History and Theater Interwoven

History and Theater Interwoven

The Past Comes Alive
History and theater are working together in Appomattox to attract more visitors to the community and to engage more with current residents.

It’s a partnership chiefly between the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, site of the McLean House where Lee surrendered to Grant in April 1865, and Wolfbane Productions, a theater company based in Appomattox and New York City. The beneficiaries of this weaving together of factual events and the stage are many: the visitors who come to Appomattox, the businesses and the community as a whole who gain a deeper understanding of history.

“The Wolfbane staff members are not only theater nerds but history buffs as well. We also have a lot of hometown pride, so it only seemed natural to venture into a way of storytelling that combined both passions,” said Ken Arpino, Wolfbane’s executive director and an actor in many of the company’s productions. “It has made the process of developing new shows very enjoyable for us, while at the same time, it connects our audience to the stories. As an added benefit, we hope to connect residents to the community.”

Robin Snyder, superintendent of the historical park, said Wolfbane approached the park in 2016 about doing a play that would use the buildings and cultural landscape as a setting. The 1865 Foundation later joined the talks, and, from this, more discussions centered on producing Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with a Civil War twist.

“They understood we needed to see some sort of connection to the resource,” said Snyder, who liked the idea of bringing live theater to the park but was also sensitive to the type of production.

“Wolfbane’s Romeo and Juliet” is set in the village of Appomattox during the war years of 1861-65. Dustin Williams, who grew up in Appomattox, founded Wolfbane and is the artistic director, said the adaption gives many of Shakespeare’s characters last names of people who were prominent in the area at that time. The play adds some historical characters who lived in Appomattox during the Civil War.

Using local and New York City actors and actresses, “Wolfbane’s Romeo and Juliet” has been staged for two years.

Wolfbane, which started in 2008, has another production connecting history and the arts. “The Hannah Reynolds Story” depicts the last days of Hannah Reynolds, who was an enslaved resident of Appomattox and the only civilian casualty in the April 1865 fighting that took place there. The play is also staged on the park grounds.

“Wolfbane is honored to have partnered with the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and American Civil War Museum-Appomattox to bring the story of this courageous woman to life,” Arpino said.

Snyder likes how Wolfbane has told the stories of Appomattox residents. That has added richness to the park’s portrayal of the ending of the Civil War.

“Their productions help to bring these people to life and tell their stories. That’s certainly a direction we want to go in the park, beyond the military story,” Snyder said.

Both productions have drawn large audiences. Snyder said 2,000 saw “Wolfbane’s Romeo and Juliet” during its run in June 2017. She said that included visitors to Appomattox but also residents of the town, county and surrounding area.

Obviously, with visitors coming to the community, Appomattox has seen the economic benefits of people spending money on food, lodging and gas.

For 2017, 76,000 people visited the historical park. Snyder said a typical visit lasts two or three hours. However, with the theater connection, Civil War museum and more places to stay and eat, there are more reasons for visitors to stay longer, maybe overnight.

“We really want this to be a destination,” Snyder said.

Snyder said the history-theater partnership has further allowed the park to engage more with the local community.

“This is their park in their own community where they can have their own experiences in history, the arts and recreation,” Snyder said. “We want to have our visitors be representative of the faces of America. Wolfbane is another way to do that.”

Whether “Wolfbane’s Romeo and Juliet” and “The Hannah Reynolds Story” become annual shows remains to be seen, but everyone agrees the weaving of history and theater in Appomattox is here to stay.

“I think that partnership will remain, and we will look creatively at what other opportunities we can offer to the public and the community,” Snyder said. She foresees the possibility of June being an annual arts month at the park.

Williams added, “We’re always excited by the prospect of new work. There’s something magical about telling a story on the grounds where it actually takes place, and I am certain that, with all of the rich history of our area, there will be more of these type of stories coming out of Wolfbane.” nBy Mark Thomas

Historical Venues
  • American Civil War Museum, Old Courthouse Road (SR 24) (see ad on page 5)
  • Appomattox County Historical Society’s Old Jail  Museum & Library, Courthouse Square, Court Street
    (see ad on page 18)
  • Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Old Courthouse Rd. (SR 24)
  • Appomattox Station Battlefield, Route 101
  • Carver Price Legacy Museum, 102 Carver Ln.
  • Clover Hill Village, 5747 River Ridge Rd. (see ad on page 18)
  • High Bridge Trail State Park, Farmville (see ad on back cover)
  • Pamplin Pipe Factory. 2 E. Pamplin Rd., Pamplin
  • Red Hill Patrick Henry National Memorial, Brookneal
  • Steins Unlimited, 7b. Hwy. 600, Pamplin
  • Appomattox Visitors Center, Main Street