Crossing Roots: A Rural-Urban Theater Workshop

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The artists of Crossing Roots at Cowan Community Center

The artists of Crossing Roots at Cowan Community Center

In March 2019, Kentucky-based artists Amy Brooks and Hilarie Spangler – aka Cardinal Cross Arts Co. – partnered with Lincoln Memorial University’s Arts in the Gap program to produce Crossing Roots, a 4-day theater workshop and intercultural exchange in Cumberland Gap, TN, 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 cultural workers, training alongside performers from the National Theatre of Scotland.

The workshop, loosely structured around The TEAM’s “Devising In a Democracy” training, engaged 12 diverse local, regional, and national participants with degrees of performance experience from amateur to professional on a sliding pay scale. Participants explored devised theater-making; exercises which explore 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.

The TEAM and NTS actors kicked off the week with an intimate “pub” version of Anything That Gives Off Light at a free public event in LMU’s Sam and Sue Mars Performing Arts Center. The play’s intercultural themes, experimental form, and high-voltage musical backbone served as a framework for the 3 days of theater-making and community immersion to follow. Participants attended two to three “master classes” per day in subjects drawn from the toolkits of artists including:

  • The TEAM

  • Brooks and Spangler’s Cardinal Cross Arts Co.

  • The National Theatre of Scotland actors and musicians

  • Looking For Lilith Theater Company (Louisville, KY)

  • Community organizer and playwright Katie Myers (Knoxville, TN)

Intensives addressed learning to move from intellectual or thematic ideas to dynamic theatrical moments; generating material through physical and written assignments; cultivating an ensemble bond and navigating emotional waters amidst a process; strategies for editing as a group; building dances; writing on your feet (and other approaches to improvisation); using story circles as a community cultural and ensemble development tool; and more.

TEAM, National Theatre of Scotland and Roadside Theater performers in 2016

TEAM, National Theatre of Scotland and Roadside Theater performers in 2016


Crossing Roots built upon a three-year relationship between New York-based ensemble The TEAM, the National Theatre of Scotland, and the community-based artists of eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia. It was in these hills, among such coalfield artists, that The TEAM first conducted its 2016 research tour for Anything That Gives Off Light, which examines Appalachian-American and Scottish national myths. The play was created from a series of talks with people across Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky – interviews with mountain people as far-ranging as conservative and libertarian "land-grant" farmers and a 70+ year old community organizer and cultural worker who has been fighting racism, capitalism, and the coal industry his entire life.

Chef AuCo Lai serves up Vietnamese-Appalachian cuisine at Hindman Settlement School

Chef AuCo Lai serves up Vietnamese-Appalachian cuisine at Hindman Settlement School


Workshop sessions were interspersed with a broad range of local cultural immersion, site visits, social activities, and community events, including an Asian-Appalachian community lunch hosted by LEE Award-winning chef and Amity Foodworks founder AuCo Lai at the Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast; a public musical meet-and-greet for Cumberland Gap residents and visiting artists at Gap Creek Coffee House; storytelling with members of eastern Kentucky organizing groups the Letcher County Culture Hub, Black Sheep Brick Oven Bakery, and Hemphill and Cowan Community Centers; and a tour of grassroots arts and cultural center Appalshop.


World Premiere at Edinburgh International Festival, August 16-26 2016.

Lincoln Memorial University’s Sam & Sue Mars Performing Arts Center • Harrogate, TN • Monday, March 4, 2019 @ 7:00 PM

Every light casts a shadow…

Anything That Gives Off Light , Edinburgh International Festival, 2016

Anything That Gives Off Light, Edinburgh International Festival, 2016

Anything That Gives Off Light follows the story of a Scottish man who, after years of living in London, catches the sleeper train north to the heart of Scotland for a homecoming he’s been putting off for years. In a pub, an American woman drinks alone, trying to remember who she is while forgetting where she came from. When their paths collide they set off on a tour of the Highlands, slipping through the cracks between present and past, waking and dreaming, the real and the imagined. But as they shed the layers of their national identities, the ghosts of dead philosophers, crofters, cowboys, myth-makers and soothsayers get ever closer.

Featuring live music from the Scottish-American folk tradition, and the TEAM’s trademark athletic performance style, this foot-stomping collaboration explores the tension between self interest and sacrifice and the individual and the collective in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Written by Jessica Almasy, Davey Anderson, Rachel Chavkin, Brian Ferguson, and Alexander Grierson. Created in collaboration with Matt Hubbs, Nick Vaughan, Brian Hastert, and Libby King. Directed by Rachel Chavkin with Associate Director Davey Anderson. Music and Lyrics by The Bengsons.

A co-production by the TEAM, National Theatre of Scotland, and Edinburgh International Festival

Development of Anything That Gives Off Light was supported, in part, by the School of Performing Arts, Center for the Arts, and the Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series at Virginia Tech, and by the Global Connections – In The Lab program, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theatre Communications Group.

“A fierce poetic snapshot of two contemporary cultures linked by history.”– The Scotsman

“Exhilarating…Raw, heartfelt and messy on several levels…Boldly theatrical.” – The Stage

Cardinal Cross gratefully acknowledges the support of our sponsors, partners, and creative partners-in-crime, without whom the Crossing Roots workshop would still be a dream:


And the generosity of these individual donors:

Becca Holmes

Nicole Garneau

Alison Ruth

Michelle Burnworth

Cammy Morgan

Katie Van Winkle

Sarah Autry

George Rieke

Natalya Brusilovsky

Talya Kingston

Annie Jane Cotten

Christopher Rasmussen

Robin Garrison

Alexandra Lalonde

Leela Raju

Erin Kelley

Sarah Caplan

Megan Rutherford

Caleb Hayes-Deats

Paul Adolphsen

Jolene Noelle

Anna Bartel

Sean O'Leary

Tom Torres

Carol Jordan