top of page

Appalshop : 
Roadside Theater

The Lore:

leaving egypt cover cover_0.jpg

Roadside Theater was founded in the coalfields of central Appalachia in 1975 as part of Appalshop, which had begun six years earlier as a War on Poverty/Office of Economic Opportunity youth job training. From its inception, young Appalachians saw Appalshop as a means to subvert the national stereotypes of their mountain home and celebrate their culture by telling the region’s story in the voices of the people living there.

Roadside Theater's journey of discovery began with several questions nagging the theater's founding members: 1) Could a small group of community-trained musicians, storytellers, and writers create a professional theater in a place -- the coalfields of central Appalachia -- with no history of the same? 2) Could the content and form of such a theater be fabricated from local sources found within an area of approximately 20 counties in parts of five adjoining states -- eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, western North Carolina, and upper eastern Tennessee? 3) And could the ensuing regional dramas appeal to people anywhere?

In 1975 television was contributing to the loss of Appalachian storytelling traditions, so the young founders started telling, in a new ensemble way, the stories they had grown up hearing from their families – tales that were more intact in Appalachian communities than they were in the British Isles where they originated. The group took the name Roadside Theater and began offering performances wherever the actors and musicians hung their coats.

In its home region, Roadside’s audience is almost all working and middle class and economically poor people – in other words, the region’s general population. This Appalachian audience doesn’t attend a Roadside play as spectator, but, rather, to bear witness to its own cultural identity. Roadside’s national audiences are a broad cross-section of the American public, including a significant number of habitual theatergoers as well as many attending professional theater for the first time.






Roadside Theater has always been an inspiration to us, and in a series of conversations with them, we learned they needed a new way to share their resources digitally, through an intuitive system that still shone with the person to person values Roadside has always possessed. In 2020, we got the chance to learn from them first hand as we created their new website, In creating Roadside's new website, we hope to build on their powerful legacy of community theater practice while connecting them to the digital possibilities the internet presents. Head over and check them out!

Check out our partner at

ALT's Partnership:

Want to do

Something similar?

We are always looking for new and exciting opportunities to preserve, protect and perform folklore. Please join with us!

bottom of page