Matewan acting troupe hopes to fund amphitheater
by Martha Sparks
MATEWAN, W.Va. (AP) — The group that stages re-enactments of the Matewan massacre every summer is trying to raise $100,000 for a new 500-seat amphitheater that would also host Hatfield and McCoy dramas, and live music or variety shows.
Donna May Paterino has directed the re-enactment troupe for 12 seasons and says the number of visitors to the Mingo County community surged by more than 1,500 this year. She credits the boost to the “Hatfields & McCoys” miniseries that aired this spring on the History channel.
Delegate Harry Keith White helped secure $10,000 in seed money from the state for the amphitheater project, and Paterino said she’s seeking grants, but she’s a long way from her goal. She says the troupe needs space to store its sets and a more comfortable way to seat patrons, who currently bring lawn chairs.
“We just need it now more than ever,” Paterino said.
The battle of Matewan occurred May 19, 1920, between the skilled marksmen of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency and striking coal miners, some armed with guns from the previous century. Twelve men died in a shootout depicted in the 1987 John Sayles film “Matewan.”
The workers had been abused and exploited, paid in company scrip, forced to live in company housing and shop in company stores. Their lives were controlled, their work conditions dangerous, their labor never-ending.
The United Mine Workers, longtime supporters of the community, is behind the amphitheater project because of Matewan’s important connection to the union.
“There’s no way you can separate the feud, the massacre and all the rest of this area’s history without Matewan somehow being connected to it,” said Butch Collins, chairman of the union’s political action committee.
UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said the union will be making a donation to the project. President Cecil Roberts spoke at this year’s event and was impressed with the amphitheater plans, he said.
Paterino sees it as a new opportunity to grow tourism business in the Tug Valley.
“Other places around our state have capitalized on our history for years,” Paterino said. “It’s time for us to get the chance to do that, and getting an amphitheater here in Matewan is the place to start and is something long overdue.”
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