By MARINA WATERS
Most plays consist of a group of people together on a stage. But for those gearing up for “I Am Home,” it’s all about the community coming together to share the stories and history of Tennessee’s oldest town.
“I Am Home”, which is set to run on Feb. 23, 24, 25 and March 2, 3, 4, is made up of stories that take place throughout Jonesborough’s history. The stories were gathered throughout a year-long process and thus created a play that was designed to take the audience through multiple time periods and stories that helped shape Jonesborough.
But for playwright and McKinney Center Director of Outreach Programming Jules Corriere, “I Am Home” is also about that true sense of community.
“I’ve been writing plays like this for 20 years in communities around the country and what I see happen every time is a community sheds light on its stories — not just the easy ones, but the difficult ones,” Corriere said. “In rehearsing those difficult moments on the stage, we learn to bring that rehearsing out into the community and put it into practice so that we are better and stronger with each other.
“We become stronger neighbors because we are growing and understanding of each other’s stories.”
The play also aims to honor the stories of Jonesborough’s past leaders in the community; for many cast members, it’s that rich history that brought so many to the stage in the McKinney Center for the “I Am Home” community production.
Among these historical characters is local historic icon, Alfred Greenlee. Greenlee was an integral part of Jonesborough’s integration and he even attended the African American school which used to be in the McKinney Center building on Franklin Avenue in Jonesborough from 1940 to 1965.
Ken Bonner, who plays the role of Greenlee, said he felt the importance of the part in joining the cast as the Jonesborough historical figure — but that only gave him more motivation.
“When I read about this one in the paper, I just kinda told myself I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and come down here and try out for a role — I didn’t know it would be Alfred Greenlee,” Bonner said, laughing. “As I learned more about him, his character and history in Jonesborough, I just made a commitment to myself to bring that character to life. Then as I got into it and started realizing the importance of his role, it became a little bit bigger.
“I’m really excited about it — especially to be playing an event that actually took place here.”
But Greenlee isn’t the only one with history dating back to the McKinney Center building and other sites in Jonesborough such as the Jackson Theatre; Donna Olujani was involved with a community play seven years ago with her son and daughter. Now back in this year’s production, she doesn’t just attribute the play for the history lesson it offered her and her kids — it also allowed her father to open up about his past during the segregation era.
“My dad actually grew up here, so when he would go to the Jackson Theatre, he had to go up to the balcony — I had never even heard that story from him before,” Olujani said. “So it allowed us to go back and listen to even more history from my dad where he hadn’t shared some of that. When he came to the play, it just made it to where he would talk about things more. There were a lot of things going on in that time that he just didn’t share or talk about because it was less painful not to talk about it.
“This play brought it out and showed us how important it is for him to do that with his grandkids and for them to get a better understanding.”
Among her other roles in the play, Olujani will play a mother in the Jackson Theatre, where her father once stood in the balcony. And it’s this sort of real history that she hopes others will take away from the local production.
“A lot of times, I feel like Jonesborough kind of gets lost. We’re the same county as Johnson City, but we get lost. Since I’m from here, I wanted to be proud of Jonesborough. I wanted my kids to be proud of Jonesborough and to be proud of where they’re from.
“I think (the play) is kind of where I think the communication kind of got lost as far as the history. That’s what’s important, that people know this history.”
Whether it’s to honor a local historical figure or to share the history that took place in the same building in which the play will be performed, the community, past and present, are the centerpiece of the show for cast, crew and directors alike.
“What I want the community to take away when they see this play is just the power of its people, the perseverance and tenacity of its own people, what they have lived through, what they continue to live through and what they have continued to grow into whatever was coming next,” Corriere said. “They’re innovators, they’re creative and they didn’t let the world pass them by. They built the world and made it happen as the world was growing.”
I Am Home will be featured on Feb. 23, 24, 25 and March 2, 3, 4 with the show starting at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $14 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students and are available by phone at (423)753-1010 or online at www.jonesborough.com/tickets.