First Person Arts (FPA) is a Philadelphia nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art. FPA believes that everyone has a story to tell and that storytelling connects us with each other and the world.
FPA’s Part in Anthracite Fields
The Story Circle
For our composer Julia Wolfe’s primary research, First Person Arts contracted teaching artist Laurie McCants to locate people with coal mining histories and to develop story circles. In 1999, Laurie co-wrote and directed Hard Coal: Life in the Region, a theater piece that takes an in-depth look at anthracite mining, produced by the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble. As a part of Julia’s immersion, Laurie shared with her the books, recordings, interviews and still images that were used for Hard Coal. She took Julia on a personal tour of the three major anthracite museums in Scranton (Anthracite Heritage Museum), Weatherly (Eckley Miners’ Village), and Ashland (Museum of Anthracite Mining). The Anthracite Heritage Museum is home to key artifacts from the Knox Mine Disaster of 1959 and it is also beside a mine that is open to the public. The Eckley Miner’s Village describes the daily life of a miner and the Museum of Anthracite Mining focuses on mining technology (also beside a mine). All museums contain archived interviews that informed other questions that Julia and Laurie explored in interviews.
Chester Kulesa, Director of the Anthracite Heritage Museum, donated museum space for the interviews with the coal miners and coal miner families. These interviews helped to identify story participants in spring 2013, who will retell their stories publicly in Philadelphia in fall 2013. All interviews have been videotaped. Thus far, two interviews are of particular depth: Tom Supey, a third generation miner, and Barbara Powell, a coal miner’s daughter. Their videos will be posted in the coming months.
First Person Story Slams are monthly storytelling competitions held at World Cafe Live and L’Etage in Philadelphia. Each month’s theme elicits stories that come from the life experiences of Philly’s storytellers. Everyone with a story and a little sense of competition is encouraged to participate. In March, 2014, First Person Arts will host a story slam related to work and labor issues, as a way to celebrate our upcoming Anthracite Fields commission.