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Crowds pack ‘Hillbilly Homecoming’ to enjoy the gossip from days gone by

It must be fun to just slip back into the past. Many in Maryville obviously think so as salon owner-turned playwright Mike Everett packed the house at the Clayton Center with his first play, one that celebrated a slice of Blount County’s past.

“Hillbilly Homecoming” played to sold-out crowds in the Flex Theater of the Clayton Center for the Arts Oct. 27-31. Audience reviews were incredible as the fun on the stage set the stage for remembrances and hometown memories.

“Hillbilly Homecoming” was Everett’s gift to his hometown, and, perhaps to himself. The original musical comedy was directed and nursed along by Maryville’s own famed actor David Dwyer and featured a cast of 25 local folks in the starring and supportive roles.

“It’s a play about Southern women,” Dwyer said, “strong, Southern women who like to talk.”

Everett says his salon, Shear Magic, has always fit that stereotype of people telling their hairdresser everything. His memories of being a child during Hillbilly Homecoming, which was a Maryville festival from 1953 to 1957, spurred his creativity as he spun his storyline around the beauty pageant that was part of the festivities, “Miss Belle of the Smokies.”

Everett recalled how small Maryville’s population was at the time and how everyone knew everyone else in town.

“One of the worst things that could happen to you in 1961 was for people to talk about you, because you knew everybody,” he said. “Even on Saturdays when you went to town, at Eagle Dime Store on Cusick Street and Broadway, the men always stopped there to talk about the weather and to gossip. That was the basis for this play.”

The play featured new lyrics to recognizable tunes to help tell the story of a misfit who enters the pageant and the townfolks reaction to her.

“Mike has caught the essences of the time and the people,” says Dwyer. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

Adding to the fun was the original costuming and wigs for the actors. Everett credits Diane Clendenen with creating the wigs, which he said seemed to transform the actors into their characters and take them back to the 1960s.

“It was amazing to watch them put them on,” Everett says. “They just immediately took on the persona of a gal from the 1960s.”

Everett was also thrilled with the venue -- getting to showcase his first play at the Clayton Center for the Arts. “I’m very excited to get the first thing I’ve ever written done at the Clayton Center.”

Dwyer said Everett has always supported organizations like New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center’s April Foolies event. “He has done a lot of stuff for a lot of people,” Dwyer said. “He loves Maryville, and this is his homage to the small town it was, and the promise it had, and what it is now and the bright future it has.”

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