Developed by West Virginian Amy Brooks and Kentuckian Hilarie Spangler in 2017 under the name “Crossroads Lab” within Appalshop’s award-winning theater wing, Roadside – and now an independent two-woman company – Cardinal Cross uses interdisciplinary theater and rural-urban exchange to produce, amplify, and celebrate the art of women and other Appalachian people whose stories are seldom told on stage. This flexible two-woman team seeks out, collaboratively develops, and presents new community-based plays and performance art that reflect the aesthetic and cultural values of contemporary Appalachian musicians, storytellers, performers, digital media makers and designers. In March 2019, Cardinal Cross, in partnership with Appalshop, teamed with Arts in the Gap and Lincoln Memorial University to produce Crossing Roots, a 4-day theater workshop and intercultural exchange in Cumberland Gap and various central Appalachian cultural sites.
Crossing Roots featured NYC ensemble Theater of the Emerging American Moment (or The TEAM), as well as diverse Appalachian and Southern theater artists and performers from the National Theatre of Scotland. The workshop, kicked off by a performance of the TEAM’s 2016 Appalachian-Scottish play Anything That Gives Off Light, engaged 12 diverse local, regional, and national participants with degrees of performance experience from amateur to professional on a sliding pay scale. Participants explored ensemble theater-making; exercises which explored memory, trauma, and identity as embodied traits we carry and perform; and intercultural musical, culinary, and storytelling exchange as tools for transforming our rural and urban communities. A rich documentation plan including short video, podcasts, and published articles, co-produced by local artists, TEAM members, and Arts in the Gap staff are now showcasing Tennessee, Kentucky and other Appalachian artists as leaders in convening international talent and culture. Read more at cardinalcross.org/crossingroots.
I am a 2018-19 Fellow in ILI, a year-long intercultural leadership program for artists, culture bearers and other emerging professionals. Developed in cooperation with young arts leaders (including Appalshop ED Alex Gibson), ILI is cooperatively sponsored by Alternate ROOTS, P’AI Foundation, First Peoples Fund, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures. Among our cohort are theater makers; poets; painters and other visual artists; musicians; and advocates for LGBTQ+, people of color, first-generation immigrants, and other marginalized groups working towards community change.
“A New Story of Intercultural Leadership,” Amy Brooks, Medium, 2018
I co-founded and produced the UMass New Play Lab, now in its 5th season, as a “crucible” for ambitious new work while I was a graduate student at UMass Amherst. Each year a professional playwright and two UMass student playwrights are given the opportunity to workshop productions of their newest plays — works that represent fresh voices, big ideas, and envelope-pushing modes of storytelling. Play Lab scripts I selected and developed have continued on to full productions in regional and off-Broadway theaters:
“Play Lab: Imagining a forum for new works,” Amy Brooks, Stages, 2013
Review: “In ‘Sagittarius Ponderosa,’ New Self Confronts Old,” The New York Times, 2016
Review: “Sexual Assault as Both History Lesson and Satire,” The New York Times, 2017
Rural Arts Weekly is a two-woman Twitter forum for artists, educators, media producers, funders, public sector employees, entrepreneurs, and cultural advocates to ask pressing questions about rural creative placemaking in the digital age. Co-founded in 2015 when I met upstate New York rural theater producer and businesswoman Pilar McKay at the National Rural Assembly, RAW has provided official social media coverage of national conferences including Imagining America, Next Gen: Rural Creative Placemaking, ArtPlace America, and the New York State Preservation Society.
In the past three years I have taught, presented, or led workshops on community-based theater and dramaturgy at sites throughout eastern Kentucky and at regional, national, and international gatherings including Imagining America, the National Rural Assembly, Hurricane Gap Community Theater Institute, Community Theater for Social Justice Action, and Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.
LMDA conference panel, “Arts, Activism & Access,” Berkeley CA, 2017
Community Voices Lecture Series, VA Tech, Blacksburg VA, 2017
“Grassroots Theatre Training in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfields,” Bob Martin, HowlRound, 2018
“Roadside Theater's Living Library,” Amy Brooks, Dudley Cocke & David Dower, HowlRound, 2018
Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) is my member service organization/professional guild. Their 2016 Residency Program Grant funded my early work with Roadside; their 2017 Bly Creative Capacity Grant, among whose recipients I will be honored at D.C.’s Kennedy Center in October 2019, was awarded to me for my work with Roadside’s Performing Our Future initiative. In early 2018, frustrated at LMDA’s lack of Appalachian representation, I petitioned our board to form an autonomous Central Appalachian regional working group. They agreed and funded the working group fully. Today I am the Regional VP for LMDA Central Appalachia, an active online platform for communicating the distinct theater and culture of the coalfields to the mainstream academy and nonprofit arts world. I am also the Executive VP of Conferences on the LMDA board, bringing a community-based arts and cultural advocacy ethos to our international convenings in Chicago (2019) and México City (2020). Representing Appalshop and our mission within LMDA is a regular practice in my governance.
As a core team member of the 2016-2018 Roadside Theater–Letcher County Culture Hub–Imagining America–Economic Empowerment & Global Learning Project initiative called Performing Our Future, I oversaw complex communications networks connecting artistic, academic, and policy partners across multiple years and national stages of work. I organized, curated, edited, presented, and digitalized a wealth of multimedia documentation on websites I designed and maintained, including performingourfuture.com and roadsidetheater.org.
In these years I was also an integral member of the fundraising team, writing and editing LOIs, grant proposals, and/or reports for both government agencies and private arts philanthropies. These proposals were successful in securing funding for Roadside Theater and Performing Our Future more often than not.
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