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Tremendous downpours are a natural occurrence in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. However, as Theresa Osborne, a part of the Kentucky Muse documentary “Finding Higher Ground,” explains: “There’s all kinds of floods…floods of water, floods of money, floods of laughter, and floods of tears.”

While the forces of nature continually trouble the region, another far more devastating flood has brought a new level of suffering to the mountain counties in recent years: prescription drug abuse. Osborne and others found a powerful way to come together to discuss this problem as a community: through personal stories, music, drama, and, ultimately, a play called Higher Ground.

The process and the play performance are showcased in the Muse program “Finding Higher Ground.”

As producer and actor Robert Gipe says in the hourlong documentary, “From the beginning, we asked the question ‘How do people build bridges of communication?’”

Higher Ground

“And some things,” he says, “are just too important not to talk about.”

In Higher Ground’s earliest stages as a theater performance, the Appalachian program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College sought for a way to bring more attention to the seemingly endless flood of crime, violence, and death occurring because of the rising tide of prescription drug abuse. After receiving grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Appalachian Regional Commission, students and other volunteers collected more than 200 oral histories from area residents. With the help of playwright Jo Carson, these stories were woven into the script’s first draft.

Then came an odd casting call for “100 bodies.” Everyone who showed up was guaranteed a part. Caroline Sundy recalls, “I thought—I’m somebody…I can do this play!” “I told them I don’t know nothin’ but coal mining,” says reluctant actor Bennie Massey,

Through interviews with the cast and crew, Kentucky Muse profiles the unlikely yet exceptionally strong bonds of fellowship that developed as each character, voice, story, and song rose up to face a common crisis. In fact, as the play evolved, the script was shaped by the personal experiences shared in the group.

The result is gathering of talent, warmth, generosity, wisdom, and humanity through song, dance, storytelling, and drama.

As you watch “Finding Higher Ground,” you’ll see how, through vibrant music, passionate singing, and heartfelt acting, this Eastern Kentucky community effectively answered Gipe’s question about bridges of communication. Just as neighbors support each other in the time of a natural disaster—like the all too familiar floods of the Eastern Kentucky mountain rivers—the cast of Higher Ground found strength, hope, and courage by sharing ideas, rehearsals, and ultimately the performance stage.

Performing for sell out crowds, their energy resonates in the messaged delivered:

Rain comes down, water is a risin’
Watch that river, water is a risin’
Rain comes down, water is a risin’
Better head for Higher Ground!

The impact, however, didn’t end with the standing ovations. The group has gone on to secure another grant for a sequel performance, scheduled to debut in spring 2009.