Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 36: DRAMA
Dramatics at Pine Mountain


Mummer’s Play on stage at Burkham School House II, c. 1940s. [Mummers_Play_100.jpg]


Dramatics at Pine Mountain

Theater at Pine Mountain was a very active part of the curriculum and also of the seasonal schedule of the School. Many of the events engaged the whole community. Also, it was not unusual to find many aspects of the surrounding culture mingled with universal and popular forms of entertainment.

DRAMA: Community Celebration

Like farming, the celebratory events at the School play an integral role in the history of the institution. Like the cycles of agricultural life, community celebrations help to establish the ebb and flow of life at the School and map it to the rhythm of the community. Many annual events such as Community Fair Day, celebrated in the Fall and harvest time; the Nativity Play at Christmas marked the reflection afforded by winters seclusion; May Day in the Spring and the School’s former annual Spring Dogwood Breakfast celebrated the rebirth of living things and the nurture they promise. All have their origins in a celebration of the seasons and are generally accompanied by food or by displays of the produce from local farming.

Past celebrations, pageants, and plays are remembered fondly by many students who attended the School and many of those memories were or are associated with agrarian practice or with a foodway or an agricultural rhythm. These events were also linked to long traditions that the workers romanticized and tied to the perceived Anglo-Saxon heritage, to pioneer life, to the Pilgrims, to self-sufficiency, and to a myriad of other partial truths.


May Day c.1920. Young children dressed in greenery for the celebration. [pmss001_bas096.jpg]

Whether performed for entertainment, for educating, or for the celebration of special people, event, time or place, the festivities at the School provided an opportunity for a connection with both the past and the future of the institution.

In the surrounding community past and present are equally revered but future rarely intruded into daily community conversation. Like dreams, the future was held close like some shining city on the hill or in the hereafter. Today, the community of promise seems even further away in conversation and practice as celebrations have steadily declined, as economic despair increased, and as the boarding school went away. When the collective pageantry efforts waned so did the tightly woven fabric of the community. It could be seen to begin to tatter. By the late 1960s the tangled ideals of the War on Poverty and the reality of an economy that failed to diversify caused a shift of focus away from entertainment and toward more pragmatic programming and industrial training.

However, while the Boarding School was active, there were numerous festivities and entertainment. Generally, the events were associated with holidays such as Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Halloween, and May Day. More romantic festivities were also devised. Robin Hood’s adventures, the Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, the Cooperative Store skits, the Kanagawa play, Halloween, the carrying in of the Yule Log, and the simple dialog of the Nativity Play, gave early students the opportunity to don costumes and assume other personalities and to imagine themselves in other lives, other countries and other times.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace …” was found written on the wall of a humble mountain cabin. It is a quote from the Bible, but it is also a well-known quote from the annual Nativity Play at Pine Mountain. The Nativity Play continues to be offered each December at the School. The quote was later rephrased as “How beautiful are the feet of youth upon the mountain,” by one of the graduating classes. The deep imagination and innocence of the students at the School are one of the most endearing traits found in the School’s history.

The early institutional celebrations, the dramatics, also allowed the staff workers to gather and renew their friendships on the campus and were celebrations that brought the School and the community together in cooperative celebrations that bonded the two. The memories carried away from these deep engagements would be for many life-changing and part of the cherished memories of the years at Pine Mountain.