Historical fiction set in White County comes home for performances starting Aug. 1
For the second time this year, local author Emory Jones will have one of his works on stage at the Sautee Nacoochee Center.
The Valley Where They Danced is a two-act play that Jones wrote, based off his novel of the same title. The slate of shows opens Thursday, Aug. 1.
“It’s based on a local legend about a doctor who moved up here from middle Georgia, the Macon area, right after World War I, and in the legend, his wife dies and some things happen at the old covered bridge,” Jones said. “Because it’s a legend, I changed it, so the same thing happens, but it happens at Tallulah Falls, I changed it around a little bit.
“It’s basically based on Romeo and Juliet, and that’s what the legend of Nacoochee and Sautee is based on. This book is a modern day version of that,” he said. “It’s more of a love story than anything. I never thought I would write a love story.”
Even though this is the play’s first presentation at the Sautee Nacoochee Center, this is actually the second time it’s been performed. It debuted last year at Piedmont College, and some cast members have returned for new performances, said Jessi Reed, who is directing and starring in the show.
“There’s one actor who played Odell in the Piedmont production, and he’s playing Odell in our production – Levi Doublet,” Reed said. “Mike Fisher was in both productions as different characters, and Hunter Blackburn, he was over there too.”
To make the book into the play, Jones said he picked out certain moments that he thought needed to be in the play. He asked some others to do the same, and they chose almost all of the same moments.
“Each one of those moments are in the play – all the significant things,” Jones said.
During rehearsals, Jones has been in the audience watching, which Reed said she appreciates because they want his feedback and his notes.
“It’s his vision,” Reed said. “I want it to be whatever is in (his) mind and heart, try and portray it as true as possible.”
For Reed, she’s had to balance her director and actor hats, but she’s greatly enjoyed working on the play.
“It’s been magical,” she said. “We all live in the Sautee Nacoochee valley, and most of us are reading the book. A couple of the cast members will talk, and now when we drive by the local landmarks, I’ll see them a little differently. I’ll try to image what they looked like back in 1919.”
There are some differences between the first run and this time because of having different directors.
“It’s fun to see two different directors bring two different styles,” Jones said. “The emphasis on two different things, both of them recognized there needed to be some music in the play, but both of them chose different music, and it still all works.”
Jones said he’s feels lucky to have his plays performed.
“I’m really fortunate because lots of people write plays and never get to see them put on. It takes years and years and years,” Jones said. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
The cast includes Phyllis Ellis (Old Hannah Conley), Mike Fisher (Kelvin Boggs), Bradley Greene (Dr. Tom Garrison), Jessi Reed (Lenore Conley), Sarrah Ellen McDonald (Hannah Conley), David White (Lanier Conley), Joslyn Reed (Young Lenore Conley), Patrick Brennan (Dr. David Dyer), Karen Loos (Fannie Stover), Taylor Shirley (Alton Boggs), Levi Doublet (Odell Stovall), Debbielee Welchel (India Dyer), and Hunter Blackburn (Ray Garrison).
Performances will be Aug. 1-3 and Aug. 8-10 at 7:30 p.m., and Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. For tickets, visit snca.org.
Jones said there is going to be a sequel to the book, and he hopes to actually make it a trilogy. However, he has several other projects that he’s working on, too.
The book will be on sale during the performance. So far, Jones said he believes over 5,000 copies of the book have been sold. It can be found locally at many locations, including Nix Hardware, Randy’s Pharmacy, Betty’s Country Store, the Helen Arts & Heritage Center, SNCA and more. It’s also available electronically on Apple Books, the Kindle and Amazon.