Photo courtesy M. C. PhotosLiving LegendWalton County’s Pioneering Spirit Lives on Through the Storytellers of Grit & Grace
By Kristy Seeliger
It took grit, or courage, to move to this part of the country in the early days – and by the grace of God, we’re still here,” says Anne Robinson. A native Walton County resident who is deeply passionate about the roots of the area she calls home, Robinson is a founding member of Grit & Grace, a local nonprofit community theater group that strives to preserve the history of Walton County through the time-honored art of storytelling.
Each year, Grit & Grace breathes life into local legends by acting them out on stage. These performances, ranging from inspiring pioneer tales and humorous scandals to sentimental war narratives and heartbreaking tragedies, have a common thread: Each play tells about the historical folk life of Walton County, which was founded in 1824.
In 1999, Robinson saw a need to preserve the county’s rich early history when she and 11 other Walton County residents got the idea after attending a similar folk-life production in Georgia called “Swamp Gravy.” With help from the Georgia group, Robinson and fellow founding members set their sights on a production that Walton County could call its own.
“People came to tell us stories about growing up or stories they heard from their parents and grandparents,” says Robinson, who served as president of Grit & Grace for the first six years and continues to serve on the organization’s advisory committee. “We just needed a writer to turn them into a play.”
The group brought in playwright Richard Geer of Chicago and songwriter Jim Cooper of Seaside, along with a dance choreographer from New York, a light and sound technician from Las Vegas and a stage designer from the University of Wisconsin to produce the inaugural production in 2000.
The first production was performed in a church in the town of Freeport, which is centrally located in the county. It did not take long for Grit & Grace to win the support of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners and become “The Official Folk Life Production of Walton County, Florida.”
“The mission of Grit & Grace is to perpetuate the history of the county,” says Joe Stanko, marketing chairman, board member and a performer with the organization. “We tell stories that go back to the discovery of the area,” adds the natural storyteller.
Hundreds of Emerald Coast residents and visitors have been entertained and enlightened during the past nine years by volunteers such as Stanko. Today, the group performs at Freeport High School and has started a building fund in hopes of someday constructing a theater it can call home.
Grit & Grace hires professional players for script writing, directing, sound, lighting and original music. All other positions, including actors, band members, costume designers, set builders and stage crew, are volunteers. Children are able to participate in all areas.
“The shows bring us together from all over the county,” says Robinson.
Want to go?
This year’s production, titled “Café Tales and Tattlers,” will draw audiences with overheard accounts that take place at cafés around the county. Not to worry: The group obtains permission from families and those involved before depicting any person in a production. With script writing and direction by Jeremiah Campbell and music direction by Jim Garrett, the show is planned to be one of drama, song, dance and heritage.
Performances are scheduled on Saturday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 12, at 2 p.m. at the Freeport High School auditorium. Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for senior citizens, members and groups of 10 or more; and $8 for students.
The magic of Grit & Grace comes to life with the help of many volunteers and shared adventures from area residents. To share some of your magic, call (850) 835-2032 or visit gritandgrace.org.