A Three-day Conversation with Dudley Cocke

Artist: Dudley Cocke

Dudley Cocke is artistic director of Roadside Theatre, an ensemble known for touring its original plays to communities across forty-five states and performing in cities from London to Los Angeles. In 2015, Dudley co-directed and co-wrote the book for the bi-lingual off-Broadway musical BETSY!, which he is currently preparing for national touring. His work often has a rural focus, unusual in the U.S.; for example, he directed ZUNI MEETS APPALACHIA for the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in New York City and Washington D.C., and WHY THE COWBOY SINGS for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Dudley has taught theatre at Cornell University and New York University, and consistently works as an advocate for democratic cultural values.

Roadside is the theatre wing of Appalshop, the non-profit cultural arts organizationbased in the mountainous central Appalachian coalfields of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, upper eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia. This artist-run organization includes Appalshop Films and Video, June Appal Recordings, the Appalachian Media Institute, Traditional Music Project, Community Media Initiative, WMMT-FM Community Radio, and the Appalshop Archive. Appalshop's education and training programs support communities' efforts to solve their own problems in just and equitable ways. Each year, Appalshop productions and services reach several million people nationally and internationally. 

Appalshop's mission is to enlist the power of education, media, theatre, music, and other arts to: document, disseminate, and revitalize the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of Appalachia; tell stories the commercial cultural industries don't tell, challenging stereotypes with Appalachian voices and visions; support communities’ efforts to achieve justice and equity and solve their own problems in their own ways; celebrate cultural diversity as a positive social value; and participate in regional, national, and global dialogue toward these ends.

Together with Bread & Puppet, Appalshop is one of the pioneer community arts organizations in the USA. It began in 1969 as a War on Poverty program to provide a head start for Appalachian youth in film training. The federal Office of Economic Opportunity set up a dozen such programs around the country with the rationale that the training would enable young people to escape their impoverished communities. Appalshop continues to train young people to become community leaders and citizen-artists. Roadside makes theatre that is "of, by, and for"Appalachian people, with the idea that by telling particular stories with skill and care, such stories can appeal to people anywhere. The ensemble is equally well known for its artistic collaborations with other ensembles working deeply within their own particular cultural traditions; these intercultural theatrical productions have set a standard for tradition-based innovation.

From the beginning, Roadside’s relationship with its audience and local culture has shaped the form and content of its plays as well as how they produce and perform them. The two main heritages in Appalachia are Scotch-Irish and Cherokee. Both are narrative-based cultures—so Roadside is a narrative-based theatre. After showing a work in progress, the performers like to hear more stories from the audience about the story the play is exploring. Over the years, the company has developed a story circle method for this purpose. It provides a form, and forum, for people to tell their personal stories about themes they find important.



At ICAF, Dudley will facilitate a three-day discourse seeking to articulate the universal issues facing community art in the near future and to explore opportunities for mutual aid and support. A useful place to start from will be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 27, Section 1: "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."


In order to enable a deeper form of conversation, Dudley prefers to begin with five people in the centre and a wider circle of 40 others. After introducing the story circle technique and hearing the first introductory stories, he will then include the wider circle into a facilitated discussion. At the end of Day 1, the group will collectively determine the theme for the second day. Part of the third day will examine the relationship between global environmental threats and the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual features and traditions of local life that community arts represent.

Thursday 30 March 10.00
Friday 31 March 10.00
Saturday 1 April 10.00