Thursday, September 13, 2018

Unique theatrical presentation to honor Randolph County’s WWI Company K on battle anniversary

ASHEBORO – The sacrifice and heroism of soldiers from Randolph County in World War I will be on display in a one-time dramatic presentation on the 100th anniversary of the decisive battle in which they played a leading role.

“Company K: From Asheboro to the Fields of France,” by Asheboro-born poet and playwright Barbara Presnell, will tell the story of the local soldiers – and their loved ones on the home front – at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 29 at downtown Asheboro’s Sunset Theatre. It is being staged by RhinoLeap Productions, the non-profit professional theatre company based in Asheboro.

The play, sponsored by the City of Asheboro in association with RhinoLeap and the Randolph County Public Library, is free and the public is invited. A discussion with members of the cast and crew, and County History Librarian Mac Whatley, will follow the show.

Company K was raised in Asheboro in 1911 as the local unit of the State Militia, a forerunner of the National Guard. The unit was called up for service in the U.S. Army in World War I and sent to France.

Barbara Presnell
There, the local troops were in the vanguard of an Allied attack on September 29, 1918, near the village of Bellicourt, that broke the German Hindenburg Line defensive position and hastened the end of the war. The unit sustained over 60 percent casualties, with 27 young men killed.

The play draws on firsthand documents and accounts, especially letters home from Company K soldiers – with recognizable Randolph County names like Dixon, Bunting, Luck, Gatlin, Kivett, Bulla, Burgess, McDowell and others – that routinely were reprinted Asheboro’s newspaper, The Courier. Featuring music from the period performed live, it focuses not only on the soldiers but on those at home awaiting their return, as well as the often-overlooked contribution to the war effort of women and African Americans.

Rhinoleap Artistic Director Jeremy Skidmore is directing the production, in which a small team of professional actors who hail from around the United States and Canada take on multiple roles. The cast includes James Alton, Chance Carroll, Isaac Klein, Patrick Osteen, Scott Thomas and Dayna Tietzen. Music will be performed by Mark Dillon and Christen Blanton.

The crew includes Dorothy Austin-Harrell, costume designer; Noah Trimmer, lighting designer; Tara Raczenski, stage manager; Dillon, musical director; and Whatley, dramaturg.

RhinoLeap was founded in 2017 by Dr. Tom Osteen and his son Patrick, a graduate of UNC School of the Arts, to present professional theatrical productions in Asheboro that then tour to towns across the state, and to provide educational residencies that bring North Carolina high school students into direct contact with experienced working artists.

Presnell, an award-winning writer who now lives in Lexington, has penned four books of poetry. Her most recent book, Blue Star, considers on the impact of war on her family from the Civil War to Iraq and Afghanistan, and includes poems related to her grandfather, who was a member of Company K.

Another of her books, Piece Work, was about her father’s experience in the textile mills of Asheboro from their heyday to their decline in recent years. Piece Work was developed into a play by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina, and was performed around the state for several years.

The Sunset Theater is located at 234 Sunset Avenue. For further information, call 336-318-6803.

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