*** This story was published June 26, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
BIG STONE GAP, Va. - More than once, folks have made comparisons between Savannah Arwood and the semi-fictional character, June Tolliver, she plays in "Trail of the Lonesome Pine."
Both are teenage girls. Both come from Lee County to Big Stone Gap to go to school.
Arwood, 18, grew up in Pennington Gap and recently graduated from Big Stone Gap's Powell Valley High School.This year, she plans to study theater at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.But first, she's going back on stage - with bare feet.
'LIKE A FAMILY'
As June Tolliver, Arwood plays the love interest of mining engineer Jack Hale in the annual summertime production staged at Big Stone Gap.
"Trail of the Lonesome Pine" is based on a novel by John Fox Jr., published 100 years ago in 1908.Each year, the play tells Hale's story - and how the handsome mining engineer meets the young Tolliver along the Kentucky-Virginia border in the late 1800s.
This marks the second year Arwood has portrayed Tolliver. It's also the second year for 21-year-old Ryan Perry playing the role of Hale.
Ironically, neither Perry nor Arwood figured they would have returned this year.
But then, they remembered the stage magic of being a star - under the stars - in this outdoor drama.
"I thought I'd miss it," Arwood said. "Again, it's just my attraction to everybody here. My nucleus of friends that mean a lot to me are here. It really does start to feel like a family."
Make that a big family.
About 65 people are part of the cast and crew of this production. Among them is a group of volunteers from the Office of Surface Mining/AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America's Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team.
'IT IS DIFFERENT'
For Perry, being in this play is all about gaining theater experience because the actors volunteer their time.
Never mind that, though. Perry has many ideas of sewing success into his future. After graduating from college at East Tennessee State University, he plans to go to Hollywood.
But like Arwood, he's got the "Trail" back on his mind.
At least for this summer.
And this year, Perry said, "I play Jack completely different than last year."
Perry looked at Arwood. They smiled.
"It is different every year," Arwood said.
This year, the show's director, Michael Hunt, has brought back the jury and the hanging of the Red Fox.
Historically, Arwood said, that's been a popular part of the show.
"The thing is, it's people out of town that usually do come to see it," Arwood added. "It's such a good play. People who come to see it, they end up loving it."
Just ask Barbara Polly.
In 1964, she played the role of June Tolliver in the first productions of "Trail of the Lonesome Pine." At the time, Polly was in her 20s, but she portrayed the role of a 16-year-old.
Now, this semi-retired real estate broker serves as the play's executive director.
And this year, she said, she's "thrilled" to have Perry and Arwood back on stage again.
"They work hard at what they're doing," she said. "And I think they care about what they're doing. They care that the story is meaningful."
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Play: "Trail of the Lonesome Pine"
Where: June Tolliver Playhouse, Big Stone Gap, Va.
When: Runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 23. Pre-show entertainment starts at 7:15 p.m. (play at 8 p.m.)
Admission: adults, $15; seniors, $12; and children, $8
Info: (276) 523-1235 or (800) 362-0149