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Community play, ‘I Am Home’ to showcase stories of Jonesborough

Sue Henley has spent most of her life in Jonesborough. As a child living in Sulphur Springs, Henley remembers venturing into town every Saturday.
“We came to Jonesborough every Saturday to go to the Jackson Theatre and get a block of ice to take home to make ice cream,” said Henley, who even remembers when she was just 5 years old and her family got electricity. “We would go out and walk down the street in Jonesborough just to see the lights on in different buildings.”
After spending so much of her childhood here, Henley moved to a historic home on Main Street in Jonesborough nearly 30 years ago.
Now, the woman who fully admits she is having a love affair with Tennessee’s oldest town, is about to tell Jonesborough’s stories to anyone who will listen.
Joining a cast of about 70, Henley is sharing the history of Jonesborough through the upcoming community play, “I Am Home.” The play is part of the newly created Jonesborough Yarn Exchange, a project that began more than a year ago to tell the stories of the town and its people.
“Jonesborough is a place that’s really never been asked to tell its own stories, but has hosting stories of other places for 40 years now at the (National) Storytelling Festival,” said Richard Geer, artistic director for Community Performance International, the company working to create the Jonesborough-based play. “Every place has its story. In Jonesborough, there are some startling, moving and amazing stories.”
Those stories were gathered last year from town residents. According to Geer, more than 2,000 pages worth of transcripts came out of those sessions, telling the history and memories of hundreds of people. Approximately 60 to 80 people’s stories are included in some way into the community play, which is set to open on April 28.
The play’s title reportedly comes from a vignette focused on a Latino family that once lived in Jonesborough.
“We found that Jonesborough has a unique, particular identity for people. It feels like home,” Geer said. “The play is a bunch of different takes on what it means to be home. It’s going to resonate with everyone who comes to see it.”
Another key theme in the play is that of tolerance.
“The story of integration in Jonesborough is utterly unique,” Geer said. “I’ve never heard anything like it. In any other community I’ve ever been in, I doubt that it could have possibly happened the same way.”
The play will no doubt be a unique theater experience.
It is being performed in the former Booker T. Washington School, currently in the very beginning stages of renovations to become a cultural arts center.
“We always try to find a place that is neglected and is a place charged with community meaning, some of which has been locked up for a very long time,” Geer said. “It’s certainly theater in the rough, but it’s different in ways that I think will be exciting to the audience.”
While the performance will use local actors much like other community productions, these actors will be portraying their neighbors, their friends and other community members.
“You are telling the stories of people you know,” Geer said. “Being involved in telling local stories raises the stakes and makes you a better performer. The fact that you are close to it means you care about it. And that care translates into passion and performing power.”
For Jonesborough resident Gary Gerhart, being a performer in the production has strengthened his bond with the community and brought to life the history of the town he has called home for 30 years.
“This is Jonesborough stories intermingled with contemporary issues and created into a play about the people and the town,” Gerhart said. “There is an incredible production going on here. It will be a visual treat. It will be a tour through history and a lesson in tolerance.”
“I Am Home” will open on Thursday, April 28 and runs through May 21. Evening performances will be offered at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with matinee performances presented at 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Tickets are available online at or by calling 753-1010.
For more information about Jonesborough’s community storytelling program or the play “I Am Home,” contact the Town of Jonesborough at 791-3869.