Around Town: ‘An Appalachian Christmas Carol’ returns to the Vance Birthplace

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: An Appalachian Christmas Carol at the Vance Birthplace tells the story of Venus, an enslaved woman owned by the Vance family. Photo courtesy of the Vance Birthplace

Inspired by Charles Dickens‘ classic A Christmas Carol, the Vance Birthplace returns with its sixth annual An Appalachian Christmas Carol. Mikayla Wilson, who takes over as director of this year’s theatrical tour, says she made the artistic choice to reimagine some of the darker aspects of Dickens’ classic ghost story as a way to bring the historic site’s own past to life.

As in previous iterations, the production will feature puppetry, shadow theater and panoramas as a way to share the life of Venus, one of the enslaved people owned by the Vance family.

“This performance piece is all about reclaiming forgotten narratives and confronting the dark sides of history through a familiar tale,” says Wilson, a graduate of the UNC Asheville drama department and the director of puppetry for the American Myth Center. “I wanted to home in on what we can do to make those themes easier for the audience to connect to. I think adding in more supernatural elements and a focus on the specific wrongdoings of Zebulon Vance will achieve that.”

The Vance Birthplace will host An Appalachian Christmas Carol Thursday, Dec. 8, and Saturday, Dec. 10. The tours, put on in partnership with the Asheville-based nonprofit American Myth Center, will run every 30 minutes from 6-8:30 p.m.

“We are bringing out the spookiness of the hushed, gray Appalachian Mountains around us with alarming spectacles of puppets and images,” Wilson continues.  “The audience will then feel a fraction of the horrors inflicted on the enslaved people held captive by the Vance family. When we get that terror into the audience, they’ll be more ready to hear more and engage more with the heart of our piece.”

The Vance Birthplace is at 911 Reems Creek Road, Weaverville. Tour tickets are $7 and can be purchased at

Handmade for the holidays

It’s time to do some Christmas shopping, Southern-style.

The Folk Art Center will host the second week of the Southern Highland Craft Guild’s annual Holiday Seconds Sale on Saturday, Dec. 10, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The event, now in its 10th year, is like a miniature version of the guild’s twice-annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, says Millie Davis, marketing director. More than 30 artists will sell discounted handmade gifts, apparel, jewelry, pottery, decor and more.

“We encourage those who attend to connect with the makers and invest their holiday money in local and regional businesses, where high quality is the standard,” she says. “There really is something special about learning the story of a handmade object that goes hand in hand with the holiday spirit.”

The shops of the guild rarely discount work, so the Holiday Seconds Sale represents a rare opportunity for visitors to find guild-quality items for a bargain, she says.

“This event is important to the guild but is more important for the artists, as they have an opportunity to clear out their studios of 2022 designs and begin the new year with a fresh start,” she explains.

The Folk Art Center is at Milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in East Asheville. Admission is free. For more information, go to

Mars attacks

For years, Asheville playwright Rodney Smith had been itching to put on a campy stage parody of a low-budget sci-fi film. At the same time, he had been thinking of how he could produce a Christmas show for people who wanted something other than the usual holiday fare.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the unholy marriage of those two dreams,” he jokes.

Attic Salt Theatre will present Smith’s latest production Friday, Dec. 9-Saturday, Dec. 23. The show pokes fun at the 1964 cult classic movie by the same name, which often is listed among the worst films ever made.

“We really wanted to lean into the things you make fun of in a bad film: the overacting, low-budget set pieces and special effects and the trope-worthy writing,” says Smith, who wrote and will direct the play. “This is more a parody of the B-movie genre and a spoof of the film, as opposed to a straightforward stage version.”

Darren Marshall will play Santa, a role he took on for more than decade in The Magnetic Theatre’s The Bernstein Family Christmas Spectacular. The show also will feature puppets interacting with the human cast members.

In the movie, which stars a young Pia Zadora, Martians kidnap Santa Claus because there is nobody on Mars to give their children presents.

“The plot, if you can call it that, is basically the same as the film,” Smith says. “However, the characters are far more colorful and a lot less family-friendly.”

The show will run Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. There also will be a Christmas Eve show on Saturday, Dec. 24, at 2:30 p.m.

Attic Salt Theatre is at 2002 Riverside Drive. For more information or to buy tickets, go to

Austen power

Last holiday season, the Multiverse Theatre Collective brought beloved Jane Austen characters to the stage for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. The cast and crew had so much fun, they decided to put on another sequel this year.

Multiverse will present The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley at The BeBe Theatre Friday, Dec. 9-Sunday, Dec. 18. Like Miss Bennet, the comedy was written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and takes place two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, first published as a novel in 1813.

“The beauty of these shows is that they really do stand on their own whether or not you’ve read or seen Pride and Prejudice,” says Mandy Bean, the show’s director. “There are plenty of winks and in-jokes that fans of the book will get a kick out of, but the playwrights have done a wonderful job in introducing the characters in a way that makes them interesting to both fans and to people meeting them for the first time.”

The Wickhams takes place downstairs in the servants’ quarters of Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate. Three of the servants are preparing the estate for the holidays, but they are interrupted by the untimely arrival of George Wickham, a sworn enemy of Mr. Darcy.

The cast includes Hanni Muerdter, Zak Hamrick, Lauren Otis, Dana Gillihan, Desmond Williams, Gabby Bailey and Alex McDonald.

Performances for both shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at The BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door. For more information or to buy tickets, go to

Holiday pop-up

The Ideation Lab inside the Center for Craft will host Show & Tell Holiday Pop Up Shop daily through Saturday, Dec. 24, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. A vendor Jingle & Mingle will be Tuesday, Dec. 8, 5-7 p.m.

The shop will feature more than 100 vendors selling indie craft, design and vintage and shop housewares, handmade jewelry, ceramics, apparel, vintage clothes, floral wreaths, ornaments and more.

The Center for Craft is at 67 Biltmore Ave. For more information, visit  

Musical accompaniment

The Swannanoa Valley Museum is looking for historical information, photographs and artifacts relevant to its upcoming exhibit Striking a Chord: Music and Community in the Swannanoa Valley.

The exhibit will focus on musicians, musical communities and venues in the region.

“Some of the general content we are looking into includes, but is not limited to: Marcus Martin, Artus Moser, Walt Davis, Roseland Gardens, Roberta Flack, Town Pump Tavern, McDibbs, the Swannanoa Gathering, Grey Eagle and White Horse Black Mountain,” officials say in the museum’s monthly newsletter.

If you have items to share, contact the museum at 828-669-9566, or stop by in person Wednesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The SVHC is at 223 W. State St., Black Mountain.

Wolfe finalists

The WNC Historical Association will honor five finalists for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 5-6:30 p.m. at the Reuter Center at UNC Asheville. The event also will be livestreamed via Zoom.
The ceremony will include readings by the finalists. The selected winner will receive $2,500.

Originated by the Louis Lipinsky family, the award has been presented annually by the organization since 1955 for printed works that focus special attention on Western North Carolina.

The finalists are Anne Chesky Smith for Murder at Asheville’s Battery Park Hotel: The Search for Helen Clevenger’s Killer; Lance Greene for Their Determination to Remain; A Cherokee Community’s Resistance to the Trail of Tears; Brent Martin for George Masa’s Wild Vision: A Japanese Immigrant Imagines Western North Carolina; Heather Newton for McMullen Circle; and John Ross for Through the Mountains: The French Broad River and Time.

The Reuter Center is at 300 Campus View Road on the UNCA campus. The event is free, but registration for in-person or Zoom is required. To register, go to


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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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