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Cast reflects on ‘We Did It Together,’ McKinney’s new play opening Friday

By SERINA MARSHALL
Staff Writer [email protected]

A new play will open this weekend in Jonesborough, telling the story of Tennessee’s Oldest Town by those who know it best.

Local playwright and Director of Outreach for the McKinney Center, Jules Corriere, got the inspiration for her latest play, “We Did it Together” just by living in the community.

“I was inspired by so many stories we collected. A common theme in so many had to do with pulling together in order to accomplish some- thing — whether it be a family, a neighborhood, and sometimes, as in the election of Ernest McKinney, Sr., the whole community,” Corriere said.

“The McKinney Center has now trained many story collectors. They and I go out in the community and collect the stories, and then they are transcribed, and it is when I’m reading through all the transcripts that I begin to see how one person’s story connects with someone else’s story. I am so inspired by the humanity in each person’s story. We all face challenges; it’s something we have in common. And something people in Jonesborough have in common is how we all pull together, no matter what our differences, when the times call for it.”

The play is set in the 1950s and 1960s and, according to Corriere, is based on real life stories of community members, and is filled with singing and dancing, original music, and a lot of heart.

“Our cast is comprised of community members from many backgrounds and ages, which reflect the many different stories in the play,” she said. “We have had a six- week rehearsal period, and are now about ready to open.”

The cast of “We Did it Together” had the opportunity to bring stories to life and share those stories in a unique and entertaining way. But much goes into a play of such his- torical magnitude, according to cast member Beth Herron.

“Preparation revolves around honesty; balancing emotional weight and factual thrust of the scene, and, in relation to the entirety of the script,” Herron said. “My favorite part of the production has been the wonderful microcosm of society, necessary to reflect the subject matter. Strangers being grafted into family, to partake of a unified vision.”

Herron adds that she wants people to take away “immense dignity of their own humanity rightly lived in love.”

Doug Gross said that his favorite part has been watching the play evolve and grow.

“This started as a single entity in the form of Jules’ script, culled from her immense amount of research. Then they added original music, musicians, a cast, a director, and finally a choreographer,” he said. “At each stage, it became much more than just the sum of its parts. Watching it grow was incredible, and being a part of that is humbling.

“I hope that the audience sees how much more there is to their neighbors and friends. I have read some of the cast member’s surnames memorialized on the walls at the McKinney Center, and never thought that I’ve been walking around town rubbing el- bows with those who changed the history of this town. Now I get to share the same air with those that lived it. I hope they truly understand in this age of divisions how much ‘We Did it Together.’”

With such a connection, those in the cast have formed what Herron feels is a special bond.

“To the cast, you’ve enriched my life, merely by being yourselves. Art imitates life; our lives birth art!” she said. “Also, it is ever count- ed as an honor to celebrate the magic with you, Jules Corriere, Brett McCluskey, Makenzie Emmert, Kevin Iega Jeff and Richard Owen Geer.”

Additionally, Gross offers appreciation for those that have been a part of such a carefully crafted storytelling experience.

“There are so many things I would like to say to Jules and the fellow cast members. And more than that to Richard, our director, and Iega, our choreographer, and Heather our composer. It has been eye-opening. It’s been a lot of work, a huge commitment, and a privilege,” he said. After introducing such a telling, compelling and historic story, what is next for Corriere?

“After being selected for and winning several film festivals with my last two screenplays, I am working on another short screenplay, which is also derived from the same kind of real-life experiences you see in this new play,” she said. “I think there is such value in bringing voice to the real-life experiences of ordinary people, be- cause they inspire us. When we see their struggles and triumphs, we believe we can overcome our own obstacles, because someone like us has done it. Our stories connect us to each other through our shared humanity. Those are the stories I love to write.

“Thank you (to the cast) for the heart you bring to this play, and for stepping into the shoes of your neighbors, and bringing to life their stories- making us laugh and also making us care about each other in profound ways.”

“We Did it Together” opens Friday, June 3, and runs weekends through June 12 at the McKinney Center with evening and matinee performances.

Tickets are $17 for general admission and $13 for se- niors and students. Groups of 10 or more have a group rate of $13 each. Tickets available at mckinneycenter.com.