'The Wataugans' opens for 26th season; same story with new and old faces

By Rozella Hardin
star staff
rhardin@starhq.com

  "The Wataugans" has just completed its first weekend performances of the 2004 season, and the audience will not be disappointed by this year's cast or stage performance.
  Jon Ruetz, who has been directing the outdoor drama for the past five or six years, continues to tinker with the plot as well as the characters to make the age-old story new and a drawing card for both first-time viewers and those who have been attending the drama for 25 years.
  "We have a lot of new people, and we've added at least five or six new roles this year, probably more than that," Ruetz said. "It makes it hard when you have a lot of turnover, but on the other hand, it keeps us on our toes and keeps the script fresh as well as the drama, itself.
  "We have some fine young people involved in the drama, many of whom we have watched grow up in it. One of the most gratifying and most satisfying things is to watch these young people flower as actors," Ruetz added.
  However, Ruetz noted that there a lot of familiar faces among this year's cast. "Some are in new roles," he pointed out.
  "Chad Bogart is back as John Carter. He is joined by a young musician, Julie Blue Lewis, who plays Mrs. Carter. Dusty Sayers is back as Rev. Samuel Doak and does an excellent job. Gabe Felty, who played Julius Caesar Dugger last year, is back this year as Landon Carter, and Jim Bishop will be playing Daniel Boone this year," Ruetz said.
  The character of Wilhemenia (the girl around town) is back this year played by Weny Elrod, one of the Overmountain Singers. "Wilhemenia has a cousin this year. Janet Ward plays the part of Colonia," Ruetz said.
  "No two people will play a part the same. They bring their own personality to the part, and that's what make it so interesting. We look at the cast and design the roles for them, and I think this is what makes the drama so successful," the director shared.
  This year's cast also includes Jennifer Bauer, Sycamore Shoals Park director, playing the role of the wife of Col. Isaac Shelby. Greg Philippi, new park naturalist, is cast in the role of John Sevier. Lucille Heaton is back as Nancy Ward and Ashley Jones is playing the part of Bonnie Kate Sevier.
  "We have also added the part of Josephine Weir, who will be played by a guest from the community," Ruetz shared. "We have tried to give the women a prominent place in the drama. After all they held the homes together and defended the home while the men were away."
  Ruetz said the 2003 season was a breakthrough year for the drama, which is now in its 26th season. "It overwhelmed us. I never will forget the sight. The cast would peep through the cracks in the fort to get a glimpse of the crowd. We were rained out the first night. We broke the attendance record the second night and each succeeding performance after that. We had over 700 people attend the final performance," he shared.
  "We had folks in the audience last year from neighboring North Carolina, Pigeon Forge and the entire Tri-Cities area," Ruetz said.
  "The Wataugans" is the official outdoor historical drama of the state of Tennessee. It is presented by the Watauga Historical Association and the Sycamore Shoals Historic Area. Remaining show dates include July 22, 23 and 24, and July 29, 30 and 31. The drama depicts the early history of the area that is now Upper East Tennessee.
  The two-act drama tells the story of the settling of the Watauga, the formation of the Watauga Association, the Transylvania Purchase, the attack on Fort Watauga by Dragging Canoe and Cherokee Renegades, and the events leading up to the Battle of Kings Mountain as well as the battle itself.
  The drama concludes with the return of the Overmountain Men and a brief narration of the later accomplishments of some of the more prominent members.