Monday, September 21, 2009

Remembering No. 9: Stories from the Farmington Mine Disaster

Remembering No. 9: Stories from the Farmington Mine Disaster is a play created at Fairmont State University that explores one of the worst mining disasters in the West Virginia, at the Farmington #9 mine.

I was fortunate enough to see a small part of the play as it was being developed last spring and it was riveting. Fairmont State is located about 25 miles south of Morgantown, WV on Interstate 79. It's an easy drive from Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cumberland, and Charleston.

I am sharing (with permission) an email below about the play, sent to me by Fran Kirk

Fairmont State University presents
Remembering No. 9: Stories from the Farmington Mine Disaster
An original theatre piece
September 25, 26, 27, 29 and 30
Box office 304-367-4240

About the production
The inspiration for Remembering No. 9 came from my fascination with the Sago Mine Disaster. As I sat staring at my television for several days, I could not imagine what the friends and family members of the trapped miners might be feeling or how they endured the waiting. I wondered what people might be talking about as they waited in the little country church or what they were thinking during the public announcements. But mostly, I wondered how they endured the heartache of losing the ones they loved.

When I returned to campus, I talked about these things with Samantha Huffman, Celi Oliveto and Jason Young, students in the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts and our conversations naturally turned to that of “story.” As theatre artists, we value, perhaps crave, the story behind the facts, and it was this desire for story that lead us to explore the stories in our own backyard, the stories about the tragic accident in 1968 at Consolidation Coal’s Farmington No. 9 Mine.

With funding from the FSU Undergraduate Research Program, Samantha, Celi, Jason and I sought the help of professional oral historians, Michael and Carrie Nobel Kline. The Klines provided us with training and insight into the world of oral history collection. For the next several months, the students sought out and interviewed wonderful people who so generously shared their memories, about their husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and friends as well as the events of that horrific day, November 20, 1968, and the days and years to come. Some shared newspapers clippings, others photographs. Some simply talked, but it was clear that it was important to everyone involved that these stories be told.

In August 2008, Celi and Samantha presented a workshop about their research at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education Conference in Atlanta where we met Greg Hardison, a museum theatre specialist at the Kentucky Historical Society. Again, through the generosity of the FSU Undergraduate Research Program, we were able to contract Greg and playwright, Donna Ison to help us. They provided us with examples of museum theatre and helped us develop a “treatment” that included the goals for our production and a scenario of the action.

Just 8 weeks before the opening of the May workshop performance, a cast of actors and writers was selected. The cast talked with Bob Campione and Reverend Dick Bowyer (whose stories anchor the show) and quickly began to improvise scenes for the play based on information from those discussions, interview transcripts and information found in newspapers and websites. Armed with the treatment, research and improvised dialogue, the cast, working in small groups, began to write the play.

During the workshop rehearsal period, scenes were read aloud, discussed and revised. As time grew closer to the opening day of the workshop production, writing responsibilities were handed over to the student researchers and Steve McElroy, an FSU theatre graduate. As we began staging act 1, we were still writing act 2. While staging the play, we continued to make discoveries about the characters and their stories, and we continued to revise our work. During our workshop performance, we held talkback sessions with the audience. Since the last performance, we have used the feedback to further develop and revise the script. The cast, crew and audience from the workshop production made this revised production possible. I will be forever grateful to them for sharing in this project.

We have taken some dramatic liberties with the story. The characters in the play are creations based on the research. As a result, many of the names will not be recognizable. Likewise, the time period may not be recognizable. We have not attempted to recreate the details of 1968. Our goal is to tell a story in a way that is interesting, educational, and artistic and that honors the stories of No. 9.

Francene Kirk
Associate Professor of Communication and Theatre Arts
Fairmont State University


As I did a quick search on the No. 9 mine, I found this discussion. It underscores how such events continue to affect lives even today.

More information on the development of the play, background information and quotes from survivors is here.

For a news article that ran in local papers the day after the explosion, go here. There is another article here, with a small photo of the explosion.

Of the 99 miners working in the mine at the time of the explosion, 78 did not survive and 19 were entombed in the mine when it was sealed. You can visit the monument that memorializes these men not far from the town of Farmington.


smallpines said...

Great stuff, and it's pretty neat that they are going to the trouble to explore ALL the local history, even the tough stuff. Some pretty cool things you found on your own too. Good digging!

Susan at Stony River said...

How heartbreaking and how wonderful to see lost miners memorialised in stone. The Sago disaster inspired a story of mine too, a middle-grade novel I'm still working on (one of those background projects that doesn't get enough attention).

A friend of ours was driving us through Clarksburg and pointed out a house of a relative of his, saying that he'd been a coalminer for nearly 20 years but after Sago happened he wouldn't go back to the mine again. Imagine.

Granny Sue said...

I can imagine. I will not forget my visit to the Sago memorial anytime soon. My husband's father was a miner and was injured several times, including having his back broken once, but still he went back into the mines because that was what he knew. That, and Sago, both inspired poems for me.

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