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With these hands: Heritage Alliance, McKinney Center partner in play’s return

Mike D’Avella, Ashton D’Avella and Jules Corriere, back row, and Dana Kehs and Alexis Shearin, front row, rehearse ‘With These Hands,’ stories of Jonesborough’s history to be presented by the Heritage Alliance and McKinney Center.



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The hands of the Heritage Alliance are reaching out once again. Only this time, they are linked in purpose with those of the McKinney Center, and the resulting play, “With These Hands,” may be even better than ever.

“We loved this show so much when we did this in 2016,” said Anne G’Fellers Mason during a recent rehearsal for the upcoming revival of “With These Hands,” which will take stage at the McKinney Center Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4. “But it was just a one and one thing and the actors had worked so hard and there were more stories to tell.

“This is now the full-realized version of this play.”

With Mike D’Avella always hovering nearby as the cast’s magician of history, Anne Mason shows off some of the archival photos that will be a feature of the play.

Written by Mason and directed by the McKinney Center’s Jules Corriere, “With These Hands” will once again highlight key moments in Jonesborough and Washington County’s history, from the Civil War to the building of the Jonesborough Courthouse.

It also features some of Jonesborough’s best known residents, including town historians Paul Fink and Miriam Fink-Dulaney, as well as stories that might not, as yet, have been shared with a wide audience.

“I love the fact that there is such a diversity of stories,” Corriere said. “We’re hearing from people who might have been left out of the history books but who lived here and contributed to the community here, despite their class or the color of their skin.”

Both the original play, as well as the new additions, took some work, Mason acknowledges.

“We have stories as old as the Civil War and others from as recently as the 1970s,” she said. “Some stories you know a whole lot. With others, it’s just a kernel and you want to know more.

“It’s the truth as close as you can get it, not only the person but also the time period.”

Bringing the stories inside has also meant some changes.

“We always wanted to bring “With These Hands” back, but with an indoor setting,” Mason said. “An outdoor setting is beautiful, but it has its limitations.”

Now, she said, thanks to so many historic pieces, the play has a brand-new dimension.

For example, Corriere said, “We’ve got archival photographs, and as different things are happening and are being talked about on the show, we are actually able to bring you back in time and show you what things looked like.”

Of course, all this Jonesborough time travel could not work without a cast of excellent actors, according to Corriere, many who are returning to their roles from 2016.

“I am back because it is in me to tell these stories and be a part of it,” explained Dana Kehs, who not only was one of the stars of the first production, but has also created many of the historically accurate costumes to be worn. Kehs again shares the stage with Alexis Shearin, portraying two friends on opposite sides of the Civil War, yet trying to maintain their bonds.

“It’s the sense of what people think are insurmountable, is not. Before us, our forefathers had so much more to overcome and they did.”

These are real people, Kehs added. And they prove that Jonesborough can survive.

Mike D’Avella, who is returning as the town magician who leads the audience on a magical journey with the help of his son and apprentice, Ashton D’Avella, agrees.

“What really draws me is the interweaving of historical stories that draws us back to things we all go through,” he said. You see what people have survived in the past.”

Things may be inconvenient right now,” he said, “but certainly not insurmountable compared to what has been overcome.”

For many, coming back to “With These Hands” was also about re-establishing connections that had meant so much one summer day in 2016.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said 12-year-old Ashton D’Avella, who is enjoying his own “back story” as he works with his dad. “So I’m thinking he’s more like the person who does the cheap parlor tricks, and I’m actually the real magician,” he shared with a grin.

Alexis Shearin fell in love with the cast in 2016 and was excited to be back. “I cleared everything to make sure I was able to come back. Especially with our scene, ‘With These Hands’ really shows you can believe different things completely and you can still work together and be friends. You can still love one another not matter what your decisions.”

Performances for ‘With These Hands’ will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3and 4. There will be also be a 2 p.m. matinée performance on Saturday, Aug. 4. Tickets are $20 and proceeds benefit both the Heritage Alliance and the McKinney Center. Tickets may be purchased in advance and at the door of the show, depending upon availability. To purchase tickets, please call the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center at (423) 753-1010. Tickets can also be purchased online at