Appalachian Echoes is a children’s play produced by Appalachian Young People’s Theatre, adapted by Teresa Lee from the book Dobie ‘n’ Me in Hoot Owl Holler by Doris Smith Bliss. The interactive play tells the story of children growing up in Appalachia in the 1930s and some of the shenanigans in which they’d find themselves.

The play’s set is minimal, with only a few wooden boxes, a rocking chair, and dividers painted with the blue ridge mountains on the stage, yet the atmosphere was welcome and familiar. The sparse set allowed for the actors to easily reorganize the stage depending on the scene. Two of the actors, Natalie Jones and Clay Cooper, would interject into the scenes with Appalachian Bluegrass from a fiddle and a guitar. It is hard to disconnect Appalachia from its Bluegrass, and the music was integral to establishing a sense of place.

Appalachian Echoes is an incredibly personable play produced in a small, two-row black box theater. The dialogue is narrative-based, with characters regularly speaking to the audience to explain what something was or how it happened, and then the actors would perform the scene that was set up by the narration. For example, when Doris and Dobie take their hard-earned nickel to the candy shop, the Candyman announces his reputation and job title before continuing the scene.

Many times, the audience was encouraged to get involved and mimic the activities happening on stage, such as churning butter and mixing stew. At one point, the actors even pulled a few audience members on stage for a spelling bee. The intimacy of the two-row theater allowed the actors to engage with the audience beyond the stage by running around the room and playing hide-and-seek amongst the audience. There was even a ten-minute Q&A at the end of the play, during which the audience heard a little bit about the background of the actors and the history of the stories being told. It was interesting to find out that the stories being represented took place a rock’s throw away from Boone, between Valle Crucis and Banner Elk. One of the Doris Family members asked if any of the actors had taken a field trip out to their old home; a few actors had actually made the trip.

Opening night was a particularly special evening because Doris Bliss’ family members were present. They had been unaware of the original production of the play in 1998. It was entertaining to watch the family members’ reactions to the actors’ exaggerated adaptations of people they once knew. Sometimes they would laugh and look at each other with a look that said, “Remember that?” Other times, their expressions were stone cold. It was curious to watch their expressions because it was difficult to tell if they were amused by the depictions of their childhood or concerned. Regardless, the fact that there were several family members in attendance made the evening feel particularly intimate.

The preparation and participation in this play is part of an Education Theatre class at Appalachian State University, and the students only had about 14 days to prepare for the show. The production is a fun and bittersweet send off for the senior students as well as for Teresa Lee (the class’ professor and the show’s director), who plans to retire after this semester. Afterwards, Lee expressed that her retirement, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Appalachian Young Peoples Theatre, was the very reason she decided to revamp a personal favorite from 15 years ago. The Appalachian Young People’s Theatre will perform this production at nearby schools following the April 10 performance on campus at Appalachian State.