Brenau Alum Christina Jundt Celebrates North Georgia History with Lakefront Play
Even with a shoestring, start-up budget, Wild Air Playhouse scored the ultimate prop for its first production: Lake Lanier.
The theater company is presenting “Half Mile Down,” an original, outdoor Americana drama, at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue at Clarks Bridge Road in Gainesville, where the lake provides a sweeping, scenic backdrop for a minimalist stage.
“The lake serves as a character unto itself that helps tell the story,” says Christina Jundt, WC’13, co-founder of the Hall County-based group and co-writer of the play, which is loosely based on local history surrounding the lake’s origins and the families displaced when rivers are dammed. “It wouldn’t be the same experience without the lake in the background.”
The United States Army Corps of Engineers created the 38,000-acre lake in 1956 with the construction of the Buford Dam. The man-made reservoir engulfed large portions of the northeast Georgia countryside and left homes, mills, roads and even speedways submerged under 1,000 feet of water.
“Half Mile Down,” which derives its title from an old ballad about a flooded community, celebrates the close-knit mountain people who were struggling to keep their heads above water, in every sense, during the 1920s. Its plaintive score of live music with banjo, fiddle and piano includes traditional tunes as well as original songs penned by Jundt’s boyfriend and collaborator, Rob Brooksher, who graduated from the University of North Georgia.
“I had an idea for a regional show,” says Brooksher, who grew up in Clermont, “something that told the history of this area for all the people who come here for college and then go to other places without really knowing anything about Northeast Georgia and Lake Lanier. I talked with a lot of elderly people about their memories. The town in the play is fictional, but if you know the story of Lake Lanier, you’re bound to see similarities.”
The play features a love story, a Virginia reel, and some buck-dancing, along with local legends, including the one about the gigantic catfish that reputedly prowls the lake; the star-crossed American Indian lovers, Sautee and Nacoochee; and a “Mammoth” monster based on Bigfoot. The young troupers deftly use humor without going over the top with cornpone, making “Half Mile Down” one of the most authentic folk dramas in north Georgia. “I wanted to convey the small-town sensibility, the closeness of people,” Brooksher says. So the play’s dialogue includes gems such as: “We stay warm by staying close. Some folks might call us backwards, but that’s only because we move with caution, because we know we have a lot to lose.”