Magnetic 375 at 375 Depot Street 914.830.3000

Blue Ridge Public Radio / NPR feature on ACA

Goal: Complex, Experimental Theater. Audience: Children

Listen to the interview with Matt Peiken or read the transcript below!

Tiffany Copeland (left) and Edwin Salas performing in "The Warp and the Weft."

Abby Felder wanted to pursue experimental theater after college, so the North Carolina native moved to Asheville seven years ago and co-founded Asheville Creative Arts. It’s the only company devoted solely to producing children's theater in Western North Carolina.

“Working with younger audiences in particular, they are not as hung up on traditional dramatic structures. They’re kind of along for the ride,” she said. “So if you’re giving them a piece that’s more experiment or subverts narrative, they’re just there for that, and they’re more interested in pure storytelling.”

Alongside tried-and-true plays from the children’s theater canon, the company creates one production each season from scratch. One such original work is “The Warp and the Weft,” a musical story drawing on the history of North Carolina’s textile mills. Performances run two weekends, beginning April 19, at the Magnetic Theatre in the River Arts District.

“We like the original works because it gives us the freedom to delve into themes that might not be traditionally approached for young audiences,” Felder said.

For Felder gathered historical texts and recorded audio stories from members of her ensemble and immigrant youth in Asheville. Those stories are the mile-markers along a narrative adapted from a Spanish fairy tale about a young girl working in a North Carolina textile mill. The underlying story is about empowering audiences and cast, alike, to control their own narratives, Felder said.

“It is a bit about directing people to reveal certain aspects of themselves, and that means a lot of groundwork had to go into creating a space safe for that,” she said. “This piece almost has become more of a symphony, in the sense where we’re conducting different moments and finding the rhythm and energy of each of them.”

Abby Felder is a co-founder of Asheville Creative Arts.


Felder wants her audiences to absorb that textile mills relied to some extent on child labor, yet she strives to create shows without a political agenda. She said the mix of song, shadow puppetry and abstracted pieces into the narrative is designed to reach the different ways kids take in information.

“Because of the themes we choose, I think there’s an obvious point of view there, but really what’s important is young people are asked to navigate for themselves what they think,” Felder said. “We just try and focus on that core principle of honesty.”

And for the foreseeable future, Felder wants to continue that pursuit in Asheville.

“We’ve always wanted to work in this region, specifically,” she said. “Something this part of the state has higher-than-average pockets of is generational poverty, so it feels important to be here and give this outlet to all kinds of populations here.”

Asheville Creative Arts debuts its latest original production

Posted on March 21, 2019 by Thomas Calder

There is plenty to unpack in Asheville Creative Arts’ latest original production, The Warp & The Weft. The professional children’s theater group will debut the hourlong performance on Friday, April 19, at The Magnetic Theatre. Combining puppetry, live folk music, video and storytelling, the piece explores the history of child labor, the evolving concept of childhood and the power that comes from controlling one’s own narrative. It runs through Sunday, April 28.

Though the show’s development technically began two years ago, its director, Abby Felder, says the idea dates much further back. “The whole thing began when I was in the fourth grade,” she explains. At the time, her class was studying Lewis Hine, an early 20th-century investigative photographer, who documented child labor in America. Among Hine’s many subjects were those working in the textile mills in North Carolina.

The images of these children, says Felder, who was raised in Charlotte, led to an early epiphany. “They were my same age but clearly grew up in incredibly different circumstances,” she says. “I think that was the first moment, as a young person, where I started to think about the concept of childhood.”

The resulting multimedia production incorporates video of Hine’s images, as well as historical audio recordings of former child textile workers, originally gathered by UNC Chapel Hill. In juxtaposing Hine’s visual stories with the audio accounts, The Warp & The Weft seeks to show its young audience members how narratives are shaped, depending upon who is telling the story.

The piece also brings in excerpts from present-day interviews with local students from Hanger Hall School for Girls, as well as members of the Mentoring and Nurturing Our Students program, which works with newly immigrated Latinx students. Both groups provide perspectives on contemporary childhood, particularly as it pertains to recently displaced youths.

Too often, says Rebecca Williams, the show’s videographer, “there are lots of important voices that are missing from our narratives.” These absences, she notes, are evident in Hine’s historical work, which centered on predominantly white children.

A more inclusive production is not only a focus for The Warp & The Weft but ACA’s overall goal. In 2016, Daniele Martin came on as the theater group’s community outreach and engagement coordinator. Since that time, she’s been developing relationships with marginalized and rural communities.

In addition to her work offstage, Martin sought to enlist more performers and artists of color onstage. The group’s forthcoming production, she says, highlights this effort. Of The Warp & The Weft’s six cast members, four are people of color, including Martin.

Along with greater diversity, the upcoming production also embodies a larger trend in the theater group’s future direction. “We’re trying to shift more toward original work,” Felder explains. Moving forward, works by ACA’s regular contributing artists, as well as interested community members who participate in the organization’s incubator series, will take precedence.

In the meantime, the group continues to perform family classics, including this summer’s production of Charlotte’s Web. Set to run July 18-28, the familiar tale follows Wilbur the livestock pig and his friendship with the titular spider.

The popularity of the story, says Felder, makes it “really ripe for some magical reimagining in terms of presentation.” This will include audience participation as well as live bluegrass music. Further, Felder notes, the group is discussing the use of wooden and found-object puppetry for Wilbur and the story’s additional cast of barnyard animals.

Both The Warp & The Weft and Charlotte’s Web highlight ACA’s ongoing interest in expanding the boundaries of traditional storytelling and stage production methods. Throughout the organization’s seven-year history, Felder notes, “we’ve found that young people are an incredibly sophisticated audience … able to absorb and experience very complex things, and so we try and just push the envelope a little bit.”

The Warp & The Weft also makes explicit that in order to truly expand, multiple perspectives must be encouraged and invited to share in the experience, both onstage and off. This, says Felder and fellow cast members, makes ACA’s mission something that will hopefully resonate long after the curtain is drawn.

“I feel like theater is a very profound medium in terms of allowing young people to hold witness, but then to also experience, feel and practice things like empathy and critical thinking,” Felder says.

Williams agrees, adding that the group’s commitment to audience participation emphasizes the connection and importance of narrative. “I think there is a real value in people understanding that the act of telling their own story is a really empowering and affirming action,” she says. “It’s important to see how your story plugs into that larger story, the community story.”

WHAT: The Warp & The Weft
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St.,

WHEN: Opening night is Friday, April 19, at 7 p.m. The show runs through Sunday, April 28. Times vary. Discounted school and camp matinee performances are also available. $23 adults/$12 students

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Charlotte NC. –  En una era en donde la información se diluye tan rápido entre mensajes, videos y fotografías sin sentido, es difícil entender la cultura de amarse a uno mismo, sin perder la empatía por los demás. Es común,  entre humanos, interactuar sin realmente comunicarse.

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Asheville Creative Arts has accomplished something haunting, romantic, nostalgic and innovative in Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins. Ostensibly, ACA produces children’s theater, but the company’s ambitious works appeal to both youths and adults. This most recent show is onstage at The Magnetic Theatre through Sunday, April 15.

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“It’s amazing and very exciting to have reached our 5th Year Milestone” says ACA co-Founder Abby Felder, “and we are continuing our growth as we look to our next 5 years with a renewed commitment to using sophisticated aesthetics and creative storytelling, and embracing diversity, equity and inclusion.  The arts are a powerful tool for social change and each of our shows and educational programs aims to provide a creative and profound space for our young people and their families to practice abstract thinking and empathy necessary for creating a more just and peaceful future world.”

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