voices of Tennessee's people and their stories will be heard as storytellers introduces and explain the scenes.
Featured storytellers for the production include Bo Deaton, Mattie Mullins, Jodie Harrod, Chris Webb, Saundra Ledford, Adam Dickson, Maria Buchanan and Yvonne Gaskins.
"We all enjoy and admire storytelling, and we are very proud to be telling these stories because they are stories that matter. Especially with the recent sadness in our country, it is important for us to remember and honor the people who helped begin and fought for our Republic," said Brian Ponder, President of the Jonesborough Repertory Theater.
The production brought together 95 people from Jonesborough, Unicoi, Johnson city, Gray, Elizabethton and Hampton.
Other members of the cast include Theresa Phelps of Hampton, a direct descendant of the legendary Mary Patton, who milled the gunpowder for the Overmountain Men.
Many of Jonesborough's leading citizens are participating, including Dorothy Wood, Ann Johnson, Rose Mottern, Jim Rhein, Sue Henley, Carol Baird, Becky Sims, Sharon Squibb, Hal Knight, Cody Ledford, Tom Pardue and Jack Moore. Town officials, including Public Safety Director Craig Ford, Major Steve Wheat, Town Administrator Bob Browning and Mayor Tobie Bledsoe will also be part of the cast.
Many traditional Appalachian melodies and original music accompanies several of the stories and the scene changes. Musical soloists include Jack Leonard, Don Squibb, Susan Painter, Brian Scott, Wenny Elrod, Christopher Jennings, Kim Kennedy, Lise Cutshaw, Brian Fritts, Steve Fritts, Alfreda McAfee and Sherri Renfro.
Music is under the direction of Juanita Ruetz with contributing musicians including Chris Webb, Rob Hoss, Theresa Hensley, Terry Austin, Glen Rose and Benjamin Farmer.
The play, written and directed by native Jonesborough writer, Jon Ruetz, was inspired by a love for Tennessee and its people.
The seed was planted many years ago as young Jon accompanied his grandfather to Jonesborough on Saturday afternoons, where he sat for hours listening to the stories that had been handed down through the generations – stories that unfolded the struggles, the triumphs, the progress, the constancy of a people known as Tennesseans.
"The writing of this play," says Ruetz, "in one sense was relatively short but was, in another, a lifetime. The actual writing spanned a few months while the gathering of the information spanned a lifetime.
"One of my greatest joys has always been to listen to Tennessee's people tell their stories – listening to how they came to be the people they are, listening and telling their stories.
"Three words took root in my heart as a small boy: Patriot, Republic and Liberty. Toward the Setting Sun is the story of some of those patriots who lived and died for the establishment of a Republic where all people could live and enjoy Liberty.
"But it is also a presentation of some very talented people from our area. It is my desire to share with the other folks these extraordinary friends whose outstanding talents speak for themselves."
Article courtesy of johnsoncitypress.com