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Courthouse shootout play draws fire

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A Carroll County playwright feels that, after almost a century, the time has come to dramatize a piece of local history.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Drama arising from the idea to observe the 100th anniversary of the 1912 courthouse shootout with a play isn't unexpected, says playwright Frank Levering. But he still feels the story needs to be told.
Questions remain about where a play would be held and who would participate in the observance about the violent confrontation between members of the Allen family and Carroll officials.


He envisions the play developing from intensive research in time for the anniversary in 2012 and involving many community partners. But Levering acknowledges the announcement of the dramatization has generated some objections.
Organizers would like to have the play in Hillsville, but the historic courthouse has accessibility issues, he said. That means the venue for the play has not been set yet.
Levering already hosts a variety of plays and performances at his orchard at the Cherry Orchard Theater.
"The issue is whether Hillsville wants to be a part of it and the county as a whole," Levering said. "We have our own theater and it would be an excellent venue to do this play."
Cherry Orchard Theater has done outdoor drama based on the life of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart that was well-received, for example.
The idea to develop a play on the shootout has been on Levering's mind for 30 years.
The 100th anniversary of that fateful moment when Floyd Allen told the court he would defy a jail sentence and the resulting melee is fast approaching.
"In my mind, the clock is ticking now," Levering said. "I think the play needs to be and should be done to coincide with the centennial."
He'd rather do it in Hillsville where these events unfolded or, possibly, in both places. Levering also sees plenty of opportunities to cooperate with community and civic groups, students and businesses to maximize the benefit for the community.
If people object to doing a play, as many have over the years, that is their right, Levering said. But he also wondered if those people had ever seen a play at the Cherry Orchard Theater.
"If they haven't, then they really don't know what we're capable of doing," he said. "I don't want to make anybody mad, but sometimes you have to be bold and move ahead."
He understands worries expressed about the historical accuracy of a play, but Levering plans to study as many works on the shootout as possible — including Ron Hall's book, Sidna Allen's memoir and available documents — and conduct interviews.
Due to the limited amount of time — after the proverbial curtain rises — to stage a play's dramatic arc, a writer does have to make decisions about what gets included and what gets left out, Levering acknowledged.
And the interpretation of the writer isn't the only one involved in putting on a play, he said. There's also the director's take on the material and how the actor chooses to portray a character.
It's not lost on Levering that works based on historic events often have critics that see the event differently, he said. The challenges of interpreting history is often a topic of conversation between Levering and his brother, a history professor at Davidson College, when they get together.
He knows that other people are working on different ways to observe the upcoming anniversary. Nor does Levering feel that the observance should be limited to just one event.
With the centennial less than two years away, it's time to seize the day.
"I'd love to see it done well and I'd love for people in Carroll County to feel a sense of ownership in the project," Levering said.
"Let's have a casting call for local actors," he said. "Let's get local folks up there on the stage, portraying these people...
"Let's make it our production — it's our local story."