Who knows how far Appalachian Dreams can take you? In the community of Harriman, a multimedia variety show of that name to be performed May 16 at Roane State could contribute to restoring the historic Princess Theater, vitalizing the downtown area, and educating students and community members in a seven-county region.
For Bill Landry, 25-year host/narrator/co-producer of the The Heartland Series, the same production could pave the way for a new steady gig—before or after new episodes of Heartland cease in September.
"I don't know," says Landry. "I didn't really set out with that in mind. I didn't take the hosting job for that. But it might work out. It might not. It hasn't gotten that far yet."
So far, the Princess Theater Foundation, which has Landry, the City of Harriman mayor, and Roane State Community College's president among its board members, has the goal of revitalizing historic downtown Harriman as a regional arts, education, entertainment, and conference center. The centerpiece would be a renovated 900-seat Princess Theater, donated to the city by electrical contractor Gary Baker in 2001, with a convention center that could accommodate up to 500 to one side, and a Public Access TV Station (Channel 15) originating from the Princess Theater and run by Roane State on the other side.
In October, Harriman received a $317,846 transportation enhancement grant for the Trailhead at the Princess Theater Complex project, and Landry is already teaching a class in Media Production one night a week at Roane State in conjunction with the Princess Foundation. "I'm teaching exactly what my life has been about for 25 years—production, theater, media work," he says. Students will also videotape short features that will be part of the multimedia variety show. "I've not seen it done much," Landry says. "We'll move in and out of live theater with a media screen. We'll have scenes, using the same actors, that will start on stage and go to video, and vice versa."
Much of the talent will be just as unique. "I think a lot of people are going to be surprised," says Brooks Benjamin, a local teacher and independent filmmaker who will direct some video segments and film the multi-media show. "Bill Landry is going to the ends of the county to find literally undiscovered talent—filmmakers, musicians, artists, and craftspeople."
Landry has some definites, including JD Williams, a local World War II hero, and the Phillippi Primitive Baptist Choir.
Feature-film actor Muse Watson will appear in the show. In a Facebook post in mid-February, he wrote: "Once we get this show on May 16th filmed, I will be using my talents in Hollywood to get it sold as one episode of a series we will do at the restored Princess for cable."