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M. Ray Allen, president of Appalfolks of America Association, stands alongside the display at the Clifton Forge Public Library.

Library Features Appalfolks of America Theatrical Legacy Display

Clifton Forge, VA (April 6, 2018) - Appalfolks of America Association (AAA) in conjunction with the Clifton Forge Public Library has provided memorabilia to the library for the “Appalfolks of America Theatrical Legacy Display” that can be viewed in the library during April.

M. Ray Allen, president of AAA, founded the non-profit organization in 1985 to promote the literary and performing arts in Southern Appalachia. Based in Clifton Forge, AAA received the Historic Masonic Theatre (operating as the Historic Stonewall Theatre at the time) from Irwin R. Cohen on December 20, 1991. By May of 1992, AAA had restored the twin-cinema to a performing arts facility, and The Announcers performed a benefit concert for AAA at the reopening. (The theatre had been operating as a twin-cinema since 1968 until it closed in 1987).

Allen recalled, “After literally hundreds of hours were logged by volunteers and many charitable donations were provided by local businesses and individuals, AAA achieved what few thought could be achieved in just four months by reopening the theatre that had been closed for four years.”

The Virginia Opry was formed by AAA, and the troupe of musicians, vocalists, and a comedian made its debut in October of 1992. The original poster of The Virginia Opry’s debut is on display in the library. The Virginia General Assembly honored The Virginia Opry in 2017 for presenting country music shows in the Alleghany Highlands for 25 consecutive years.

AAA operated a dance studio on the top floor of the theatre, established a literacy base for teaching adults to read in one room of the theatre, and founded other programs such as the Virginia Junior Opry that featured students from as far away as Virginia Beach performing in the theatre, the Southern Gospel Revue that featured local and out of state gospel music groups, the Stonewall Players, the Stonewall Children’s Theatre, and the Clifton Forge Players.

In addition to being the producer of programs, AAA became the most prolific presenter in the Alleghany Highlands by hiring many nationally prominent acts such as Bill Pinkney and the Original Drifters, Mike Seeger, Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen, Lonesome River Band, Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group, John McCutcheon, The Easter Brothers, and Michael Hoover.

Students from as far away as Harrisonburg were bused in to attend performances at the theatre, and AAA hired such theatrical production companies as Theatre IV from Richmond, Lime Kiln Arts from Lexington, and the Mid-Ohio Valley Ballet to stage their productions in the theatre.

Allen noted, “Our display at the library consists mainly of framed posters from a variety of the productions including STARS, The Virginia Opry, Michael Hoover, Lime Kiln Arts, and The Free Agents, a group of retired FBI agents who performed as vocalists and musicians to raise money for the Alleghany Highlands Free Clinic.”

After 12 years of producing and presenting programs at the theatre, AAA donated the theatre to the Town of Clifton Forge in exchange for the right to continue as a producer and presenter at the theatre where the town would provide AAA with a free office and storage for its theatrical equipment.

The Town of Clifton Forge later restored the name from the Historic Stonewall Theatre to its original name, the Masonic Theatre. Cohen had changed the name to the Stonewall Theatre after purchasing the building in 1968. Also, the town leased the theatre to the Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation that was founded by the late John E. Hillert who was commissioned by the town to spearhead the complete restoration project, a project that resulted in $6.9 million fund drive that enabled the Historic Masonic Theatre to reopen in July of 2016 after closing for restoration in 2010.”

Allen concluded, “AAA signed a contract with the Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation in August of 2016 and continues to occupy an office in the theatre and serve as a producer and presenter. The display in the library documents some of AAA’s productions since 2016.”

The Clifton Forge Public Library is located at 535 Church Street. For information on any library programs, call 863-2519.

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