History of the Drama

John Fox Jr. was one of Virginia’s best-selling writers in the first decade of the twentieth century. He chronicled in popular fiction the customs and characters of southern Appalachia and produced two of the first million-selling novels in the United States, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1903) and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908).

With an advance sale of 100,000, The Trail of Lonesome Pine eventually sold two million copies, making second in book sales only to the Bible. A place it held until the publication of Gone with the Wind in 1936.

It was adapted for the stage and produced at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York in 1912. Cecil B. DeMille wrote, directed, and produced a film version in 1916, while other versions appeared in 1914, 1923, and 1936. In 1964 The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was adapted into a stage play by Earl Hobson Smith and Clara Lou Kelly and first performed in Big Stone Gap.

Growing out of the community based Big Stone Gap Music Club productions in the early 1960s, the original cast performed their first full-length production, The King and I in 1964, followed that summer with the inaugural season of Trail of the Lonesome Pine. The Music Club and Lonesome Pine Community Chorale went on to stage Trail during the summers and off-season productions that included Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma!, and Annie Get Your Gun. In 1994, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was named the Official Outdoor Drama of Virginia.

Barbara Polly
Barbara Polly

Produced by Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts, Inc., the productions were guided for many years by Barbara Creasy Polly, who had originated the role of June Tolliver in 1964. As Artistic Director, General Manager, and Producer; Barbara’s vision was instrumental in building the June Tolliver Playhouse and acquiring the John Fox House and Museum. She served in that role until her passing in 2016.

In 2019, Jim Wardell, former principal of Powell Valley Middle School and Assistant Superintendent of Wise County Schools, was named General Manager and Producer of Trail of the Lonesome Pine by Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts.

Since 1964, the play has seen many adaptations. The fifty-five seasons of shows have seen many revisions, each new cast and crew leaving their mark. Directors change. Performers change, Scripts change. Music changes. But the heart of the show remains the story and its connection to the community.

2019 marks the 56th season of Trail of the Lonesome Pine, making it one of the longest running outdoor dramas in the United States. This year’s script was adapted from the Earl Hobson Smith original play by Jim Wardell and is directed by Ryan Tackett Wardell, a native of Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

The drama explores complex themes related to the boom and bust cycle of the coal industry, the way people deal with change, the importance of family, how the prejudices we hold can shape our actions, and our connection to this land we call home.

This cast and crew are community theatre in every sense of the word. We have company members who have never been on stage before as well as those who have many years of skill and experience. The production company remains a volunteer organization, as it has always been. We do this work because we love it. We work together to create the very best show possible. We are dedicated to helping each other grow, honing our craft and our skills, enjoying the process of bringing a production together, and entertaining the audience members who travel to see us; all while honoring the history and traditions of the past fifty-five years.