A town already starring some great theater performances, Pigeon Forge also hosts the nation’s only Civil War theater, a unique experience that may never be replicated. Buttonwillow Civil War Theater on Parkway offers a moving and funny 90-minute play featuring two main characters in a dialog that reveals much about America’s great tragedy that was never taught in school.
Lead actor and author of the play, Steve Gipson, has been fascinated by the war between the North and the South all of his life, researching it even as a child, and chasing down national archives to get a realistic picture of the war. Using his talents as a stand-comic and a cartoonist, Gipson eventually created this performance of a chance meeting between a brother and sister – each loyal to a different side – who engage in family squabbling that is alternately high comedy and heart-rending emotion.
During the encounter, a great deal of the true reality of the time is offered to the audience that will be new to many people. Gipson says the play is “politically incorrect” but absolutely true to the actual history “with no holds barred.” The show is designed to inform both Civil War buffs and lay persons.
Audiences consistently rave about the performance, offering a slice of America, and delivered with American humor, that all can appreciate. The theater says children from about age 6 and up can comprehend the material, which is best suited for fourth grade and older.
The family -friendly dialog is a profound home-schooling experience for those families who come to the Smokies for the wealth of education that the area supplies in such a fun and engaging way, and Buttonwillow is a superb example of this.
The play, “Granddaddy’s Watch”, is set in 1864, with the Civil War still ongoing. Based on true events and characters, but in a well crafted fictional encounter between the two characters, the story is of a die-hard Unionist officer, played by Gipson himself, meeting up with his sister, an East Tennessee farmer and staunch Confederate secessionist, trying to protect her children and land from the ravages of the war.
Between them, during the course of the play, they illustrate the struggle that tore the country apart – each trying to do the best for their beloved Tennessee, meeting on what has become a battlefield to do their best to understand their differences.
At the time of writing, Jodi Moore plays the sister and her performance is brilliant, offering perfect comedic timing and relief from the stern (and funny) performance of Gipson. This role was originally played by Gipson’s wife as they took the performance on the road across the country, eventually settling near Chattanooga in a historically accurate setting that even served offered meals from original recipes of the time.
The play moved to Pigeon Forge in 2019, the dinner theater was replaced with concessions, and the play became the thing. And audiences here couldn’t be happier. Over its 30 years of performance, Steve Gipson’s masterpiece has been nationally reviewed, and featured on PBS. Tripadvisor travelers call it among the top 10% of attractions worldwide.
The show itself is two hours, with an introductory monologue from Steve Gipson. There are two performances daily, and the theater is open year-round. The theater offers programs for schools and church groups, and a book and DVD are available, along with many keepsakes available in the theater store.
Buttonwillow Civil War Theater
2135 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863