Monday, October 01, 2012

Karen Thorsen finishes up tour in Johnson City

Johnson City, TN – 9/23-9/25/12
By Karen Thorsen

Getting there was not fun. The USAir flight out of NYC had to change a tire (with all of us on board!), and a trip that began at 2PM finally got me into my Johnson City hotel room at 2:30AM. Being there, however, was great. The Carnegie Hotel is grand and full of antiques; the Eastern Tennessee State University campus is gorgeous and full of huge trees; the ETSU Video Department is endowed with a cutting edge TV studio, lighting grids, green screen, tape decks, mixing boards, rows of Final Cut editing IMacs (all funded by the TARP stimulus!); just down the road is the historic town of Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee; and the backdrop for it all are the mountains, aptly called the Great Smokies, where the green ridges turn purple as they recede into the haze.

My day started with a warm welcome from ETSU Director of the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, Anita DeAngelis, and an excursion to 18th-century Jonesborough. We spent our morning on Main Street, exploring wooden-balconied buildings and old-style emporiums, walking pathways first trod by Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson. I learned local history – which, even before the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the region’s first bid for statehood, goes back to the post-dinosaur Miocene Age and a nearby fossil dig (whose recently-discovered treasures have made ETSU a worldwide center of paleontology). We topped it all off with panini and pastry inside the old Jonesborough Post Office, where pressed-tin ceilings and hardwood floors have been restored to their original glory.

Fast forward to the 21st century and a Radio-TV-Film class at ETSU. Under the guidance of teacher Tammy Hayes and Program Chair Shara Lange, the students and I spent 90 minutes discussing the challenges and rewards of documentary filmmaking. Most exciting for me, I got to learn about the students’ personal projects – including a future sports commentator-in-training who confided that he had actually quoted from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” in one of his sportscasts: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” Joe Papp would have loved it.
After class, we toured the department, took a quick break and then regrouped for dinner: Thai food plus film talk with Shara Lang and her husband (along with her teaching at ETSU, she’s now completing a documentary she filmed in Morocco, plus another on Bluegrass music). Then off to the impressive theater in the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, where we had one of our largest audiences yet for JOE PAPP IN FIVE ACTS – followed by a rousing Q&A where I got to wax eloquent about Joe Papp’s conviction that the arts are for everyone, both onstage and in the audience. Then came an elegant reception, more questions and comments, and, finally, warm goodbyes from all – including Jim Martin himself, the retired chemist whose generous funding helps local arts thrive – before Anita drove me back to my room at the Carnegie. I flew out the next morning, sorry to leave: this was the last stop on my JOE PAPP tour of the South, and a great way to end it. Now I just have to figure out how to return.

PS: Everywhere I’ve been on this fall’s Southern Circuit, I’ve seen tangible proof: the next generation of film students is truly awesome; Joe Papp’s “art-is-for-everyone” mission lives on; and Southern hospitality is NOT a myth!