“'Sago': A Play About the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster in West Virginia Overwhelms W. VA Audience
"'Sago' Overwhelms Boiler House Audience
by Peter Okun
29 March 2007
Elkins -- One year ago this past January, twelve men lost their lives in a coal mine at Sago, a short drive from Elkins. We all know that story— or do we? We read about the Sago mine disaster in our local newspapers, and we watched it unfold on the TV news. But what story did we see and whose words did we hear? Who actually got to tell the story of Sago? Whose voices got to speak— whose voices were left out? And how can we recover those left-out voices?
Last Friday evening, an overflow crowd packed the Boiler House theater on the campus of Davis and Elkins College to participate in just such an act of recovery. On stage that night, five members of the D&E community brought to life the voices of the forgotten, captured by author, poet, and activist Mark Nowak, in his powerful poem-play, “Sago.�? Like all traumatic literature, Mr. Nowak’s play is a creative act of memory. The voices in his play are not fictions; they are real. Each line is culled from thousands of pages of interview transcripts with the miners, rescue workers, and family members most intimately involved with the Sago tragedy.
Friday night’s play opened with a powerful performance of their Sago-inspired song, “Bright Leaves,�? by Ginsangers Connie Townsend, Dave Parker, and Rose Bell. Then, dressed starkly in black, actors Tim Post, Samantha Simone, Mike Davis, Skylar Sandars, and Dub Campbell took the stage and began to speak. Over the next hour, characters took shape in the darkness; voices swelled with love, rage, hope, and despair; the audience was stunned to a thoughtful silence.
Afterward, audience members offered the following reflections:
D&E freshman Leslie Shaffer:
“Sago was heart warming and compelling. I loved the actors’ compassion for their characters. It was
emotional for everyone. The turnout was incredible, and I feel this play should be taken around the
whole state of West Virginia.�?
D&E freshman Steven M. Johnson:
“This play was very empowering. The actors painted a vivid picture of what actually happened at Sago Mine, while portraying a deep sense of sympathy and concern for their characters. Thanks again to Mark Nowak and Davis & Elkins College for addressing so many questions pertaining to this tragedy.�?
D&E freshman English major Julie Sader:
“This play was phenomenal. I am not from West Virginia, and did not know a lot about the Sago Mine disaster, but after this performance I felt closer to those most affected by this horrible tragedy. I had tears in my eyes from beginning to end because I was been so deeply moved. I truly enjoyed this performance— it blew my mind (in a good way)! Thank you to everyone who made it possible for this play to be performed at D&E.
Montrose resident Hugh Rogers:
As people on the ground—all sorts of people!—puzzled over what had happened under their feet, the word "item" was dropped like a pebble, then a stone, then a bomb. Yet the word was only a fact. The drama emerged from a patient, restrained telling of the facts, and each voice was respected as an equally important fact. Together, they invited us to understand the full tragedy of Sago. Thanks to everyone who helped put it before us.
D&E Sophomore English major Kevin Chesser:
"Sago's immediate draw is the nature of the medium: When's the last time you even heard of a 'documentary' poem, let alone saw one performed live as a one-act? The play provided a haunting, intimate perspective on the Sago mine tragedy, and it was very cool to see it premiered in the D&E theater, just adjacent to the community in which the event actually transpired."
D&E Education major Gloria Tusing:
“I was impressed with how well the students did in this presentation. It was very heart felt, and touching to me, just as the actual disaster was very close to me. I think this was a great addition to the College. This moment will never be a forgotten.�?
D&E freshman Phil Turske
“In Ohio, where I’m from, the Sago Mine disaster was not discussed a lot. After seeing the play I now understand what an impact it had on the families and the residents of West Virginia.�?
Local musician (and Ginsanger) Dave Parker:
"Sago was hauntingly powerful, stark, beautifully delivered, and crafted by a specially gifted writer. It cut to the essence, to the root of being human in a moment of tragedy.�?
D&E student Nathaniel Pingley:
“The play was amazing and really showed what the miners went through. It made me feel like I was in the coal mine before and after they found Randall McCloy.�?
D&E senior Matt McLeskey:
"Mark Nowak's presentation shows that the problems of our economic system affect local and community life just as much, if not more, than the state of our nation as a whole. If the personalization of events like the Sago disaster do not fuel people, particularly our youth, to become involved in the decisions that will affect our country then perhaps nothing will."
Friday night’s premiere performance marked the final presentation of D&E’s ninth annual Spring Writers’ Week. “Sago�? was written by Mark Nowak (author of Shut Up, Shut Down, and Revenants, from Coffee House Press); directed by April Daras (Assistant Professor of Theater); sponsored by the Davis and Elkins College Spring Writers Week program (co-directed by Drs. Peter Okun and Bill King, Associate Professors of English); with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in “Sago�? do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities).