History of the Jack Tale Players
R. Rex 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 Ferrum Elementary School, the first performance of the Jack Tale Players occurred at Callaway Elementary School in Franklin County, in December 1975. Since then, more than half a million people have enjoyed nearly 3000 performances in thirty-four states and in England. Folklorist Richard Chase visited Ferrum College twice in the late 1970s as consultant to the Jack Tale Players. An anniversary performance was given in the same room at Callaway Elementary School on December 12, 2005.
The Jack Tale Players performed in 60 VA Medical Centers on 8 stateside USO tours, 1978-82.
The Jack Tale Players celebrated their 40th anniversary Dec. 11, 2015!
| "Far from being minor amusements, folktales put us
in touch with the values of people. They affirm the creativity of people
and show the power of stories in transmitting cultural principles."
R. Rex. Stephenson (consulting with Richard Chase in the late 1970s,
"The tall tales they tell would make
"A simpleton named Jack has been giving some sophisticated lessons in play-acting to students in Richmond public schools." Katherine Calos, Richmond News Leader, Jan. 1976
"Something as simple as a father reading a story to his daughter over twenty years ago sparked a thought that gave birth to one of America's best storytelling troupes." Blue Ridge Folklife Festival program, 28 Oct 1995.
". . . an outstanding entertainment event that
stands above all others. . ."
"I haven't seen our students react more favorably to any presentation since I have been at the Martinsville High School and that covers a decade." Dr. R. Hensley, Assistant Principal
“The entire audience was intrigued by your clever ability to combine story/song/staging/dialect and an interesting view of Appalachian heritage.” Secretary of Bascomb Elementary PTA, Woodstock, GA, May 2001
"I have seen [Stephenson's] unique stage productions of the Jack
Tales which he has toured in the state and nationally to great
acclaim. He has rekindled an interest in Virginia Folklore by showing
children—and adults—part of their historical heritage. He is a master
of dramatizing these stories and directing them on the stage for
"I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Jack Tales performance and think it is a great play that every person from around this area should see. It will bring them to appreciate their heritage more." Ferrum College student, March 2006“It is really important for children to see folktales outside of Walt Disney because the true folktales give children a better account of history.” Ferrum College teacher education student Michelle Vincent, 2004
"It is better to see it performed with actors because you get a sense for how wicked John really is. When you actually see him yelling at the Devil, it creates a better visual than the [written] story. Also, sound effects made by cowbells when someone falls down help the viewer to understand the tale. The Jack Tale Players do a great job of bringing folktales to life." Ferrum College student, March 2006
"I was so impressed with the performance today, I smiled the whole time! It's amazing how talented each of you are!" Ferrum College student Lauren Hearp, May 19, 2011
"The Jack Tale Players were extremely entertaining. It was very funny and at times I couldn't stop laughing.... I enjoyed the play and gave it two thumbs up." Ferrum College student, March 2006
"The Jack Tale Players have really opened my eyes on the world of storytelling." Ferrum College student, May 2011
"I thought the Jack Tale Players were a wonderful group. The stories they told were very captivating and fun. I would definitely go see them again wherever they performed." Ferrum College student, May 2012
"I love the way they present traditional music of this region in a way that has an old, former city-slicker, like me, patting my foot and drinking it all in with each emotional charge they deliver." Charles Shea LeMone, July 11, 2012
"I really enjoyed seeing the Jack Tale Players perform. I grew up to old stories and music like they played, and it has always brought back precious memories hearing tales and old timey music. I thought they did a great job performing. In parts of the play it really made me giggle and feel like I was a young child being read a folktale. 'Sail ship sail' made me want to get up there and say it with the performers." Ferrum College student, May 2012
"My son thoroughly enjoyed your performance this week at Snow Creek Elementary! He gave me a 20-minute reenactment of the play and can't wait to see you this summer. Thanks!" Miriah Rogers Eisenman, June 3, 2012
"You can learn a lot about acting by being a donkey on stage."
"When I grow up, I want to be a Jack Taler too."
More Background and Teaching Guides See:
Ferrum Performers Keep Jack Tales Alive
“Interview with Rex Stephenson on The Jack Tale Players.” Guest blog about 40th anniversary
30th Anniversary of Jack Tales Celebrated Dec. 12 (press release 2005)
Appalachian Storytelling Event. Virginia Tech, 24 June 2013, with art and stories by children
This page's last update: 12/2/17