Musical set in East Tennessee to premiere in limited run at Barter Theatre

Published 12:26 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

from staff reports

The Barter Theatre curtain will go up next week on a limited-run musical celebrating Tennessee’s pivital role in women gaining the right to vote.

And it really is a case of the curtain going up – the eight-performance run of the new musical, “Winter Wheat,” is a world premiere.

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The mini-production is part of Barter’s Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. The musical’s book and lyrics are by Catherine Bush, Barter’s playwright in residence, and the music is by former Barter resident actor Ben Mackel, also the composer of the popular children’s musical “Billy Goat Gruff.”

Drawn from true events, “Winter Wheat” tells the story of the state’s pivotal role in passage of the 19th Amendment.

Set in the small East Tennessee town of Niota in 1920, “Winter Wheat” weaves a musical tale from American history, exploring the personal stakes for the men and women who lived through it. Niota is between Knoxville and Chattanooga.

In the end, ratification of the controversial 19th Amendment came down to a single state: Tennessee.

And playwright Catherine Bush’s research offers proof that fiction has no edge over truth for excitement: the Tennessee vote was decided by a single man, Harry Burn from Niota, Tenn.

“Winter Wheat” characters range from the suffragists fighting for the vote, to the tenant farmers of Niota, the career politicians, Tennessee men afraid of the social upheaval coming their way, and Harry Burns’ family, which was as divided as the country itself.

Nicholas Piper, director and artistic director of the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, said “Winter Wheat” is “compelling, moving and has new songs that you will be humming and singing long after you’ve seen the play.”

The Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights is an annual festival that celebrates Appalachian tradition by showcasing the stories of the region, both past and present.

“Winter Wheat” will have a limited run of 8 performances July 29 to Aug. 10 at Barter Stage II. For tickets or more information go to or call 276-628-3991.