A! Magazine for the Arts

Gwen Creek (who portrays Aggie) rehearses with Brady Rogers (orphan Jimmy Denton).

Gwen Creek (who portrays Aggie) rehearses with Brady Rogers (orphan Jimmy Denton).

Behind the Scenes of 'Liberty!'

July 20, 2010

ELIZABETHTON, TN – Gwen Creek grew up proud of her Southern Appalachian roots. And now she gets to put her high regard of home, and its culture and history, into practice with a recurring role in Liberty!

The Official Outdoor Drama of Tennessee continues through July 31. Performances are offered Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. in the Fort Watauga Amphitheater at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton.

Creek joined the Liberty! cast in 2003 and has performed several roles, including different versions of her favorite character, "Aggie." "She was a small part to begin with," Creek said. "She has been a busybody and a kind of contrary person. Now we're doing something very different with her. Now she's the sort of warm, generous person that really personifies the Southern Appalachian woman."

Creek's character – who will be familiar to anyone who ever walked through the door to a mother or grandmother's house filled with the aroma of freshly baked dessert – is hailed as the maker of the best cobbler in the settlement.

Creek's Aggie is teamed with Brady Rogers, who is also undertaking a new version of his character, "Jimmy Denton," previously made famous as the settlement's young "sneakthief," who found many ways to snatch one of Aggie's pies – from wherever she had the misfortune to put it.

In the new story line, Jimmy Denton is a young orphan who loses his family to renegades on the way to the frontier. Nearly starving, the youngster comes across Aggie's cabin on the outskirts of the Watauga settlement and helps himself to the tempting creation cooling in her window. Aggie winds up befriending the orphan until his family can be located. Her cooking, and her teaching, make a powerful impression on Jimmy, revealed in a poignant reunion on his return in the second act.

"Sometimes something simple makes the most impact – in this case, just a spoonful of delicious food," Creek said.

The son of Jill and Phillip Rogers, Brady returns for his fourth season with the drama. The young actor/historian says he is "very proud to be in the play" and constantly encourages his classmates at Boones Creek Elementary School in Gray, Tenn., to see the show and be in it as well. "There's so much for them to see and learn," Brady said. "This is such a historical place. And it's a great honor to come and act out all of our heroes from the 1700s. I think that's real special."

Brady has his actor's eyes set on taking over another role: "I'm hoping one day to become either John Sevier or John Carter. I like them both."

His connection to the drama began when his grandfather, Norman "Buck" Rogers (a retired Daniel Boone High School teacher, coach and assistant principal) took Brady to a reenactment at Fort Watauga, which serves as the backdrop for the drama. Buck recalls, "One of the men invited him to stay and watch. Brady followed him everywhere, most of the day, and he was completely taken with it."

Buck portrays frontier developer Jacob Brown, whose purchase of the Nolichucky Valley in 1775 opened the way for a new series of settlements, beginning with Jonesborough, Tennessee's first town.

"We have the best time down here that you can imagine," Buck says. "The people are like family. They all call each other by their character names. I'll tell you, it's a lot of fun."

A taste of Aggie's cobbler – and perhaps even her secret recipe – will be available for drama patrons, along with a selection of other delicious period foods offered in the new Carter's Trading Post, named to honor the first such establishment on the frontier, opened by Watauga Association leader John Carter and his partner, William Parker, shortly after their arrival in 1771.

Like Aggie, Creek has a specialty – peach cobbler – and says "there doesn't seem to be any problem with it being eaten when I put it on the table."
And, like Brady and Buck Rogers, Creek is always working, encouraging friends to come and enjoy the outdoor drama experience: "I've talked to so many people who've said they meant to come and, for one reason or another, didn't get to. I hope that people will come and support this story and all the hard work that goes into the telling."

She also believes it is educational in other ways, showing not only how important women were on the frontier, but how much progress has been made in the more than two centuries since they helped settle America's first frontier.

"I think women are doing better in our society now. But I think we've got a-ways to go still. We're probably not as far along here as in some of the bigger cities..." She pauses and reflects for a moment, and then grins again. "I'm not so sure we want to go that far. But, then, I'm just a good ol' Southern Appalachian girl," she says with a wink.

A native of Washington County, Tenn., Creek and her late husband had five children, all of whom have been in the drama. Creek's great-granddaughter, Samantha, joined the cast at age 2.

"The pride I feel for our ancestors and our heritage, and where we came from, is very strong. Our history is so important. I am a very rooted person and I feel very lucky. There is not anywhere else in the world that I would rather be. I couldn't be happy anywhere else," Creek said. "I love this drama, and all the people who are in it. It's family-oriented, and friendly. I'm so happy that I can, in this way, be a part of my heritage."

Tickets to Liberty! are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students. Children ages 5 and under are admitted free. For more information, call 423-543-5808.