By LISA WHALEY
Visitors to the Chester Inn will have the opportunity to hear the stories of former residents “first-hand” as the Heritage Alliance launches “Voices of the Chester” this week, with performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The new interactive play — by the Alliance’s own Anne G’Fellers Mason — features stories about Dr. Chester, Theodocia Vance, Alf Taylor and more, portrayed by local actors on location at the Inn on Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15, with a special final performance at the International Storytelling Center on June 16.
“You meet at the museum downstairs, and I am your time-traveling tour guide,” said Mason, describing the Friday and Saturday performances. “We travel through the rooms. Some of it takes place on the back porch. Some in the parlor, the dining room, the bedroom, down in front.”
It’s the perfect opportunity, she said, to see the stories of these early Jonesborough residents come to life within the very rooms their own words might have been spoken.
“That’s the beauty of this play,” Mason said. “It is being able to move through space and kind of move through time. This building has been so many things. We’re talking 200 years. That’s a lot of lives.”
The Chester Inn, a Tennessee Historical Commission state-owned historic site located on Main Street, is considered the oldest building original to Jonesborough’s commercial district. William Chester, a medical doctor, constructed the building in 1797 to capitalize on those traveling through Jonesborough on the Great Stage Road.
But while the stories of Dr. Chester and other well-known historical characters may have found a place in Mason’s play, she has also made sure to also spotlight some of the quieter voices.
“We know a lot of the history of the building, and there is also the opportunity to tell the stories of people that we don’t know that much about, like Sara and James Roberts, who were the orphans who were bound to Dr. Chester to work at the inn,” she said. “And then Daphne, who was an enslaved woman who worked here.
“These people who left maybe left only one document behind, but the story is still here.”
Mason promises a total of about 10 stories portrayed by a cast of eight local performers. The play, she said, lasts about an hour. And it is worth every minute, she said.
“I do research. I put these words on page,” Mason stressed. “But (these actors) really bring it to life.”
For the actors themselves, the project has remained a labor of love.
“I love that you’re not just on one stage,” said Kalli Papas, the cast’s youngest player at age 11. Kalli plays orphan Sarah. “You get to go all around the building. You get to see everything. You get to be in the play.
“It’s not like most plays. It feels more real.”
Dana Kehs, who portrays Theodocia Vance, an early innkeeper, agrees.
“It’s more than just a monologue,” Kehs said. “It’s more than just telling a story. You are immersing the audience in the whole process.
“And my character, I love her. She had such fortitude. This is a person not to be forgotten. She needs to be remembered.”
Performances at the inn will take place at 7 p.m. on June 14, and at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m., and 8 p.m. on June 15. Due to the intimate nature of the experience; only 20 tickets are available per performance on Friday and Saturday.
A special performance of Voices of the Chester will be offered at the International Storytelling Center on June 16 at 1 p.m. The International Storytelling Center is handicap accessible. During this Sunday matinee, the stories of the Chester Inn will come to life onstage at the Krispy Kreme Theatre which seats 95 people.
Tickets for all performances are $8. To purchase tickets, call the Jonesborough Visitors Center at (423) 753-1010. Tickets can also be purchased online at jonesborough.com/tickets.