Theatre West Virginia, originally the West Virginia Historical Drama Association, was founded in 1955. Its first production was the outdoor drama, Honey in the Rock, which opened at Cliffside Amphitheatre at Grandview State Park near Beckley on June 27, 1961. The play by Kermit Hunter depicts the founding of the Mountain State in 1863.
In 1968, the outgoing Theatre West Virginia producer, Norman L. Fagan, suggested to the new producer, Ewel Cornett, that a show based on the famous Hatfield-McCoy Feud be added to the repertoire. Cornett commissioned West Virginia native Billy Edd Wheeler to write the feud play, and the musical drama Hatfields and McCoys opened June 20, 1970. Hatfields and McCoys was the only play produced that summer, and both plays ran in 1971 and later. The addition of the new play in combination with Honey in the Rock quickly doubled the attendance. The productions became a popular tourist attraction in southern West Virginia.
In 1974, Cornett assisted in reorganizing the company, forming a League of Resident Theatres theater company and changing the corporation’s name to Theatre Arts of West Virginia. This represented a professionalization of the operation. A branch called Theatre West Virginia began touring the state, performing classic theater works in community centers and schools. By the late 1970s, the troupe, including a traveling marionette theater, was touring the eastern United States from Florida to Pennsylvania. In the 1980s, the entire Theatre Arts operation began to refer to itself as Theatre West Virginia.
During the summer of 2000, Theatre West Virginia celebrated the 40th anniversary of Honey in the Rock and the 30th birthday of Hatfields and McCoys. Both plays continue to be produced each summer, in combination with popular theater standards such as The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma, and Grease.
This Article was written by Ewel Cornett
Last Revised on October 26, 2010