Jessica Lilly Published

Theater Production About UBB Planned For Beckley


A play about the victims of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster and their families will debut in West Virginia next month.

It’s been 12 years since 29 men died in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Theatre West Virginia arranged to bring the show to Beckley at the Woodrow Wilson High School auditorium for one night at no charge.

“Coal Country” just ended a run off Broadway in New York City. May 9, 2022, will be the first time the play is performed in West Virginia.

“People will have an opportunity without having to travel to New York City to be able to see this,” said Scott Hill, executive director of Theatre West Virginia,. “We’re going to bring this to Beckley and, and hopefully people will appreciate what we’re trying to do.”

The show’s composer, multiple Grammy winning singer-songwriter Steve Earle will perform music for the show. Hill hasn’t seen the play, but he’s listened to it on Audible.

“It’s very moving. And it’s very disturbing at some points,” Hill said. “There is a villain. It’s not necessarily a story. It’s a telling of the truth. It was a terrible thing. And you would hope that we would learn from it. I don’t know if we are but you would hope we at least have an opportunity to learn from it.”

Hill says this particular play just seems right to be performed in Raleigh County.

“I told the producers when they first called about they wanted to bring ‘Coal Country’ to Beckley or to somewhere in West Virginia,” Hill said. “I said, ‘Well, you know, there’s a reason you could take it to Charleston, I could understand that or Princeton … but this is our story here in southern West Virginia. If you look at a map and see where I’m sitting right now, I can be to that mine and 20 minutes, right there where it was. So this is our story. And I think it’s only right that we have the opportunity to tell it.”

The show is told through the voices of survivors and family members. The lines were collected in dozens of in person interviews.

“Each family was impacted differently,” Hill said. “It makes you think, what would happen if the main breadwinner of our house left? Or what happens if my husband or wife would leave? Or how would I feel if it was my son or my grandson or grandfather? How would you feel and it just really brings out emotion. It’s an emotional play. It’s an emotional piece of art.”

The play will be at the Woodrow Wilson High School Auditorium in Beckley on Monday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Theatre West Virginia’s website.