The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country is like many other theaters and cultural facilities around the country that are going through what Keith Martin — the theater’s chair calls a “major paradigm shift.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Appalachian Theatre has had to adapt how it provides entertainment and support for the surrounding community. Five months after hosting its first performance, the Appalachian Theatre closed its doors to the public due to the pandemic, and has found innovative ways to still interact with audiences.
Martin said the planning and implementation of in-person and/or virtual productions, performing arts events and community programs are being done on a much shorter time frame than before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone has become as flexible and adaptive as possible in order to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves on relatively short notice,” Martin said.
Recent examples at the Appalachian Theatre include the a local candidate forum in October sponsored by the Blowing Rock and Boone Area Chambers of Commerce, a benefit event with live performances broadcast from the venue’s stage and a fundraiser with a live event broadcast in real time on multiple platforms.
Martin said his favorite thing about the theater is its visibility and active role in the Boone community. ATHC Executive Director Laura Kratt said that typically the theater’s front display windows showcase upcoming events, but while the theater is closed, the windows are being filled the with the faces of Boone.
“We’re shining a light on compelling community stories, like our recent Watauga High School performing arts graduates, the people of Hospitality House and (in November) the remarkable stories of our (historic Black community) Junaluska neighbors,” Kratt said.
Kratt said that the theatre’s large display windows reach large numbers of folks in downtown Boone, including local citizens, seasonal residents and visitors to the High Country who stroll up and down the sidewalks in front of the venue. It’s King Street location next to the town of Boone municipal offices generates extensive foot traffic, and the display windows provide an opportunity for pedestrians to stop and enjoy each exhibit, she said.
Additionally, the theater launched a year-round film series — called Boone Docs — featuring independent and documentary films that “spark community conversation by presenting an independent lens to view our world,” theater officials stated. Showcasing emerging and award- winning filmmakers and distinct perspectives from across the globe, Boone Docs celebrates the creative power of independent film.
South Arts in Georgia selected the Appalachian Theatre in Boone as one of only 17 Screening Partner organizations in the southeast United States chosen for the 2020-21 Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. The film selection process is equally rigorous with more than 200 filmmakers competing to be one of the six films presented on each local tour. A dedicated 12-person local film team was an invaluable part of the process volunteering countless hours in film review to help bring compelling and engaging films to Boone.
Three films premiered in the series in fall 2020 with online screenings, with three additional documentaries slated for February, March and April 2021. Boone Docs presents Southern Circuit films hosted by the filmmakers themselves, giving audiences a look behind the scenes with post-screening question and answer sessions about film subjects and the filmmaking process plus activities like workshops and class visits.
At 3 p.m. on Feb. 21 “Thumbs Up for Mother Universe” — a film by George King — will be screened by the theater. Lonnie Holley has been described as a poet, a prophet, a hustler, a visionary artist and a shaman, according to ATHC. The 67-year old Holley has overcome grinding poverty, Jim Crow and a nightmare childhood to emerge as a creative powerhouse with an agenda to save the planet.
“Overland: Wake the Ancient Wild,” by Revere La Noue and Elisabeth Haviland James is described by ATHC a visually stunning, stirring and cinematic journey shot across four continents that twists and turns like nature itself – bridging ancient to modern, east to west and earth to sky. As each of these stories unfolds; eagles, falcons and hawks play a critical role in helping their human partners keep the wild from fading out of sight and out of mind. This documentary will be screened at 3 p.m. on March 14.
The Boone Docs series concludes at 3 p.m. on April 18 with “Cured” — Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer’s moving work that sheds a light on the historic and political history of the LGBTQ community through the lens of the medical field. It takes audiences behind the scenes of this riveting narrative to chronicle the strategy that led to a crucial victory in the movement for LGBTQ rights and the first major step on the path to first-class citizenship for LGBTQ Americans.
Boone Docs is offered free to High Country audiences through the generous support of the theatre’s board of trustees. The link to view the live-streaming will be sent to those signed up for the Appalachian Theatre’s e-list on the day of the event. To subscribe to the e-list and view these events at no cost, visit the theatre’s website at www.apptheatre.org.