The outdoor drama “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” is under new management.
Jim Wardell stated that Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts, the organization that oversees the drama, June Tolliver House and the John Fox Jr. House, reached out to him about being general manager of the drama this season.
“I’m serving in a general manager sort of capacity and that means just reorganizing, reconstituting, filling gaps in the cast that result from whenever you have a change,” said Wardell.
Wardell moved to Wise County 30 years ago as a music teacher and band director at St. Paul Elementary and High School. “Another reason why I related to this story, Jack Hale’s character comes into Wise County and over the course of the story goes from being from away from here to being fully Wise County,” he said. “He just absolutely embraces the region and has such a connection himself with music.”
Wardell was with the school system for 19 years. Aside from being a music teacher and band director, he was the principal at Powell Valley Middle School and served as assistant superintendent of the county school system.
He is currently the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
Wardell stated that he has worked on many theatre productions from his college years and beyond. “What I am bringing in is an arts background but also a strong management background.”
The drama was managed last season by All An Act Theatre Project. It was the company’s first season managing the drama.
When asked about the management change, LPAC President Gail Luntsford stated: “We have a new director a lot of times every year. All An Act had intended to work again, but they have had a lot of sickness in the family.”
Luntsford explained that family members of both the producer and artistic director have had hospitalizations.
When asked about the change in the production itself, Luntsford stated: “It will go back more to the original but it’s up to the director. We want to keep it as close to the book as we can.”
“When something changes, there will be things that are different,” Wardell said. “Not necessarily better or worse, just different.”
Wardell believes that his main role is to make sure that the season happens. “I have three very specific goals to take care of,” he said.
The first goal is reconstituting the creative team, the cast, crew and volunteers. “So that’s just bringing together all the people that we need to make this season happen.”
The second goal is developing a very comprehensive marketing plan specifically for the “Trail.”
The third goal is to develop the organizational structure. Wardell thinks the organization needs “to put in place what we need to make sure that well beyond any one person, the structure is maintained to honor those traditions and build upon them.
“This is a show that has had a 55-year run at this point,” he continued. “There are things that have gone very right in order for anything to last for 55 years. We want to really honor that and build upon it.
“Over the years, the casts change, the directors change, the music changes, the vision changes, but the piece that stays the same all the way through it is the story at the heart of the drama,” Wardell said. “That’s not just the love story but also, looking at our region and the impact that change has on our region. The show itself is about that change, the impact of industrialization and the boom and bust cycle of the coal industry at the turn of the century. That’s very relevant for what we face today.”
The 2019 season opens June 28.