Cohort presents Digging Up the Boys

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The GRC Fine Arts Cohort  & International Thespian Society will present GRC’s first fully-produced play in seven years, Digging Up the Boys, on Oct. 17.

Prior to the performance, the Cohort will host an art show featuring Bob Howard, an Appalachian Realist painter, educator, and former coal miner from Harlan County. The exceptionally gifted artist is also Fine Arts Cohort director Katherine Lowther’s father-in-law.

The gallery and reception start at 5:30 p.m., with the performance directly afterward at 6:30 p.m. 

Mr. Howard painted the main backdrop for the play, creating an original, large-scale artwork that will be creatively displayed during the show. The reception starts at 5:30, with the performance directly afterward at 6:30.  The play is only 45 minutes with no intermission.

The following is a summary of the play:

In a poverty-stricken community, three men work an old mine to keep food on their families’ tables. When disaster strikes, their womenfolk above are left with no answers from the company foreman, who has his own dark agenda. Those below and those above must deal with the emotions that rise as they realize time is running out, hoping desperately for a miracle that will change all of their fates, before it’s too late.

“It is an intense and emotional journey that will make the audience consider what they would do in a time of tragedy,” Mrs. Lowther said.

The students will take this piece to their first-ever theatre competition, the Kentucky Thespians Festival, Oct. 18-19, in Owensboro, where they will compete against 11 other schools. They will also compete in individual events for monologues and musical theater songs, tech challenges (quick change costumes, hanging and focusing theater lights, etc.), and for college scholarships and acceptance into prestigious theater programs.

A follow-up performance at the regional competition for the Kentucky Theatre Association is set for Nov. 2 at Frederick Douglass High School.

Tickets are $10/adults and $5/students (note: play includes difficult themes and a mildly frightening scene), and are available at or at the door.  Staff with a CCPS ID are free.

Mrs. Lowther said she is thrilled for students to have the chance to be part of such a rich and multi-faceted educational experience.

“The themes, language, and problems brought forth in the play, set in the early 1950s, are still accurate and relevant today,” she said, “so I wanted to provide students the opportunity to learn about a part of Kentucky culture and history that is not often featured in the classroom, while also teaching them the lessons of empathy, loss, and sacrifice that Digging Up the Boys provides.”

The deeply poignant play is personal to Mrs. Lowther. “It speaks to me personally, having heard stories about mining from my father-in-law, and reading about the Black Jewel miners’ protest (just recently ended) over not being paid for their dangerous and difficult work after the company closed the mine,” she explained. “One of our actors has family members who have perished in mining accidents in Harlan County, making the play much more poignant and real to her.”

Between the two competitions, students will travel to Harlan County to tour the Kentucky Coal Museum, perform at Harlan County High School, and go into Portal 31 mine.

Bob Howard, Mrs. Lowther’s father-in law and the artist with whom GRC is collaborating, will travel with the students throughout the day and also is arranging for the students to meet with an active coal miner to give a first-hand perspective about Appalachian mining life. 

“Students are learning while in the trenches,” said Mrs. Lowther. “Project-based learning is so valuable and provides concrete application to abstract concepts.”