LOGAN — The Aracoma Story Inc. debuted its stage production of “COAL,” an original show inspired by the true events of the mine wars in Logan County in 1921, last weekend at Chief Logan State Park’s Liz Spurlock Amphitheater. There are two more weekends of shows planned.
Written by TAS Inc. board member Joyce Robertson, “COAL” tells the fictional story of the Coleman family living in Logan County in 1921. The show’s first scene begins in 1914 and, inspired by the true events leading up to and culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain, the story quickly progresses to 1921 and follows the family’s struggles and determinations for better living and working conditions.
In the show, lead character Jake Coleman is a nonunion coal miner who learns of the union supporters plan to march to Mingo County for unionization efforts. The show follows Jake and his struggles to support his family; his wife, Opal, who holds high aspirations for her family; Jake’s daughter, Laurel, who works at the company store; and his young son, Matthew, who desires to be a union miner.
The show also features a host of other characters, including another Coleman daughter, Mary, men from the infamous Baldwin-Felts detective agency and a young, handsome, educated man named Robert Farley, who is Laurel Coleman’s love interest.
“COAL” is Robertson’s second play written for TAS after “Mamie,” which had two highly successful productions in 2015 and 2019.
Inspired by her own father working as a union coal miner for Island Creek Coal Company, Robertson wrote “COAL” in 2016, and in 2019, she submitted the screenplay in the West Virginia Writer’s Inc. writing competition, where it won second place in the Stage Play: John McCabe Memorial Script Award.
After that, Robertson submitted the play to the TAS Inc. board of directors, and they decided to produce it in time for the centennial of the Battle of Blair Mountain.
Robertson said the show will present the personal family side of a coal miner working at the time.
“I’m really proud of it because it’s so full of history,” Robertson said. “Even though it’s a fictional family in Logan, there’s a lot of true facts, and you hear — I think even adults hear a lot of facts — about Blair Mountain, but I don’t think they see the personal side of the story — how did a miner feel? How did his family feel, you know, when he had to get up and go to work and he had to use his own money, well, his script, to buy his own mining materials, his own mining tools, his blasting powder if they used any of that, and then get paid by per-ton of coal that they mined. They weren’t paid by the hour, they were paid by how many tons of coal they actually pulled out of that mine. Sometimes, they weren’t even paid for all of the coal that they did mine. They were weighed incorrectly by the straw boss, you know, and then of course, they were paid in script that they could only use at the company store, or if they wanted to trade it for real money, they only got like a percentage of what it was really worth.”
“It was a struggle, it was a hard struggle,” Robertson added, “and I’ve done a lot of research, I’ve read a lot of stuff. The union also wanted to organize Logan County, because Logan County mined a lot of coal in 1921. It was a boon. It caused this county to grow. Coal absolutely increased the population, the money, and the unions saw it and thought, ‘We need to get that. We need to get those people organized and get those union dues.’ So, there’s two sides to every story. This is one side, though — this is the family side of a nonunion coal miner.”
The show will be the first since 2019 to be produced by TAS, which cancelled its entire show season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Robertson said she hopes to see a good turnout for such a locally themed show, and she especially encouraged young people to attend.
“I’m thinking that a lot of older people will come out because it’ll spark memories or, you know, they know things,” Robertson said. “Younger people, I’ve realized from the cast as a matter of fact, they don’t even understand some of the terms that are in this show like ‘red dog.’ They had no idea what that was, but I think every child should come and see it because it’s history, and it’s like we say in the play, it’s our heritage.”
In addition to authoring the show, Robertson is also directing it, alongside TAS Inc. board member Cindy Armstrong.
“COAL” has two weekends of show dates remaining: Friday-Monday, Sept. 3-6, and Friday-Sunday, Sept. 10-12. All shows begin at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets at the gate are $15 adult, $12 students and seniors age 55 and older and $10 for children 10 and younger. Tickets can be purchased in advance at a discounted price at the Pic-Pac grocery store in Man, Aracoma Drug in Chapmanville, Southern Charms Delightful Wears in Logan or at the Chief Logan State Park Museum for $12 adult, $10 students and seniors age 55 and older and $6 for children 10 and younger. For more information, call 304-752-0253.