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Tale Players offer a special opportunity for students of all ages to share
in the unique experience of reliving a vital part of our Appalachian
heritage. Under the creative guidance of Dr. R. Rex Stephenson, the Jack
Tale Players hold the distinguished honor of presenting
Tale Players represent a much larger idea than mere entertainment. The
stories and songs that they share are part of the grand circle that is oral
tradition. Though full of folk humor, fast paced physical comedy, and
endearing energetic characters, the folktales performed by the troupe draw
from the deep well of Appalachian culture that is disappearing from
around those of us who call the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains home. The
Jack Tales are not only the story of the ever-clever Jack, but the story of
the peoples of the
The following study guide is presented to help educators in preparing their students to enjoy fully the richness and depth of the Appalachian storytelling and the theatre experience.
The study of Jack Tales and other Appalachian folktales must begin with a brief look at Oral Tradition, then at Folklore, and finally at the Appalachian stories known as Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales.
Before the Internet, before television, before telephone, before radio, before even electricity, even before writing, people shared ideas with their mouths. For students to grasp the importance of oral tradition, they should try to insert themselves into that not-so-long ago time when oral language was the only communication people possessed.
Exercise: The Grapevine/The Statue
Lechner, Judith V. Allyn & Bacon Anthology of Traditional Literature. New York: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2004. Web site with supplemental tales.
Lindahl, Carl, ed. American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress. 2 vols. Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004.
Yolen, Jane, ed. Favorite Folktales from Around the World. New York: Pantheon, 1986.American Folklore web site by S.E. Schlosser, www.americanfolklore.net.
Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts. edited and/or translated by D. L. Ashliman, University of Pittsburgh, http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html.
See also Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore.
European settlers came into the
One of the most frequent characters that lived through many of these tales was a boy named Jack. He is the same Jack from the European tales (such as "Jack and the Beanstalk") but given decidedly American traits. In many Jack Tales and other folktales, the European traditions such as castles and kings are still present, while some things such as golden geese and gold harps are replaced. Jack is often naughty, misguided, silly, and a definite underdog, but in almost every tale, he learns that resourcefulness, hard work, cleverness, resilience, and straightforwardness will help him champion every cause. His two older brother, Bill (or Will) and Tom are most times trying to keep Jack in his place as the youngest and the dumbest. As Jack is our hero, he always comes out on top with the loot, the food, or the hand of a beautiful girl to marry.
Photo: Thomas Townsend (standing, right) and Rex Stephenson (standing, left) perform in "Jack and the Robbers" with school children and other Jack Tale Players in Woodstock, Georgia in 2002.
of the WPA Writers Project during the Great Depression, scholars and writers
combed the Blue Ridge and
For further information on Blue Ridge folklore, the Blue Ridge Institute, http://www.blueridgeinstitute.org, is a great source of information and images. School groups sometimes visit the Blue Ridge Institute and Farm Museum on the Ferrum College campus and see a Jack Tale show on the same day.
Stephenson originated the Jack Tale Players in 1975 with a grant from the
Virginia Commission for the Arts to present the traditional Jack Tales in
dramatic form for children. After a trial run in a hallway at
In the photo at left, Thomas Townsend plays the washtub bass and sings with the Jack Tale Players in 2002.
"Two Lost Babes" is a story from the Appalachian oral tradition. Several different transcripts of the telling of this story exist. "The Two Lost Babes" can be found in Richard Chase’s Grandfather Tales (1948). It is related to the traditional European version recorded by the Grimm Brothers in their tale, "Hansel and Gretel." Different versions are compared and discussed in AppLit's Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales at http://www2.ferrum.edu/applit/bibs/tales/babes.htm. "The Babes in the Woods" and "The Little Babes in the Woods" are related tales reprinted in AppLit from the James Taylor Adams Collection in the Blue Ridge Institute archives.
As with all of his folktale scripts, R. Rex Stephenson writes a script that, while holding to the original charms and nuances of the oral narrative, also finds a way to captivate modern audiences with his own unique form of storytelling. Stephenson’s story theatre script combines the strongest elements from the tale "The Two Lost Babes," collected by Richard Chase, and "Babes in the Woods," collected by James Taylor Adams. The resulting tale, though faithful to the older tales, speaks with its own voice.
Stephenson’s scripting of the newest version layers the traditional
Appalachian narrative with an additional message about nutrition. This
added nutritional theme puts a significant twist on the traditional
“Babes” tale, as many older versions depict hungry children who find a house made of cake or gingerbread (or some other sugary
treat). With childhood obesity and the health complications that
accompany it becoming a national health concern, the message of the play is
not only timeless, but timely. Songs added to most performances of this adaptation help tell the story and reinforce the nutritional theme with humor and rhythm.
Nemours Foundation’s Kid’s Health, www.kidshealth.orgThe Center for Health Care and Health Care Schools, http://www.healthinschools.org
American Heart Association, http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4575
Dairy Management Inc.’s Nutrition Explorations, http://www.nutritionexplorations.org
United States Department of Agriculture, http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navtype=SU&navid=FOOD_NUTRITION
Portion Distortion: Seeing the Healthy Way to Eat. Video for Ages 7-12/Grades 3-5. 20 minutes. "Real kids convincingly provide
viewers with solid strategies to make wise food choices. Live action mixes
well with animation to dish up a healthy serving of entertaining
information." Description from American Library Association 2006 Notable Children's Videos
The Edible Pyramid: Good Eating Every Day. Revised edition of a picture book by Loreen Leedy. Holiday House Books for Young People, 2007. A Reading Rainbow book in 1994, this book is now "revised to incorporate the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture's newly redesigned food pyramid, along with the latest research on nutrition."
BBC’s Parenting web site, http://www.bbc.co.uk/parenting/your_kids/safety_out.shtml
Keep Kids Healthy, LLC, http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/welcome/safety/safety_plan.html
Virginia Department of Education, http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml
Another AppLit study guide: Standards of
Learning Covered by Study of "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet" Dramatizations (based on 2001 SOL's)
The Jack Tale Players Web Site
Bibliography of Dramas and Tales by R. Rex Stephenson
Study Guides on
Dramatizations by the Ferrum College Jack Tale Players
Activities for Teaching Appalachian Folktales and Dramatizations by the Jack Tale Players
The Script as Story Theatre by R. Rex Stephenson
Chinese Students Learn Jack Tales - article by Tina L. Hanlon
Photos of Richard Chase at Ferrum College
Thomas Townsend, author of this study guide:
Thomas Townsend worked with the Jack Tale Players and the Blue Ridge Dinner Theater at Ferrum College for six summers from 1997 to 2006. A native of Johnson City, Tennessee, he has a BA from Milligan College and earned an MA in theatre and storytelling from East Tennessee State University in 2003. He has worked in a variety of theatre jobs in Chicago, New York, and other parts of the U.S., including positions as an actor and house manager at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He spent 2005 teaching Oral English, literature, and Western culture to English majors at Dongying Vocational College, in Shandong province, eastern China. He used Jack Tales in his classes and directed the Chinese students in public performances of Rex Stephenson's Jack Tale dramatizations. He started out in 1997 playing inanimate objects such as a fire bush, then a donkey and half a horse, before advancing to human roles in Jack Tales. The mean blacksmith Wicked John is his favorite lead role. He has played the narrator in “Ashpet,” “Mutsmag” and one of Stephenson's longer children’s plays, The New Snow White. In 2001 he inaugurated the popular role of a foolish husband in “The Three Old Women’s Bet,” appearing onstage in a red suit of long underwear after his wife tricked him into wearing an invisible suit (see other photos at this link). Townsend was also assistant director of Stephenson’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book when it premiered in Ferrum in 1997.
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This page created 5/18/06 | Top of Page | Last update 2/10/12
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore
Jack Tale Players Web Site
© Thomas Townsend 2006