World premiere of ‘Which Side Are You On’ at Pellissippi State

Florence Reece Actresses
Pellissippi State Community College will hold the world premiere of the original play “Which Side Are You On: The Florence Reece Story” beginning April 15. Three Pellissippi State students portray the titular character during different stages of her life: from left, Caroline Darwin, Julia Thress and Liel Kirk.

Gun thugs. Activism. Social justice.

These are some of the themes — still relevant today — that will be addressed during the world premiere of the original play, “Which Side Are You On: The Florence Reece Story,” April 15-17 and 22-24 at Pellissippi State Community College.

The play is written by Pellissippi State’s Writer-in-Residence Edward Francisco and is directed by Grechen Wingerter, assistant professor in Liberal Arts. It is a fictional retelling of the life of Florence Reece, an American social activist, poet and folksong writer.

The daughter and wife of coal miners, she penned the song “Which Side Are You On?” during the Harlan County War, a decade-long battle in the 1930s between coal miners and union organizers on one side and the coal companies, gun thugs and law enforcement officials on the other. The war included a series of strikes, skirmishes, bombings, executions and the occupation of Harlan County by both state and federal troops. Reece’s song became a social justice anthem after Pete Seeger recorded it in 1940.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students and are available at Show times are 7:30 p.m. April 15, 16, 22 and 23 and 2 p.m. April 17 and 24.

“This will be a very different play than what people are used to because of the scope of it,” said Wingerter. “The play has a huge, epic scope over decades and follows multiple characters. Plus the content of the play itself is all about social change and workers’ rights. We’re pushing the play to the max.”

Wingerter sees parallels between the social activism of the Harlan County War’s battle between coal miners and coal companies as reflective of similar confrontations still happening today.

“Florence Reece and her husband, Sam, wanted life to be fairer and more equitable for everyone, not just coal miners. Her song has been used in social justice movements since it was written in the 1930s,” Wingerter said.

The ensemble cast of 27 includes a number of Pellissippi State students as well as local children, high school students and other community and professional actors. The style of directing, based upon Bertolt Brecht’s concept of “epic theatre,” will include unusual features for plays, such as image projections and actors in the audience.

“Which Side Are You On: The Florence Reece Story” is one of the events that make up The Arts at Pellissippi State, a series of cultural activities including music, theatre, international celebrations, lectures and the fine arts. The play also is part of this year’s Common Academic Experience, a shared reading experience that includes class curriculum and extracurricular activities and events. This year’s Common Book is “The United States of Appalachia” by Jeff Biggers.

Additionally, “Which Side Are You On” is sponsored by an Arts Builds Communities grant administered by the Tennessee Arts Commission.

For more information, visit or call 865-694-6400. To request accommodations for a disability at this event, contact the executive director of Equity and Compliance at 865-539-7401 or


Download this press release: Florence Reece at PSCC