On the Scene: ‘Coal Country,’ a drama drawn from a real-life tragedy, takes the stage

A drama drawn from a real-life tragedy and the people who lived through it is about to take the stage – “Coal Country.”
The story gripped the nation, a coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners in 2010 in the Upper Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia.
"We were very compelled by it,” says director and co-writer, Jessica Blank.
Blank couldn't get the tragedy out of her mind, and along with her co-writer husband, Erik Jensen, traveled to West Virginia several years later, interviewing the miners' families for a project that’s become the play Coal Country.
"All of the families experienced this event together and all the families had loved ones who were coal miners working a mine that by all accounts had had safety issues for a very long time,” says Blank.
The stories they shared now come to the stage through the cast of "Coal Country" at the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre., with music performed by singer songwriter Steve Earle. The play's initial run at the Public Theatre in 2020 was cut short by the pandemic.
For the playwrights, this type of theatre, documentary theatre, is nothing new. They have written a number of plays based on firsthand accounts of actual events.
"When we ask the audience to walk in the shoes of real people who we might not think we're connote to in a very way, but then when we walk into that theatre and watch the story unfold, we are walking in their shoes emotionally,” says Blank.
"Coal Country" begins previews on Friday and is scheduled to run through April 17.