Behind the Scenes Blog

Spotlight: Matt Tooni

Hello Readers!

Welcome back! Many weeks have passed since my first blog post; I am both sad and happy about reaching our closing night on August 18th. The sadness comes from knowing that the unique family created within the 2018 company will never be assembled in quite the same way again. I am happy about closing night because I know that a flood of warm memories and feelings of excitement will take over every member of the company during that last show of the season. Tickets are still available for our last week of performances, so be sure to grab ticket information at the end of my blog post!
This week I am happy to shine a spotlight on a valued company member, Mr. Matthew Tooni. “Multi-talented” is the adjective that comes to mind when I think about Matt and his array of special traits and abilities. Matt plays traditional Native American flute music, he’s a gifted actor, and he crafts beautifully written plays. Matt is an active performer, not only in his home of Cherokee, but he’s been lucky enough to share his talents internationally as well. Earlier in the season, Matt answered some of my questions about himself and his work:

Q: Matt, will you please tell us a little about yourself?:
A:I’ve always had an interest in music; that’s where I started. I like to listen to film scores, I like it more than listening to someone sing. I love watching old films too, especially the Universal horror films. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Lon Chaney Sr. are among my favorites. I played in the school band from 7th grade until my senior year. I had the opportunity to go to the All Carolina Honor Band in Durham all four years of high school. Later, I got into playing the Native American Flute which got me a nomination for Flutist of the Year in 2017. My culture is a big factor for me. I love going out and sharing stories, dances, songs and history. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this stuff if it weren’t for my family.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your role in the show this year?:
A: I am playing the role of Elias Boudinot. He was a member of the infamous Treaty Party that signed the treaty to move to Oklahoma. He was a very well educated man. He helped form schools and published the first bi-lingual newspaper, “The Cherokee Phoenix”.

Matt (seated) as Elias Boudinot in the 2018 production of "Unto These Hills". Photo by Anne Wilson.

Q: How did you originally join the cast? What were some of your previous roles? How many years have you been involved?
A: I joined UTH in ’02 as a crowd actor. The following year I took the role of Suyeta, the son of Yonaguska. I didn’t go back until ’06 when they re-wrote the show. Then my longest run was from ’08-11. During that time, I played Pathfinder, Rev. Bushyhead, Yonaguska, Euchella and probably a few others that I’ve forgotten.

Q: Do you have any great memories that you can share from over the years? Can you tell us if you’ve worked with any of your family members over the years?
A: My brother and I worked together for a few years. I remember one time, we were in the middle of one the show’s more serious scenes. We were all into it until this random dog made its way on to the stage. It threw me off completely. Another time was when the wagon that holds the White House scenes came half way off the tracks. I was on stage with my brother and one of the elder, local men. While we were doing our scene the tech crew was out there jacking up the wagon and finally got it back on to the tracks. Without missing a beat, that elder man said, “Well, they finally got back on to the tracks.” and we finished the scene.

Q: Can you share something interesting that goes on behind the scenes that the audience may not know about?
A: I’d say the rehearsal process. It’s interesting (to me) and fun to see how everything comes together. It’s also fun to see other actors and their processes of getting into character.

Q: What do you think (or hope) audience members take away from the experience of seeing the show?
A: The fact that we’re still here. There have been a lot of people who apologize for the inhumanity that was put upon our ancestors, but they’re not responsible for that. They have nothing to apologize for. We can’t atone for something that hasn’t happened to us, but we can strive to prevent them from ever happening again.

Matt delivers a prayer in the Cherokee Language. Pictured, the iconic and moving "Removal" scene. Photo by Anne Wilson.

Q: What is it like to be a tribal member in the show? What does it feel like to have new faces in the company every season?
A: It’s an honor/our duty to fill these roles and tell OUR story as best as we can. Having new actors come in each year can be fun, it can be a bit unnerving because you have to start over again trying to make friends. Luckily, we have a few folks that keep coming back so it takes some of that away.

Q: Do you have any fun creative or performance projects coming up?
A: I am currently working on a podcast/radio play based on the legend of the Ravenmocker. I’m also working on a couple of other scripts based on other Cherokee legends. I’ll be traveling to Italy for a performance at the end of May*.

Q: Where can we find/buy your music or find more information about your other projects? What are you working on next?
A: You can find my music on itunes, Googleplay, Cdbaby and Amazon*. The album is titled Through Their Eyes Vol. 1

Matt Tooni's album "Through Their Eyes, Volume One" features Matt's contemporary Cherokee flute music.

*Matt traveled to Italy in May of 2018.
*Link to purchase Matt's Album, Through Their Eyes Vol.1

Thank you for reading! Many thanks go to Matt Tooni for participating in our company spotlight feature! Thanks also to Anne Wilson, our 2018 Summer Social Media Intern, for providing photos for this week's post! Season dates for "Unto These Hills" are June 2 - August 18, 2018. Need Tickets? Visit or call our box office at 828-497-2111 for tickets and show information.


Kara Morrison is a stage and screen actress, an artist and writer. Kara also works as part of Cherokee Historical Association's Office Staff.

Spotlight: Tina Neese

Hello again, friends!

Thanks for joining me for another great week of our Behind the Scenes Blog! It’s time for another Spotlight Feature! Today, I am introducing you to our much loved company member, Tina Neese! Tina plays Molly, the feisty shopkeeper in Unto These Hills and also partners with her fiancée Wes Milton* to head up our pyrotechnics team. Tina, like her character, is a strong-willed, little firecracker, but she is ultimately appreciated for her kindness and dedication. Here’s a Q&A session that I did with Tina a few weeks ago:

Tina Neese. Photo by Wes Milton.

Q: Hey Tina! Please tell us a little about yourself:
A:I've been performing my whole life. I just turned 26 so I'm a mental and emotional roller coaster searching for my life-long path to pursue. I enjoy exploring different hobbies and jobs in order to gain experience and learn new skills. My amazing fiancée and I love to travel to new places and meet new people, but one thing that we look forward to every year is returning to the beautiful mountains of Cherokee and to the open arms of our UTH family.

Q : Can you tell us a little about your role in the show this year?:
A: Even though Molly is a fictional character, she represents the modern-day social activist standing up for rights of others no matter their differences. In this particular story, she speaks up for the Cherokee as individuals and families instead of an obstacle in the way of riches. She's a fiery feminist who demands respect but gets caught in the middle of a war against humanity.

Tina as Molly! 2018, Photo by Anne Wilson.

Q: How did you originally join the cast? How many years have you been involved?
A: I joined UTH the summer after I graduated college. Someone put in a good word for me and somehow I landed in this magical place. This is my fourth summer with the company and even though I sort of stumbled into where I am, I'm extremely humbled to be surrounded by such a beautiful culture with high values of equality and love. I'm so thankful for this opportunity to learn, live, and share the stories of the Cherokee.

Q: Please tell us about what Pyro features we may see throughout the show?
A: Our pyro effects are separated into 3 categories: Guns, Explosives, and Fire. You will see several manipulated shotguns made to look like musket rifles which fire handmade shells without propellants. You will see small and large smoke effects and some will be associated with loud 'booms' in order to portray authenticity and provoke a reaction out of the audience! You will also see performers with lit torches as well as the ceremonial Fire Bowl.

Tina shows of one of the weapons used in the show. 2018, Photo by Anne Wilson.

Q:What are your main duties working with Pyro? How do you educate the cast and crew about Pyro safety?
A: My main duty as Assistant Pyro is, first and foremost, to help educate and train the performers and technicians on gun and pyro safety. It is our number one priority as Team Pyro to keep everyone physically safe and feeling safe. We take everyone through a vigorous, educational course and then we break it down with each person and give them the opportunity to fire a weapon (for some it is their very first time). My duties throughout the rehearsal process are to assign guns and firing lanes to performers based on blocking, choreography, or action of each scene. I also assist in safe and aesthetic placement and procedure of pyro explosions and fire operation. Once the show opens, I become the main source of eyes and ears in order to observe and fix any potential or current problems in the way guns and pyro effects are handled and performed. I also represent the customer service aspect of Team Pyro: performers and technicians come to me if they run into a problem or safety issue.

Tina stands by a gun rack that is used backstage. Tina and Wes educate the cast about pyro safety.Photo by Anne Wilson.

Q: Can you share something interesting that goes on behind the scenes that the audience may not know about?
A: Pyro can be really scary for some people. In order to balance out the serious with a bit a humor and personalization, here are a few fun facts that have developed over the years:

1. Each gun has its own name and number to promote careful use and track malfunctions.
2. The infamous cannon also has a name: Bertha
3. Individuals are selected each week to assist on Gun Cleaning Crew.

Tina packs shells to be used in the show. Photo by Anne Wilson.

Q: How did you first get into acting and theater?
A: My knack for performing and telling stories began at a very young age. My mom signed me up for all kinds of things like dance and modeling; anything to put me in the spotlight, and I loved the attention. Then one day, at the age of 5, the opportunity arose to be in the Christmas play at church and I fell head-over-heels in love. My mom took me to auditions, encouraged me, and still attends every show to this day. Now, I can't imagine my life without performance and sharing stories.

Q: What are some fun perks about working at UTH? Do you have any favorite spots to visit during your time off?
A: The perks about working at UTH are being surrounded by nature and the community. I love being and feeling so close to nature, and it's also nice to know that you can gather around a campfire with some great people and just hang out. However, we all know that a mini vacation over to Dollywood is the perfect way to escape on your day off.

Q: Why is it important to you to tell the story of “Unto These Hills”?
A: It is important to me to tell the story of “Unto These Hills” because it is our duty to look past what makes us different in order to see and understand how we are the same. We are all human beings with brains and hearts. Our backgrounds and cultures may be different, but we should love just the same.

Q: Do you have any fun creative/performance projects or goals that you’ve worked on recently or anything coming up?
A: I've been a performer for my entire life and now I'm ready to create and share my own stories and experiences. For the past couple of years, I have been out of the spotlight, but now I'm ready to jump back in with new and creative ideas. I've been reading, writing, observing, and researching aspects of business and performance and now I am ready to take on the challenge of becoming my own boss. My fiancée and I are teaming up (as usual) to begin writing and recording our very own film ideas. Who knows where this will lead, but I can't wait to find out!

Tina Neese, 2018. Photo by Wes Milton.

*Wes Milton is currently in his fifth season with Unto These Hills; he plays Sam Houston and serves as the show’s pyro-master. Wes has also worked with companies such as Birmingham Children’s Theatre and Theatre West Virginia.

Thank you for reading! Many thanks go to Tina Neese for participating in our company spotlight feature! Thanks also to Wes Milton and Anne Wilson, our 2018 Summer Social Media Intern, for providing photos for this week's post! Season dates for "Unto These Hills" are June 2 - August 18, 2018. Need Tickets? Visit or call our box office at 828-497-2111 for tickets and show information.


Kara Morrison is a stage and screen actress, an artist and writer. Kara also works as part of Cherokee Historical Association's Office Staff. Please join us again soon for Kara's latest blog post!

Spotlight: Lori Sanders

Welcome Back!

Thank you for joining us once again for our Behind the Scenes blog! With only a few weeks left to see the show, I hope that you will find time to plan a visit with us soon!

Today, I am proud to shine our spotlight on someone that generates her own unique glow with her radiant spirit and beaming smile. I am sharing the story of cast member, Lori Sanders! Lori has played the beloved role of Mrs. Perkins in Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama since 2017, but she is no stranger to the company, having first joined in 1989. Lori has an infectious laugh and she brings an element of fun both onstage and backstage. She possesses an array of exciting and distinctive talents; read our Q&A with Lori to find out more!

Lori Sanders, 2018.

Q: Lori, will you please tell us a little about yourself?
A: I reside in the Wolfetown community of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, where I’ve been a stylist and salon owner for over 20 years. Most of my free time is spent on my motorcycle, playing ukulele OR traveling to the beach for a little Carolina Shag dancing. I am a former Miss Cherokee and 2018 marks my 12th year at Unto These Hills!

Q: Can you tell us a little about your role in the show this year?:
A: Mrs. Perkins is a feisty, no-nonsense Appalachian woman, married to George Perkins. She has a strong sense of right and wrong and calls the Cherokee FAMILY. She’s the backbone of her community and has a stern but fun sense of humor.

Lori gets ready to play Mrs. Perkins. 2018, Photo by Anne Wilson.

Lori prepares to play Wilani. Early 1990s.

Q: How did you originally join the cast? What were some of your previous roles?
A: I joined the cast as Nundayeli in 1989. The show was then being directed by Bill Hardy the production director for 33 years. After a few years, I moved into the role of Wilani, where I had the incredible experience of acting alongside Martha Nell Hardy (Mrs.Perkins). Last year I was fortunate enough to get this role, which has been my most joyous challenge.

Lori as Nundayeli, 1989.

Q 4: Do you have any great memories that you can share from over the years? Can you tell us if you’ve worked with any of your family members over the years?
A: I’ve loved EACH moment I’ve spent with Unto These Hills. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people that I still call family, though we may have only spent those 3 months one summer with. Last summer I was lucky enough to work with my son, Sayre*, at the show for the second time, the first was when he was 4 years old; we did crowd scenes together. Last year, he worked in the costume shop and this year the sound department. My long-time partner Orlin* and his son Iain* also work on stage at Unto These Hills this year for the first time. I am so fortunate and thankful for this experience!

Q 5: What is your favorite part about being in the show?
A: I absolutely love being around diverse people of a like mind accomplishing educational, entertaining, culturally informative theatre. There’s nothing like feeling and seeing the emotional impact of a good performance on a patron. I appreciate them sharing their time with us.

Lori chats with a guest. Early 1990s.

Q 6: Can you share something interesting that goes on behind the scenes that the audience may not know about?
A: Well, for me personally, how unbelievably HOT I am during the show. There are always some ice packs tucked up under my bonnet.

Lori as Mrs. Perkins. Could there be an ice pack under her bonnet?

Q: What do you think (or hope) audience members take away from the experience of seeing the show?
A: I hope visiting Unto These Hills at the Mountainside Theatre inspires a deeper understanding & interest of my culture and our history. I like to hope that most theatre goers will experience a creative spark after seeing our show.

Q: What is it like to be involved in the show as an Enrolled Member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians? What does it feel like to have new faces in the company every season?
A: I’m so proud to be a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee and be able to share some of our history with our patrons. I so look forward to new faces and fresh energy in the show. The actors from out of town are so eager to learn everything they can about Cherokee and our people & I love bonding with such a creative group and enjoying the talent they bring.

Lori Sanders performing as part of our Pre-Show Entertainment, 2018.

Q: What excites you most about being back at UTH this year?
A: On top of the amazing acting/theatre experience on stage, I am working with more family members this year that are new to Unto These Hills and I love seeing them enjoying this work as much as I do.

Q: Do you have any other creative projects that you’ve worked on in the last year? Any new creative projects coming up?
A: My partner Orlin Brokenshire and I are always working on songs, as he plays Uke as well and appears in the Preshow Band. Throughout the year, we entertain around the area. I do voiceover work, perform in Cherokee Historical Association Children’s Theatre shows and run my salon in the off season.

*Sayre Coffey is joining Unto These Hills for his forth season. Sayre began work with the show as a young child with his mother, Lori and has since worked backstage as a costumer and audio technician. You can also find Sayre working as a historical re-enactor at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

*Orlin Brokenshire and his son Iain are joining the cast of Unto These Hills for their first season. Orlin is a local tattoo artist, musician, and a graduate of the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.

Thank you for reading! Many thanks go to Lori Sanders for participating in our company spotlight feature! Thanks also to Anne Wilson our 2018 Summer Social Media Intern for providing a photo for this week's post! Season dates for "Unto These Hills" are June 2 - August 18, 2018. Need Tickets? Visit or call our box office at 828-497-2111 for tickets and show information.


Kara Morrison is a stage and screen actress, an artist and writer. Kara also works as part of Cherokee Historical Association's Office Staff. Please join us again soon for Kara's latest blog post!

Kara's Story

Hello again, Readers!
Thank you for joining me for another week of our Behind the Scenes Blog! As most of you know, I have worked as a company member with Unto These Hills for the last six seasons. Today I am bringing you the story of how I came to work with this wonderful organization!

Cast List for an original play created by Kaley and Kara Morrison at age 6.

Since I was very young I had always been curious about working in theatre as a playwright and actor. Summer afternoons and evenings were spent in the backyard with my sister Kaley*. Together we performed original plays for an audience of our supportive parents. We spent hours carefully piecing together costumes, creating plot points, and scrawling out pieces of dialogue from the moment that we first learned to write. I would like to think that our production quality was quite strong given our limited resources and the fact that we were only 5 years old. There was nothing I liked better than performing under the open sky as the sun set behind the trees each summer night. Kaley and I had no other family members that worked in theater or any other fields involving the arts, but the two of us always knew that we loved telling stories.
My first exposure to Unto These Hills came when I was in the fourth grade. I remember studying about North Carolina history including some of its most notable residents and landmarks. From my studies in school, I learned that the state was home to several historical outdoor dramas. At age 9 I wrote a letter to the Cherokee Historical Association asking for copies of their brochures to include in my school project about the state of North Carolina. I remember how proud I was to place brochures for both Unto These Hills and the Oconaluftee Indian Village in the binder that housed my school project. I stood before my fourth grade class and showed off the information I had collected about the Drama and Village, reciting the details as though I had visited each of them a thousand times. After I discovered the existence of Unto These Hills, I tried repeatedly to convince my parents to take us to Cherokee to see the show! Cherokee, NC was a long way from my central North Carolina home and before we knew it, the summers of my childhood slipped away so we never made it out to see the show. Perhaps the largest part of my interest in seeing the show stemmed from the fact that I am Native American*. Even at such a young age, it was incredible to me that an entire play existed that was dedicated to telling the story of the Cherokee. As I grew up (especially as I began working in theatre) I began to grow somewhat disheartened at the realization that there were so few movies, television shows or plays that presented real Native American stories or featured Native Americans as highlighted characters.
When it came time to go to college, I made the easy decision to major in Acting and Theatre Arts. My love for working in theatre, film and television only grew stronger the more I learned various aspects of what it took to create productions. My fascination with outdoor theatre flourished as we began to cover the subject of Symphonic Dramas in our theatre history classes. The Symphonic Drama is a play written about true historic events and is performed at the actual site or area in which that same historic event took place. I attended Campbell University which also happened to be the alma mater of notable playwright, Paul Green. Mr. Green penned a number of famed historical outdoor dramas including The Lost Colony (Manteo, NC) and The Stephen Foster Story (Bardstown, KY). Paul Green has been credited with inventing the genre of Symphonic Drama and is known as the father to this special genre of outdoor theatre. I had only one outdoor theater credit under my belt when I decided to audition at the annual Institute of Outdoor Theatre* auditions after I graduated from CU. This audition was an opportunity to be considered by a number of reputable outdoor theatre companies…and much to my delight, this included a shot at being considered for a role in Unto These Hills!
The day of the audition finally came. Kaley was auditionee number 109 and I followed directly after her as number 110 out of hundreds of others. I was nervous but mostly excited at the thought that I would perhaps be spending my summer working for an outdoor theatre company. Just before I delivered my monologue, I tapped into a place of extreme focus and calm. I closed my eyes and whispered to myself “Go for it.” You can imagine the joy that Kaley and I felt later that day when we spotted both of our audition numbers listed underneath the Unto These Hills call back list! We found ourselves sitting in the show’s call back room filled with a number of other actors as well as several representatives from the company. I had a knowing feeling in the pit of my stomach: I was going to get this job.
Just a few days later, both Kaley and I received job offers from Artistic Director Marina Hunley-Graham* for the 2013 season of Unto These Hills. We were thrilled! I couldn’t wait for our rehearsals to begin that May! Our first day arrived in a flash. We packed our car and headed to Cherokee, chatting the entire time about all the possibilities that the summer would have in store for us. As we opened the show that summer, I made a connection that I was doing what I had done so many times as a young child. I was playing and telling stories under the beautiful, open night sky once again. I made so many terrific friends that first summer. The impact of performing in the show made a lasting impression on me. I loved meeting so many children that were seeing Unto These Hills for the first time, just like I had wanted to do all those years ago. Six seasons later, I’ve continued to work with other theater companies and film productions, but my summers have been spent sharing the all-important story of Unto These Hills. I am hoping that those of you reading my story have seen the show in recent years or plan to see a performance soon. I have always known that my biggest passion in life is storytelling. Thank you for allowing me to share my own story with you today.


*Kara Morrison is a stage/screen actress, writer and artist. Kara also works as part of Cherokee Historical Association’s office staff. Kara's new, original play, The Dinner Hour was recently produced by Burning Coal Theatre Company in Raleigh, NC as part of their Oakwood Cemetery Series. Please join us again soon for Kara’s latest blog post!

Kara Morrison

*Kaley Morrison performed in Unto These Hills during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Kaley is a stage and screen actress, educator and is the Director of Education for Burning Coal Theatre Company

Kaley Morrison

*Kara is an Enrolled member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe.
*The Institute of Outdoor Theatre was founded in 1963 and hosts annual auditions in the month of January. To learn more please visit
*Marina Hunley-Graham first joined Unto These Hills as artistic director in 2012. Marina is originally from West Virginia where she served as artistic director of Theatre West Virginia for over 20 years. She is also an active director, performance teacher and is founder of the Mountainside Theatre Performing Arts School in Cherokee, NC.

Spotlight: DJ Williams

Welcome Back, Readers!
Since I last posted to the blog so many great things have happened! After three strenuous weeks of rehearsal for Unto These Hills we finally opened to the public on Saturday, June 2nd! Our audiences are gracious, engaged and we’ve been so full of excitement to perform each night! Now that the show is open, I am very proud and pleased to present some new content for all of you awesome readers! This week begins the first of many Company Member Featurettes in which I share an exclusive glimpse into the duties, talents and lives of some of my wonderful teammates. I hope that you have made plans to get your tickets for the 2018 Season*! My first Featurette is all about a dedicated Unto These Hills veteran, DJ Williams.

DJ Williams as the Eagle Dancer in 2017.

I’ve made many, many friends throughout my years spent with Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama and I often reflect on the memories I have made with each of them. One of those dear friends is a gifted actor and dancer, DJ Williams. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with DJ since he first joined the cast in 2015. Over the years I have watched him evolve and take on several new challenges. He began with UTH as an actor/dancer/combatant. In 2017 he became the show’s iconic lead eagle dancer and beginning this season he adds Dance Captain to his list of credits. DJ graduated earlier this year from nearby Western Carolina University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and minored in Dance. DJ is a warmhearted young man and we’re so lucky that he calls Unto These Hills home.

Q: DJ, will you please tell us a little about yourself?
A: I am from Indian Trail, NC. Outside of the Performing Arts, I enjoy playing soccer, volleyball, cheerleading, and swimming. I love the outdoors which makes working in Cherokee that much better. There are so many places to hike, tube, and whitewater raft. The beauty of Cherokee, NC brings me back every summer.

Q: How long have you been with the show?
A: This will be my fourth season with Unto These Hills. This show has given me another family to look forward to seeing every summer. I have made so many lifelong friends because of this company.

Q: This year you are acting as both the Lead Eagle Dancer and the Dance Captain. What are some of your responsibilities? What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I am so excited to be reappearing as the Lead Eagle this summer. From the very first time I saw the Lead Eagle dance I knew that one day I wanted to play that part. As the dance captain this season I will work closely with the choreographer, Karyn Tomzack. I will be her second set of eyes and assist her with any choreography needs. Once the rehearsal process is over, the choreographer leaves the company, and then I pretty much take over her responsibilities. I will be in charge of making sure the dancers know their choreography, are warmed up before every show, if there are understudies that have to go in, I make sure that they are ready and comfortable, and making sure the dancers are always safe.

Q: How did you first find out about Unto These Hills? How did you become involved?
A: When I get a chance to take some time off from my busy life with Cherokee Historical Association, I love to visit Gatlinburg, TN where I can eat great food, ride some awesome coasters at Dollywood, or lounge by the pool at Splash Country. One of my favorite places to visit is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Every time I go I have a different experience and I’m always eager to go on a new adventure. This summer I would love to go whitewater rafting in Nantahala with some of my cast mates.

Q: Will you tell me about a great experience you’ve had with an audience member at Unto These Hills?
A: I have had several great experiences with audience members since I started with the company, but one experience has stuck with me for quite some time: It was my week to go up for meet and greet (“Meet and Greet” allows audience members to meet members of the cast as they leave the theater for the evening) and I decided to wear my Lead Eagle costume. I had a young boy maybe five or six years old run over to me, give me the biggest hug, and said, “you were my favorite part of the show”. That moment made me smile so much. I always think about that moment before I do any type of performance because no matter how tired I am there is someone out here who is expecting a great performance, and that is exactly what they will get with Unto These Hills.

Q: What does this show mean to you? What do you hope audience members take away from the experience?
A: This show means so many different things to me. First off, this is such a powerful show with an even powerful message. Every summer I learn something new about Cherokee history and Cherokee culture and how beautiful it truly is. This show has helped me helped me open not only my heart, but also my mind to new experiences, new cultures, and new ideas. That is exactly what I would love for the audience to walk away with after seeing this show.

Q: What excites you most about being in the cast again this year?
A: I am so thrilled to get back to the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains. Dancing at the Mountainside Theatre is one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure of performing. I am also happy to see the youth company this summer. Seeing the kids be so excited about performing brings me so much joy. I love being a role model for the younger company.

DJ helps Tyce, a youth cast member prepare for the show. *Photo by Anne Wilson.

Q: What do you most appreciate about working in Cherokee?
A: There are so many things that I appreciate about working in Cherokee, but the thing that I appreciate the most is that the Cherokee stay very true to their culture. I feel that so many people in this country are afraid to hold onto their roots and beliefs, but I love how strong the Cherokee Nation is as a whole.

Q: Do you have any fun creative or performance projects coming up?
A: On April 28 I will be competing at the 2018 Cheerleading Worlds with my International Level 5 team, Charlotte Allstars Teal. We are hoping to bring home a globe and rings this year.

Many thanks go to DJ Williams for being our first featured company member of the season! Thanks also to Anne Wilson our 2018 Summer Social Media Intern for providing photos for this week's post! Season dates for "Unto These Hills" are June 2 - August 18, 2018. Need Tickets? Visit or call our box office at 828-497-2111 for tickets and show information.


Kara Morrison is a stage and screen actress, an artist and writer. Kara also works as part of Cherokee Historical Association's Office Staff. Please join us again soon for Kara's latest blog post!


Our Work is Not for the Faint of Heart...

Why is it that the hours that form a Sunday seem to slip by faster than any other day of the week? Sundays are the single day off for the actors and technicians of Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama. I spent the first two Sundays of the season just having lunch with a few of my fellow castmates in the nearby city of Sylva. A meal with friends can be so relaxing after a heavy work load. Monday May 21 marked the beginning of the second week of rehearsals. With the first section of rehearsals under our belt, my mind drifted to the thought of our opening night which seems to be approaching ever faster. We may feel a great deal of fatigue right now but we continue to push through each day with our aching muscles and faded voices. Knowing that our first audiences will soon fill our theater only builds excitement and revitalizes our energy. However, by Monday night’s end, the entire company had grown eerily quiet as we exited the theatre for the evening.
I made my way home that night and began to reflect on that day’s events. I thought about how diligently my fellow company members had been working on the show. As I walked I watched the light from our rehearsal hall pour from the building’s tall windows. Inside several moving figures created shadows that spilled across the pavement. Our dancers had assembled to practice their choreography immediately after they were released for the evening. I smiled and looked on with pride at their drive and initiative. Next I paused to think about our team of talented and devoted technicians and directors that were undoubtedly still at the theater working late into the night.
To work with any theatre company can be challenging and it is often said that working in outdoor theater is not for the faint of heart. We work under the heat of the sun, in the rain and we go long days in order to make sure that each unique element is coming together to create the best production possible. We always press on for the sake of the story – performing Unto These Hills not only presents the opportunity to entertain all who attend, but it also allows us the opportunity to educate audiences about a tragic time that changed this place and its people forever. To say that the telling of this story is important is a vast understatement, and all people that work on Unto These Hills are carrying the weight and duty of teaching this crucial part of history. When the going gets tough, we at Unto These Hills have to get tougher – we have more great work to do.

*Kara Morrison is a stage/screen actress, artist and writer. Kara also serves as Cherokee Historical Association's Group Sales & Box Office Manager, and is a part of CHA's social media team. Please join us again next weekend for Kara's latest blog post!


"Before you know it, the Summer will be gone..."

"Before you know it, the Summer will be gone..." -Marion Waggoner*, Unto These Hills Company Orientation - May 13th, 2018.

It was strange to think of how quickly the next several months would flash by for the company members of Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama. The 2018 cast, crew and creative team gathered together as a whole for the first time recently at Mountainside Theatre on a warm, beautiful May evening. This year would mark my 6th season with the production so I knew that Marion's words about our Summer were all too true. Each Summer I've spent in Cherokee, NC seemed to slip through my fingers - each Summer seemed to drift past me even faster than the last. Like myself, Marion Waggoner began his work as Director of Unto These Hills in the Summer of 2013. Whether you meet Marion in passing or you work with him for 6 seasons, you find that the memory of him stays with you always. As Marion says, "the devil is in the details", this applies to every moment within every scene of the show. It is Marion's vision, concept and the power behind his carefully selected words that unite the entire team and helps us to bring forth our best work for our audiences.

Each season the cast and crew of Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama only have 3 weeks to run and rehearse the show. A short rehearsal period calls for full and intensive rehearsals that begin early in the day and stretch on into the night. New company members must learn to adapt to their duties very quickly, but with the fast-paced nature of our work days and the long hours spent at theatre and rehearsal halls, new friendships begin to form in the blink of an eye. At the first company meeting, I took a moment to look at all of the new and familiar faces. Many company members are joining us for the first time, while others like our beloved Miss Lizzie have been here for decades, (46 years in Miss Lizzie's case!) I pictured all of the laughs, bonds, and memories that we would gather over the course of our Summer in Cherokee. At the conclusion of our first week of rehearsals, we were tired but pleased with the progress of the show and we are looking forward to adding more elements such as costumes and props. While working on the show is thrilling and a lot of fun, we are united in our cause to share the story of the Cherokee People with audiences. We must remember to play each scene directly from the heart as Marion has taught me before, many times over.

My name is Kara* and I play Nukwadeye in the 2018 production of Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama. Please join me each week as I bring you stories from behind the scenes including features on some of our awesome cast and crew! Unto These Hills has been in production since 1950 and I feel so honored to have been asked to offer our readers this first exclusive glimpse into what it takes to share the story of the Cherokee with audiences each Summer. Visit our company blog again next weekend for new content!

- Kara

Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama runs June 2 - August 18, 2018 nightly except Sundays. General, Reserved, VIP and Package tickets are available at or 828-497-2111. Package tickets offer entrance to multiple cultural attractions located in beautiful and historic Cherokee, NC.



*Marion Waggoner is a renowned theatrical director and writer and has worked with many other respected outdoor dramas. Other directing credits include The Legend of Daniel Boone (Blue Licks, KY), Tecumseh (Chillicothe, OH), Beyond the Sundown (Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation; Livingston, TX), Blue Jacket (Xenia, OH) and Hatfields and McCoys (Beckley, WV).

*Kara Morrison is a stage/screen actress, artist and writer. Kara also serves as Cherokee Historical Association's Group Sales & Box Office Manager, the Executive Assistant and is a part of CHA's social media team. Kara invites you to join us again next weekend for her latest blog post!


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