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Roadside Theater wins national award

On Sunday, May 17, at the Castillo Theatre in New York City, Roadside Theater of Whitesburg will receive the Otto René Castillo Award for Political Theatre. Roadside is celebrating its 34th year as Appalshop’s theater wing. The company has created 56 contemporary plays drawn from its rich Appalachian heritage of story, music, and oral history, touring them to 43 states and Europe.

Roadside’s newest play is the musical, “Betsy”, which recently premiered at Pregones Theater in New York City. “Betsy” is the story of a young Puerto Rican jazz singer who, upon her mother’s death, discovers she has Scots-Irish blood. Two shape-shifting ghosts, 16 original songs, and a four-piece jazz ensemble take Betsy on an once-in-a-lifetime journey of discovery.

Based on the belief that cultural development is as important as economic development, Roadside has conducted hundreds of artist residencies helping communities as distant as Zuni, New Mexico, San Juan Island, Washington, and Lewiston, Maine stage their own culture and use drama to examine their local issues. Responding to the sudden rise of the prison industry in the Appalachian region, Roadside and Appalshop are using theater, radio, film, and web technology to promote a national dialog about the effects of U.S. incarceration rates, which are the highest in the world with 1 of every 99 Americans currently locked up.

The Otto Awards, named after the Guatemalan poet and revolutionary Otto René Castillo, is the only honor in the United States recognizing the achievement of individuals and theatre companies who conceive, produce, and foster the development of innovative and socially challenging theatre. The award itself is an original sculpture created by the noted Brazilian contemporary artist and designer Sheila Goloborotko. Past award recipients have included: Kathleen Chalfant, Robert Wilson, LAByrinth Theater Company, Douglas Turner Ward, Laurie Anderson, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Steppenwolf Theater and Joseph Chaikin.

In addition to Roadside, the 2009 honorees include: the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), poet Ntozake Shange, the Street Spirits Theatre Company of Canada, and Teatro Visión from California. The awards ceremony will include a panel discussion on political theatre, moderated by Woodie King Jr. of the New Federal Theater, and Castillo Theatre dramaturge Dan Friedman. For more information on the Castillo Theatre and the Otto Award winners, go to http:// www.castillo.org/ specialevents_otto_awards.html.

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