Of Farms and Fables combines the efforts of professional and non-professional artists by engaging artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and acting. The result will be an original performance in October of 2011 which will engage performers and audience in dialogue about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dog Wants Out Wants In! (Seth Asa)

I'm so excited about this post I'm putting part of it in large print...

On Saturday, October 29th, at 6:30pm, before the Of Farms and Fables evening performance, the music group Dog Wants Out will treat us to a live acoustic performance!

Dog Wants Out has been performing their brand of Alternative "Funtry" music for Farmer's Markets and local food events to help promote local agriculture and healthy, sustainable living.  They have graciously provided us with original recordings, from their upcoming album for use in our production.  For more information about Dog Wants Out, please see my earlier blog post and/or listen to my phone interview with John Zavodny on the Production Audio widget (right-hand column).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sound/Sight/Thought Bytes from Cue-to-Cue (Cory)

CLACK. Door opens.
CLACK. And closes.

"We're at five." "Thank you, five."

"Going dark onstage."

Stacy plops a bag of Broadturn-spiced popcorn down on the tech table, next to the dregs of a bag of chocolate-covered gummi bears and a box of day-old Dunkin Donuts coffee; Jennie gasps a happy greeting for "the best popcorn in the world."

"Are these pink?" asks Flora, fingering the set's four fabric rows. "No, they're white, that's the lights," says Emily.

CLACK.
CLACK.

"Heather, what kind of gobo is that?"
"It's called 'sponge.' It's slightly out of focus, too."
"I like that."

Tali in a red hoodie and blue baseball cap. Emma's paint-stained pants and crocs. Claire with a floppy-brimmed hat, whispering with checkered-dressed Flora in the center vom. Penny in her "Karen" digs, plain waitress's clothing - and divested of her usual Penny costume: her khakis, her boots, and her iPhone, which she leaves with me.

"Are we good in here for places?"
"We are. I just need to use the bathroom. Oh, and I need to pile that stuff in the barn real quick."

Penny paces a moment. Stacy, sitting in the audience, encourages, "Just look out here and find my face." "Oh, I'm planning to," Penny replies. "Every time."

CLACK.
CLACK.

All actors onstage. Where's Jennie? Milling, murmuring, nerves. Emily instructs everybody to "just stand still one moment while I get my head on."

CLACK.
CLACK.

"It's a totally different vibe tonight," Stacy says to me.
"Yeah. Completely different feel."

Emily: "These are our rehearsal fence posts. The real ones are on the way. Please note that the REAL fence has five posts, not four."
Chris: "I can't work this way!"
Laughter.

CLACK.
"Can we tape that thing?" Seth storms to the offending door with a roll of gaff tape. "Oh, no. It's that kind of door."
CLACK.

Emily's head is now on.
"All right, let's get set for the top of the show."

Sound, preshow: go.
Who's your farmer? sings Dog Wants Out. Who's your farmer?
The preshow sequence ends.

A lot of things have changed about this play from Draft 1 to Draft 2 to Draft 3.
But the opening moment is something that hasn't changed.

Just past dawn. A field of weeds and two workers – OMAR and RAMÓN.

They stretch.
They spritz themselves with bug repellant.
They pull on plastic gloves – snap!
OMAR puts in iPod earbuds.
The workers begin weeding.

In our very first script conversations, Claire, Jennie and I dreamed up a pair of "weeders" who would weed throughout the play. The image was important to me and my understanding of the structure of a farm, as something with two different trajectories: one forward-moving and innovative, the other cyclical, conservative, sustaining. I wrote that moment in January - the very first chunk of script to make it from my head to the page, and one of the very few to remain essentially untouched, as-is, through the performance draft. And we just got to see it pop off the page, in vibrant sound and color, for the first time.

Tech's the day where the creative juices flowing from all the artists hard at work on a play come together for the first time to marinate the play in a giant vat of courage, risk, color, and heart. Words meet actors meet music meet lights meet puppets meet costumes meet scenery meet movement and, as a whole, become more than their sum.

One ingredient's still missing: people to watch it happen. On Thursday, we toss that into the pot, ready or not.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Chance to See (Jennie)


Today, today is the day of our long-awaited Load-In.  I have been in the theater, what used to be the Great Room at Camp Ketcha, all day and I imagine I’ll be here well into the night.  All around me there is activity.  Seth and Heather building and testing at the tech table, Perry and Chris rigging The Barn, Gregg hanging curtains in the hall’s massive windows to block light during our matinee performances. 




I took a break about an hour ago and went out for a walk on the Camp Ketcha grounds.  I was in need of fresh air and the last of the day’s light.  There’s a trail across the fields that heads out through the camp’s ropes course in the woods, past a pond and across the Libby River Farm, owned by the Scarborough Land Conservation Trust, ending at the Scarborough Marsh.  The Libby River in its current honorific is named for my ancestor some twelve generations back, a Mr. John Libby, who settled on Pine Point in 1632. 

When I left the room, I had no idea where I was headed or how long I would be gone.  I emerged from the woods into a clearing with a stalwart pine on its southern border.  I rounded a bend and passed through long grasses, bittersweet popping like fire to my left and right.  Burning bush, deeper maroon and purple, hunched low in the cattails.  I was careful to keep my feet dry.  As I walked, I thought about journeys. Discoveries made, unexpected surprises: a stand of birch with a dozen leaves remaining on their topmost branches, saluting the season, beckoning nightfall.  A nervous Penny Jordan staunchly delivering her lines and creatively concocting solutions through a minefield of dropped cues.  Eddie Benson and his daughter Kati, in my rehearsal room, coaching our actors in the staging of a cow chase.
  

I thought about journeys: how we start without knowing, how we traverse multiple subtle landscapes, how we find comfort in reminders of home.  I walked steadily across land once roamed by generations of my own family, unsure of my goal but purposeful in uncertainty, remembering beginnings, honoring passage.  Nearing the marsh at the end of the trail I felt my pace quicken with anticipation of the finish and when I reached it I discovered: an observation deck.  A place to gain perspective

Why do I make community-based theater?  What has been the value of my Farms & Fables journey?  Only a bit of perspective.  Only a chance to see, with eyes that are cleared with wonder: a complex, delicate, and vital ecosystem of human relationships, and a collaborative creation of great beauty.

THANK YOU to Mike Vance, Mike Hahn, Bill Hahn, Cheryl Laz, Johnny Speckman, and Claire's friends for all of their help with Load-In today!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Final Countdown (Claire)

We're in full swing here in Farms and Fables land and I mean FULL. With only eight days left until this play is OVER, and we're doing our darnedest to make sure to make them count, and life is a flurry- no a blizzard of activity: Seth mixes audio on the fly while we run the play over and over again, nailing down the details and picking up cues, and while Cory is putting the finishing touches on the program, Jennie is making plans for our last few of rehearsals, and I run around like a chicken with no head, gathering last minute props and touching up puppets. Even my grammar is going full blast- what a run-on sentence!

My emotions are a pendulum. At one extreme, a constant urge to go faster, and get more and more accomplished. "ONLY EIGHT MORE DAYS! GO! GO!" I hear over and over as I work- my life is a rock anthem, and this is it's theme song:



On the other hand, I have sudden fits of wallow-y, petulant and nostalgia-soaked stubbornness that screams "Noooooooooooo!!!!!" at the thought of this project ending. This side of me wants to curl up in a blanket, make a scrap book out of everything that this project has been and slow the remaining seconds down to a snail's pace so I can savor absolutely everything there is to savor.

Of course, I have no control over any of this. Time marches on at it's own pace, whizzing past in a dizzying frenzy of to-do lists and rehearsals. We're on lunch break right now in yet another marathon rehearsal day and the chatter ranges from a discussion of our sandwiches to cues that we have just run.

Emma and I are siting next to each other and while she plays me her new favorite song from her computer she makes this beautiful comparison: Autumn corresponds with the end of the show. She calls it, "the end of the glorious season and ephemeral perfume that is summer. Farmers slow down and relax after the hectic sprint that is summer, and at the end of the show the actors from Farms and Fables will be able to too." Imagine that.

I much my sandwich, make a few adjustments to my to-do lists, Emma goes back to homework. Emily groans: We've got ten more minutes left in our break. You can feel the mood shift as we all hunker down- heads down, noses to the grind stone. And in my head, the anthem starts up again.... "its the fi-nal count down! Bah-duh BAH BUH! Bah- Duh- Bup-Bup-Bah!....."

Friday, October 21, 2011

They're Growing Music! (Seth Asa)

In my teen years, my mother was a writer for The Journal Tribune. I spent afternoons at the newspaper office in Biddeford, browsing promotional CD's by aspiring bands hoping to be reviewed. Later, as a WBLM intern, I made my way through more promotional CD's never destined for 100,000 Watts of Rock N Roll airwaves. I analyzed combinations of appealing band names, cover artwork, and song titles, and chose my auditions accordingly. Using this system, I found some of my most enduring favorites.

Part of my duty as Sound Designer for Of Farms and Fables is to help choose music for the show.

I began on the information superhighway, cruising for Maine bands and songs about farming. With blazing fast speed, I was directed to www.reverbnation.com/dogwantsoutband and the music of Dog Wants Out. Loved the name. Loved the artwork. Loved the song titles. As I listened to Moo for Me, Who's Your Farmer? and Pickle You, I felt I had discovered a musical voice for the show. Upon visiting www.dogwantsout.org, I learned of our shared goal for the promotion of local agriculture, farms, and farmers.

Jennie and I struck up a dialogue with John Zavodny of Dog Wants Out regarding our desire to use DWO's music for Of Farms and Fables. Not only was John open to the idea, he provided several additional as-yet-unpublished recordings for our use!

It is a rare blessing, when searching through band names, artwork, and song titles, to discover real people and to make new relationships. We are fortunate to have been given access to advance recordings intended for the forthcoming Dog Wants Out album, "The Farm Market Waltz."

To hear an audio piece featuring clips from "The Farm Market Waltz" with excerpts from a phone interview with John Zavodny of Dog Wants Out, simply follow the link below or use the "Production Audio" widget in the column on the right-hand side of the page.


http://soundcloud.com/sethasa/john-zavodny-on-dog-wants-out


Dog Wants Out plays "Alternative Funtry Music" with a folk sensibility. Their set list is designed to provide hum-along opportunities for the farmer's market crowd and includes "He Thinks my Tractor's Sexy," "Who's Your Farmer?" "Melt with You," and "Harvest Moon."

Dog Wants Out is Amy Arnett on Fiddle, Anna McGalliard on banjo and washboard, Chris Marshall on bass, Sara Trunzo singing and playing the mandolin, Cody Zane on suitcase trapset, and John Zavodny on guitar and vocal.

WERU Community Radio is the Media Partner for the Dog Wants Out Farmer's Market Tour (www.weru.org).

Dog Wants Out is an initiative of the Maine Community Music Project, a Unity Barn Raiser's Program (www.unitybarnraisers.org).

To learn more about Dog Wants Out, please visit:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Changing Seasons and Roles (Cory)

I've been quiet on the blog but very much present on the project, more present physically than I've been since leaving Maine last August - living again in Portland, settling into the next and new stage of my playwright role, and watching in rehearsals as the characters in our play enter their own next stage of development - now, largely, out of my hands.


Parts of these characters were once farmers and farm workers I've met or characters from stories and articles that I've read. Then they became a chorus of voices clamoring in the blank space between thought and page, a jumble of emotions and motivations of which I had to make sense. Now they're undergoing a final metamorphosis. The actors are molding their own three-dimensional figures from my two-dimensional pages of words. Sidney's a smart spunky redhead, a hand-talker with a jutting hip and a flint-hard squint when she's working on a problem or trying to figure somebody out. Walker is tall and lanky, spry and wry, with a half-grin and an unapologetic vulnerability. Uncle Ed relishes the taste of certain words like sweet and sticky taffy and has moments of delighting in his own power over Mitch. The people of Farms & Fables are inflating to round and full with life - and now and then, Jennie and I hear the hiss of air escaping, evidence of a hole we have to plug up.

What do I do as the playwright during this new and final stage?

Help plug those holes (it's a team effort between playwright, director, and actor: this week, Jennie, Harley, and I are tackling Uncle Ed).

Tweak roles to fit the realistic abilities of a five-year-old performer.

Adjust language to reflect the reality of the community - whether it's changing "driveway" to "dooryard" (thanks, Stacy), reworking Karen's exhortations to her daughter about college as per Penny's insight, or taking out "bananas in the shade" when Jae says it doesn't feel real.

Answer questions about motivation or backstory, when I can.

Work with Seth, our sound designer, to interview farmers for material for our interludes.

Man our booth at farmers' markets.

Attend Green Drinks with Kati Benson King and hand out postcards.

Be ready to become Emily's ASM (helping to tape the space, carry props, be on book) or Jennie's AD (coming up/leading exercises, solving blocking problems) or Claire's pasty-handed chauffeur at a moment's notice.

Teach my playwriting workshop at The Telling Room to a group of very cool and open-minded teens.

There's a black fabric that's used widely in agriculture, a woven plastic that covers a bed with holes cut or burned into it, at intervals. Those are the holes where you plant your plants and grow what you're growing. The fabric has the benefit of greatly minimizing the amount of weeding that you have to do. It also has drawbacks: it can protect and foster pests, keep the soil from drying and block its absorption of healthful sunlight.


A bed of peppers on Jordan's Farm. Photo: Claire Guyer.

Depending on the weather conditions and on the season, the benefits of using fabric or plastic on beds can outweigh the disadvantages - or vice versa. During my last weeks on Ryder Farm this season, we spent a lot of time pulling up fabric. It had gotten us through the weedy spring but was causing problems in the wet summer and into early autumn, keeping the soil wet and letting root-gnawing pests thrive.

The technique of sitting alone at my desk wrestling with the script was what the play needed for a while, but solo writing season is over. Now we've torn up the fabric. What this dirt needs is sun.

...And, in less than two weeks, an audience. Don't forget to reserve your tickets.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dressing the Character (Renee)


As the weather has gotten colder and the leaves have started to change into their brilliant Autumn colors, I've been living in the summer-time world of Of Farms and Fables. The lovely photographs taken at Broadturn, Benson and Jordans Farms have been an invaluable reference for me while designing the costumes for OFAF. The colors found on the farms and clothing choices of the farm workers inspired me just as much as the script which Cory Tamler lovingly wrote.

For me, rough sketches are a form of brainstorming, they're quick, far from a finished product and a way for me to come up with a design road map for a production. Here are some of the rough, preliminary costume sketches done for OFAF:














While working on the final OFAF costume design sketches, the characters started to become more defined after conversations with the Director and final casting decisions made. Here are the final costume renderings:























One of the most interesting, and potentially, complex element of the production's costumes are the wings made of weeds which the entire cast wears at the end of the play.



The fantastical moment created a very real challenge for me as I problem solved ways to construct the wings. After exploring some different ideas, we settled on the "cape-style" weed wings made out of jute erosion cloth:




The erosion cloth made out jute, a natural hardy fiber, appealed to me for a couple of reasons. Erosion cloth is used in farming and landscaping, it's inexpensive and best of all, when pulled apart, can be used to create the look of long weeds.

Coming up Next: Experimenting with paint and dye techniques and sewing the wings!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Harvesting Hard (Jennie)


Well, everything is rolling now. 


Rolling into production.  We have moved on from scene work to run larger portions of the play, allowing us to gain a bit more perspective on what our production is shaping up to be.  Most of our cast members are beginning to work without their scripts, freeing their bodies in rehearsals and giving the piece more breathing room.  Seth is bringing more and more sound material into rehearsals, underscoring our work with a parallel life and energy.  We are working more often with an almost complete company, getting to know each other better, beginning to move as a group.  Construction on scenery begins this week.  Posters are going up all around town and throughout the greater Portland area.  Postcards are being mailed.  We’ve begun to think about load-in.  We are excitedly chatting with friends and family who are planning to attend performances, some traveling from a great distance.  We scramble to keep up with the forward momentum, thrilling at the ride.  Hiccups dot our days, temporarily slowing (or increasing?) the pace.  We are harvesting hard.  Flora brings bird feathers to rehearsal and learns her lines faster than I can read them to her.  Emily calls for quiet.  I sing to myself when no one is around, take a quick walk around the building.  People pour into the space, people pour out.  I take a morning moment with my script.  Cory leads a warm-up, then watches and takes notes.  Outside, the weather turns warm then back to cold, and the leaves begin their change.

We are looking for some help.  Would you like to join?
Please contact info@open-waters.org or call (207) 200-6982 if you are interested!  All volunteers will receive two complimentary tickets to the Farms & Fables performance of their choosing.

Love.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Update From Puppet Land (Claire)



Hello there, friends of OFAF- I’m writing to you this week from deep inside puppet work for this project and I couldn’t be happier.


Here I sit, typing away in the big front room of my apartment, affectionately known as “the studio” along with about 50 drawings of what cows might look like if you were having a dream about them, what cows actually look like, drawings of bird wings, sections of bird wings, pig faces, and pig legs. Its so fun to be here. Working on puppets is always a joy, but after the intellectual and physical challenges of being in rehearsals and working on a script, sitting down and fiddling with the intricacies of how to connect part a to part b is so satisfying. An instant feed back loop. There is also something innately magical about the task of making a puppet. From the beginning of any puppet design process, the basic idea is always to

take materials that have no life of their own, and find a way to put them together that will appear to live onstage. A heady, frankenstein-eque project, to be sure, but one of the most exciting and miraculous design processes there is.


As far as puppets in this play are concerned, I’ve got a minor barnyard to re-create: 5 dream cows, some pigs, a crow, a chicken, and even some seedlings. So the question is: how do you get from inanimate materials to a puppet that will live in the world of the play?


Well, heres a little sneak peak into the development of a dream cow:

I like to start with getting to know the animal I’m basing the puppet on really well. Since these dream cows will only exist in a characters dream, I know that they don’t have to be totally realistic, but they do have to read as cows and be believable in the scene.

I pull up some of the photos I took last summer while at Benson Farm and take a good look through, looking specifically for shapes, textures, specific lines- things that make this cow look particularly “cowy”.


I start drawing things out- cow legs, cow ears, cow noses- and start to investigate how the animal moves. Where is it’s center? When it walks, does it lead with it’s head? Shoulders? When it takes a deep breath, what part rises and falls? Is there any part of it that moves when it walks (like a tail? the head? What are the ears doing? How does the breath change when the animal is going fast? Slow? etc.)

Videos like this one go into constant replay, often underscored by whatever loud music is keeping me motivated at the moment (when in doubt, Modest Mouse usually does the trick for me. Try it!):



Sources like this give me access to “cow” gestures that are really useful when looking for authentic movements that communicate cow behavior- in this case, movements that real Holstein cows are apt to do when they are in an uncomfortable situation, such as the dairy show depicted in the video. This video in particular showcases some moves that have become personal favorites- the cow head toss, and the single firm step forward and back. Both of these seem to show the cow’s need to assert itself and evade the person who is trying to lead it- perfect behavioral gestures for cows who are being chased (like some of the cows will be in our play) or are appearing in a dream as menacing reminders of a painful memory.

This kind of discovery often leads to a physical investigation of the movement, (AKA me walking around the room trying to toss my head like a cow) which always proves much more useful than I think it will- really. The sillier, the better, because once I can replicate the movement I’m interested in recreating in the puppet, I can break that movement down, isolating which parts of the body are directly or indirectly involved. Once I have tried out the head toss a couple of times, for example, I can discover that what looks like a single upward motion actually has three parts- down up down- so the head makes roughly the shape of an inverted letter V and also usually requires that the cow’s front feet are firmly planted. Inevitably, this stage of discovery coincides with one of my roommates coming into the studio to ask me, “What are you doing?”, at which point I either choose to sit down and start drawing out different ideas about how to make a puppet do what I just did OR go into the kitchen and make a snack. (Its a toss up.)


Once I have some ideas on paper, I’ll go back to the script to find out what the technical requirements of the puppets are. Will puppeteers be using their puppets for a long time or a short time? Are there any specific movements that the puppet has to accomplish? With these realities of the play in mind, I’ll start to build models of what I think might work. Often they end up being what I take to production meetings- like this model of a dream cow here. (excuse the desk clutter.) See the pig in the middle wearing something? Thats it!



Ok. So I couldn’t find a figurine of a person, so the dream cow is being modeled for us here by a pig finger puppet. What you see here is a skeletal version of what the dream cow will be like- one long pole supporting a semi-realistic head with a head toss line attached to the middle of the face that will allow the puppeteer to complete (my favorite) down-up-down head toss. What you don’t see is the light weight fabric “skin” that I’ll be building around the neck of the cow that will obscure the puppeteer's face, but be transparent enough to allow the puppeteer to see out of it and appear opaque in direct light.


And there you have it folks! I’ll do my best to get some video of one of these guys in motion when they’re ready so you can see it “live” before we get to show time. Till then, don't forget to start making plans to come see the show! We've got tickets for sale- find us on facebook! Tell everyone you know about this! If just for the dream cow puppets alone- (kidding, Jennie. Just kidding!) this is going to be a play you won't want to miss!


Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Stand (Wade)

One constant throughout the discussion of publicity for Farms and Fables has been:
"You should really have a stand at the Farmer's Market."
Well starting today at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, that vision is reality.


Armed with information sheets, post cards, posters, a banner and a modest wooden structure, Jennie and Seth greeted shoppers and farmers alike, and doled out plenty of information about the production and performances.

As Jennie's husband, my biggest time contribution to the Farms and Fables production process had been childcare for our two year old, Simon.  As chief proponent of establishing a farmers market presence, I decided that building a theatrical farm stand (that will later double as a ticket booth) was too good an opportunity to pass up.  I set to work with my very limited stenciling and carpentry skills.



The finished product is something I'm quite proud of, and I hope it will serve Open Waters Theatre Arts for years to come.


Huge thanks to Scott Nash, Nancy Nash and Scott Whitehouse of NASHBOX for the amazing logo and banner designs, which won many compliments. Thanks to John Bliss of Broadturn Farm for the photo.  And thanks to Bayside Print Services for bringing it all to life.

Also thanks to Maine Hardware on St. John for opening at 8 and having a 10x10 party tent in stock when my rain cover plan didn't "work out".

See you at the market!

Wade


Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Sounds of "Silence" (Seth Asa)

I have recently returned to the backwoods of Maine after fifteen years of living in cities, eleven of which were spent in near-desert conditions.  There is a profound difference in baseline silence here, free from the sonic weight of jackhammers, sirens, and constant traffic.  As I made my way into New England, at the end of the long drive from the Pacific Northwest, I had only to roll down my window and I could hear life in the trees that lined the highway.  There is no true silence here (or anywhere on Earth) but in the backwoods, microcosmic worlds provide a subdued, yet rich, aural landscape.

Here in Maine, all senses are engaged.  The autumn air smells crisp, the handle of the chopping maul feels cold in the hands, the stars in the sky are a tapestry of light, the harvest tastes ripe, and among the crickets and autumn birds the rustle of browned leaves landing upon their kin signals the turn of seasons.

The audio widget at the top of the page will allow you to hear some of the nature recordings I have been making for "Of Farms and Fables."  These online sounds are best enjoyed with headphones... especially the clip of leaves falling, a gentle sound almost as quiet as the moon.

I will continue to update the playlist as I collect new audio.  Happy listening!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pure Delight (Jennie)

We are now one week into our rehearsal process.  It has been a full and productive week, the highlights of which, for me, include:
  • Introductions on Neftali’s first day of rehearsal, when Emily and I stumbled through stating our name, hometown, and favorite food in Spanish as well as English.
  • The day that everyone participated in warm-ups: three actors, one stage manager, one director, and a sound designer.  We had a pretty functional game of “yes” going . . . (my perennial favorite).
  • Flora Bliss, prompted by her mom, reading the role of Hannah at our first read-thru and sharing the scene with her older sister Emma.  That was some sweetness.
  • Our first stab at staging the cow chase.  Need I say more?
  • Teaching the whole company our gesture sequences for “transplanting” and “harvesting chard”.  
Concurrent with the joy and richness of rehearsals, I am still grappling with a fair amount of the administrative headache required to see this project through to production.  I received a call this morning from Amy Anderson of The Forecaster, a local newspaper that serves the greater Portland area, and it was a well-timed call.  Amy is a good reporter, she asks good questions, and the interview provided me with an almost therapeutic opportunity to re-connect with the central lifeline of this project.  Questions like: “Can you describe what you’ve learned?” and “What has been most rewarding?” whisk me away from the day-to-day particulars and demand that I invest in a little perspective.  Beyond simply remembering the events of the project for myself, it is the requirement that I articulate their meaning to another breathing person that rejoins me with the gratitude and joy of making work I believe in.

What has been most rewarding?  Well, the relationships.  The long and complex process of building relationships is both challenging and creatively fruitful for me.  I can remember the first time that Penny introduced me to Pee Wee and Neftali and that she then sent me out into the fields to harvest cucumbers with them.  I remember how nervous and shy I was, how little Spanish I could muster, and the fact that I had never in my life seen a cucumber plant.  I can remember hesitantly waving to them every time I visited the farm stand and I remember that day when they waved to me first.  I remember all of the instruction I’ve received, all of the conversations with Tali through which I learned his musical tastes, and the day when I didn’t need to be told what to do in a row of beans.  Now, added to my memory bank is the day that Tali first read the role of Omar at our second draft reading, the day of his first rehearsal when we all introduced ourselves in Spanish and English, and the day when I taught him how to harvest chard in the context of a theatrical transition:


Ultimately, I appreciate that this project has taken its time, that it celebrates complexity, and that it doesn’t foster time spent on easy roads.  I appreciate that it challenges me to seek creative and educational partnerships with people I might never otherwise even meet, and that it allows me to make something directly out of information and experiences that are brand new to me.  And it is unspeakably fun.  For heaven’s sake, last week I staged a cow chase.  Of all things, a cow chase!  I found myself instructing actors: “If you run at her this way, she’s probably going to go that way.”  “Never get between the cow and the fence!”  Now that is just pure delight.

And onward we march . . .

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Addition of Voice (Seth Asa)

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting the cast that will perform "Of Farms and Fables," as well as other members of our production team, for our first full read-through of the play.

The first read is always exciting for me as a Sound Designer. This is my introduction to the voice of the piece. When I read a script, all characters have nearly the same voice, i.e, mine... I have many talents but acting really isn't one of them! Thus, when I am graced with the sound of the actors - their timing, the tones of their voices, and the human personality they breathe into the artful spirit of the printed word - I can begin to compose the aural landscape of their lives.

A week ago I was reading this play and hearing vocal tones limited by my own experiences and community. Because of the gift of voice given by our actors on Sunday, I now hear lives of toil; ecosystems of marriage; stresses and rewards of enterprise; frenetic exuberance of youth; and the curious wonder of innocence.

The sonic environment is an important part of one's disposition. For example, many people find the sound of the ocean to be relaxing. For one person, the dull roar and crash of surf may be a reminder of beach vacations of youth. Another person may be calmed by the white noise; the ever-present static that washes out all negative sonic space and engulfs the auditory consciousness. For a third, the sound may subconsciously recall the ebbs and flows heard inside the womb. Whatever the reason, the listener is calmed by the sea... and peace can do wonders for human interactions.

Likewise, moods shift with changing seasons. When the earth is teeming with new life at the start of spring and into summer, the lively sounds of birds (and bees) introduce us to our days, while the crickets and bats chirp us goodnight. Whereas, in the somewhat subdued sonic landscape of winter, the absence of living voice can foster disharmony and melancholy.

How does the sound of a farm affect a person? Do farmers have near-instinctual physiological responses to roosters crowing or cows lowing? Does the well-tuned ear distinguish a particular rustle of leaves as the herald of an impending storm? And how does a lifestyle of interdependence with rural nature affect voice, versus the mechanized stop-and-go of an urban backdrop? If we pay close enough attention, can we hear a person's whole life in the tone of their voice?

Tomorrow I will visit Jordan Farm and Broadturn Farm, where I hope to answer some of these questions... by listening to their worlds! Recordings to come... :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

First Days: The Arrival of Autumn (Jennie)

Flora Bliss (Hannah) on a break at the first full company read-thru.

On the Broadturn blog this week, John began with a reminder of the fall season’s propensity to induce nostalgia.  The thought has stuck with me through the week as I’ve repeatedly experienced flash memories that arrive with a strong, brisk breeze and a baking sun upon my head.  These remembrances are brief, but they fill every pore of my awareness and block out all knowledge of the present moment.  Suddenly and out of nowhere I am crossing a campus lawn, seeing the entry to my dorm building or, strangely and most often, running the length of a field for hockey practice. 

Friday was my first "truly fall" harvest day.  In the tomato hoop house, there was a beautiful cold wind to accent a shimmering sun on the grasses of the pasture.  Every time I reached up to pick a Sun Gold Tomato from above my head, I would watch the sunlight sift through my fingers and feel the coolness of a world poised on the edge of winter.  I would have thought that I would harvest faster on a day that didn’t have me sweating in a sweltering heat, but I found the opposite.  It seemed that we all moved with the pace of the day, as though we were poised, too.

This first true day of fall, the first morning that my pellet stove was instructed by its thermostat to ignite and warm the den, arrived one day before the start of our rehearsals.  I have been preparing for this chapter of our project for a very long time.  Entering the rehearsal stage constitutes a momentous shift of focus and energy for everyone involved in our project.  Standing in that hoop house on Friday, I felt this pivotal transition of our project underscored by the seasonal change all around me.  With that stunning coexistence of summer and winter in a single moment, the longing for days past merged with an exhilarating awareness of the future, our project has eased into its most productive season aided and abetted by the arrival of Autumn.

My mother documented each fall beginning of my childhood with an annual First Day of School Picture.  For her, I have recorded (at the age of 32) my departure for the First Day of Rehearsal:


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

At the Sill (Jennie)

Oh, it is an exciting time.  Last week, for me, was chock-full of meetings:
  • Tuesday afternoon: met with Renee, Claire, and Travis.  Discussed initial concepts for costumes, props, and puppetry.  
  • Tuesday evening: met with Cory via Skype to discuss the ALMOST FINAL draft of the play. 

  • Wednesday lunch: met with Emily to draft the initial rehearsal schedule.  Miraculously, everything fits (so far) into our allotted rehearsal hours!
  • Wednesday afternoon: met with Chris Price to discuss initial scenic design concepts and USE OF SPACE.
These are early sketches/notes of mine, and are not likely to have much in common with the final design!
  • Wednesday evening: met with the Advisory Board to discuss PR efforts, the Kickstarter campaign, and volunteer recruitment.
  • Thursday afternoon: met with Gregg and Heather at Camp Ketcha to answer venue questions like: how much power do we have?  Chatted with Heather about initial approaches to her lighting design.
Gregg discusses the venue with Camp Ketcha director Tom Doherty.
  • Thursday night: attended the Maine Farmland Trust “Forever Farm” event at Broadturn Farm, where I chatted with the interns and saw Penny for a moment.  Even Eddie and Bec were there!  I got to show them the newly renovated barn facilities . . .
Stella guards the Forever Farm.
  • Friday morning: worked at Broadturn.  Harvested potatoes and beans with Croix.
  • Friday afternoon: met with Scott Nash and Nancy Gibson-Nash of Nashbox Metropolitan.  This powerhouse team of artist/illustrator/designers is creating our publicity materials.  We met to discuss their most recent sketches and next steps!
Last week was marked by a barrage of in-person meetings, but I conducted a lot of phone meetings as well.   I talked with three new cast members, one funder, one farmer’s market, a new fiscal sponsor, and an insurance company, just to name a few.  I get so caught up in the business of moving from one moment to the next, that I sometimes forget just how diverse my day has been.  I forget to pause and notice the remarkable experiences I've had, the thrilling conversations, the new information I've absorbed.  Talking with a farmer about e-coli mastitis one moment, discussing the use of picnic coolers as tables the next, and finishing up with the intricacies of special event coverage.  Amazing!  It is an exciting time full of exchanges, ideas, arrangement . . . all of the many pieces of the project are traveling on their own course to completion, beginning to complement each other, and occasionally colliding with one another.  Three days before the start of rehearsals (!!!!!!!!), I am taking this moment to breathe.  Like watching a flower unfold at the sill, I am taking a moment to notice the daily, the hourly growth of this project we call: Of Farms and Fables.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pruning the Play (Cory)

It's September.

Five months ago, I turned in the first draft of Farms and Fables.

Yesterday, I completed the "final draft" - as final as it gets before design process and rehearsals start.

It's an old writers' adage that you have to "kill your darlings" and what people mean by that is that you have to be willing to cut stuff, even stuff you're desperately in love with, if it isn't a meaningful part of the project as a whole.

You could think of it another way, to the tune of growing: You can't focus just on the individual parts of a plant - you have to understand the plant as a whole. For example, keeping a tomato plant trimmed down to one primary life-giving vine can do a great deal to strengthen the plant as a whole and improve its fruit. The leaflets and the suckers, the secondary and tertiary branches splitting off that vine may look lovely and leafy, and like they'd bear bountiful fruit. But having multiple main stems stresses the plant, leading to smaller tomatoes, more foliage, and greater pest problems.





However you want to think of it, being willing - as an artist and a grower - to say "This should stay, but this should go" is incredibly important to the health of what you produce. For no other project have I killed as many of my darlings as I have during the writing of Farms and Fables and, ultimately, I am so glad that I did. The play is the better for it. I'm a better playwright for having learned to do it. But boy, was it sometimes hard.

Since there are so many passages that have been composted between Draft 1 and Draft 3, I thought I would share a few that were more difficult than others to let go of. These are snippets - some stage directions, some bits of dialogue - that, for a variety of different reasons, were scrapped. The play is healthier without them, but that doesn't mean I don't still regard them with wistful affection.

1. A monologue of Teddy's (the character who became Mitch)
TEDDY: It isn’t the same farm. I tried to love it like it was. This whole year. I tried. Half the house is gone, all Grandma’s quilts in the pantry, the old tools you always made me save. The old wood fence is gone. Where we used to write notes, leave them for Dad in that hole in the fencepost. Our tree burned. That thing was older than the USA I bet. The barn’s gone. It’s always been hard but I used to have these things here to remind me what I’m doing it for. That barn. Days when it seemed too hard and nothing was going to work out I used to be able to walk into the barn and remember: how you and me used to sleep out there sometimes, summer nights, itchy in the hay, and we’d wake up when dawn was on its way and the kittens started chasing swallows. Someone, Mom or Uncle Dan, would be coming in for milking, and I knew that Grandma had done the milking there when they were kids, and I knew the name of all the smells I smelled, and I knew what had to be planted or weeded or harvested that day, and now the barn’s gone, everything’s gone, and I don’t know what it is. The land. That used to be a farm.

2. Sidney's visit to Plentiful Valley Farm
SIDNEY in front of a sign: “Plentiful Valley Farm.” She wanders past fields choked with weeds. A few plants reach their tendrils out towards her from within the weed-prison, gasping for air and for water. She passes through a tractor graveyard strewn with sad metal corpses, mourned by one half-dead John Deere crying oily tears. A bored and bony farm animal wanders past her, more skeleton than beast. She comes to a house, knocks on the door.

3. Lily realizes the barn is burning
TEDDY: The air was dry like a dead grasshopper. All day I was sweaty as a devil, but the wind was strong and dried the sweat right away. I knew it was a bad day.
WEEDER 1: We had spent the morning trying to save the lettuce, but because it was so hot it had all bolted and was not good for wholesale. And after lunch we weeded and weeded but the weeds seemed never to get any less. We were driving home in the truck when our cell phones began to ring.
LILY: Are you in your truck? Get back here.
WEEDER 2: Lily knows when our day is over, it is over.
LILY: Get back here. Get back here.
WEEDER 2: Unless it is something seriously wrong.
LILY: Get back here.
WEEDER 2: She couldn’t explain anything. Just saying “Get back here” again and again.
LILY: There’s a fire on the farm.
WEEDER 1: Where? I don’t see any fire.
WEEDER 2: We didn’t understand. We’d seen nothing, no smoke, nothing.
LILY: There’s a fire on the farm. A fire.
WEEDER 1: A fire on the farm, a fire on the farm.
WEEDER 2: She just kept saying it. Finally we realized. She meant her brother’s farm. Her old farm. Family farm.
LILY: We have to go.
WEEDER 2: But she was shaking too hard. So my cousin drove us.

4. The fantasy sale of the Martin (now, Dayfield) farm
A cow is led in, wearing a huge ear tag that reads “Martin’s”. The cow’s body is marked, divided into different cuts of meat. A group of soberly dressed BUSINESSPEOPLE approach the cow and lay claim to different parts of its body. They then beat it to death. The cow is dragged off. SIDNEY, dressed as she was when she was a waitress, enters with plates of hamburgers. She calls off the names of the companies that have bought Martin land. “Wal-Mart! Webber & Webber Development! L.L. Bean! A rich guy from Boston! The Republican Party! Terrorists!” One of the BUSINESSPEOPLE always answers – “That’s me!” or “Over here!” or the like – and SIDNEY brings him/her a hamburger. The BUSINESSPEOPLE find the hamburgers delicious.

5. The foil of "agricultural tourism"
TEDDY: Have you been to Baker Farm? That place is no farm. They sell tote bags! They sell blueberry pies they bought from the deep freeze at Hannaford! Bill Baker!
LILY: The Bakers have the most organic U-Pick berry acreage in Southern Maine.
TEDDY: And you’ll pay eight bucks a quart plus your unborn child and both pinky toes for it! And they still couldn’t pay high school kids to weed the stuff without they’re getting subsidized!
LILY: I know how you feel about it.
TEDDY: And for what? Hayrides and cornstalk mazes in October. It’s not a farm, it’s an agricultural amusement park. Bill Baker!

6. Multiple variations on the fable of "The Little Red Hen" - this being my favorite
CHILD: The Little Red Hen woke up one morning at the crack of dawn and saw it was the time of year for planting wheat.
She went out blinking into the early morning sun and began to plant.
Along came the Dog, out for a morning stroll.
“That looks like hard work!” said the Dog. “I’ll help you if you’ll teach me how!”
“Oh, I don’t need help!” said the Little Red Hen. “It’s much easier if I just do it.”
“Suit yourself,” said the Dog, and kept walking.

The sun rose higher in the sky and the Little Red Hen kept on planting. It was tiring work, and she was starting to sweat and feel just a little dizzy.
Along came the Cat, chasing a butterfly.
“Hey, Little Red Hen!” said the Cat. “Looks like you still have a lot left to do. You need a hand? I’m happy to help if you show me what to do.”
“No thank you,” panted the Little Red Hen. “I’m doing just fine!”
“If you say so,” purred the Cat, and went back to chasing the butterfly.

In the scorching afternoon sun the Little Red Hen planted on, ever more slowly, dragging herself forward along the plowed rows. Her feathers felt like they were wilting in the heat.
Along came the Rat, nibbling on a hunk of bread.
“Wow, you look worn out,” said the Rat. “I don’t know much about wheat, but I can help you plant if you want. Or at least bring you a glass of water.”
The Little Red Hen could barely make a sound through her dry, swollen throat, but she managed to croak out, “No thanks.”
The Rat shrugged and went about more Rat-business.

At the end of the day the Dog, the Cat, and the Rat went to see how the Little Red Hen was doing. They found the field fully planted, and the Little Red Hen lying at the end of the field with her empty sack of wheat. The heat and dehydration had been too much for her and now she was dying. With her final breath she gasped out, “Dear Dog and Cat and Rat, I have planted the wheat but I won’t be here to harvest the wheat or grind the wheat into flour or bake the flour into bread or eat the bread. You will have to do it all yourselves.” And then she died.
The Dog, the Cat, and the Rat stood looking at her in silence. Finally the Dog spoke up: “But who will teach us how to do all those things?”
The three animals looked at each other and shrugged.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Curtain Up! It's Coming Together (Jennie)


On Wednesday of last week I pulled into the Jordan’s Farm parking lot at 12:15 in the afternoon. I was there to speak with Neftali, a seasonal worker and a nephew of the infamous Pee Wee. Tali has been at Jordan’s for at least five seasons. I have known him for over three years, having first picked beans and cucumbers with him during my earliest visits to the farm in the summer of 2008. Tali has been an active supporter of our project, keeping newspaper clippings that documented our progress, donating his copies of “Que Pasa!” (a magazine about Puerto Rico, his birthplace), and attending every event we’ve invited him to. In early August, he auditioned for our play, and on Wednesday of last week I wanted to offer him the role of Omar. Since he and Pee Wee always take their lunch from 12 to 1, I knew that it would be a good time to catch him.

During my drive to Jordan’s that afternoon, I had been in the middle of solving a somewhat unrelated problem. We had agreed to be part of Curtain Up!, a “kickoff to the Portland theater season” presented by Acorn Productions as part of the First Friday art walk. Fourteen theater companies would be presenting brief performances and I had no idea what our contribution would be. “I wonder if Penny would do it . . .?” I mused. Penny had recently accepted the role of Karen in our final production and it would be easy to read one of her scenes as part of the event. It was very late notice, however, Penny had had not one single rehearsal . . . it seemed like an unfair request. I dropped the thought and returned to the business of casting a play.

I joined Pee Wee and Tali at the shaded picnic table and asked how they had weathered the storm. Pee Wee had lost power for about two days and had some tree damage on his property. Tali, who lives in South Portland near me, had nothing to report. We discussed their work for the day – they are picking beans, still summer squash, still cucumbers. Pee Wee informed me that he would choose the job of harvesting green beans over cucumbers any day. And then I asked Tali if he would be in the play. After inquiring about the rehearsal schedule, he agreed to play the role of Omar.

I headed back to my car, but found myself changing direction to enter the farm stand instead. I found myself standing in front of Penny. I found myself asking her if she would be willing to read at the event on Friday. To my surprise, Penny said that if the timing of our performance slot worked into her day, she would do it. Multiple e-mails later, we had arranged for Penny’s participation in Curtain Up. “Boy I must like you a lot,” she said in one message. “I have stage fright already!”

On Friday, we assembled a portion of our cast in public for the first time. Penny drove over from the farm stand, read her role, and headed back to the stand just in time to close. Emma Cooper, daughter of Stacy Brenner at Broadturn, read her role of Sidney. Also joining us were Jesse James as Harry and Jeff Wax as Mitch.

We read three brief scenes, and when we finished, Penny said: “It’s really coming together! It’s been a long time since our first meeting at Flatbread.” Whew. No kidding. Three and a half years, to be exact. Three and a half years ago Penny helped me plan this project. A year ago she taught me how to pick peas. Last week, she stepped onto an outdoor stage in a public square in front of a respectable audience, and to those people, she read our play. And next month . . .

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene Comes Knocking: a hurricane special (Cory)

I'd promised a post about push-brooms - but Hurricane Irene convinced me to change my mind. Instead you get my face in a video post (I hear the kids call them vlogs, but how you are supposed to pronounce that is beyond me) about how a hurricane can change up a farm's rhythm - based on how things have gone yesterday and today on Ryder Farm in Brewster.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Man Who Created Paradise (Claire)

21.jpg

This week I'd like to share a fable with you.

I found it while poking through some of Wendell Berry's work last winter while Cory was in the throws of beginning the script, and the rest of us were battling the snowy Maine winter. At the time, we were in the habit of meeting once a month at Jennie's house (Cory attended with the help of Skype) and we would sip tea and talk about our next steps, how the script was coming, and the latest scuttlebutt from our farmer friends. In between those meetings, we would send articles, ideas, stories and anything else we came across back and forth, just to make sure our inspiration and connection to each other hadn't been doused by the cold weather.

This piece has become very special to me in the few months since I first found it, and I thought that I would share it here to bring you, our reading public, and the designers who have recently joined the Farms and Fables Team in on the story.

"The Man Who Created Paradise" was written by Gene Logsdon (Introduction by Wendell Berry and Photographs, including the one above, by Gregory Spaid) and tells the story of how he met a man named Wally Spero and a tractor named Alice that turned acres upon acres of strip mined Appalachia into productive and very active farm land. Its a lovely, quick read. I really hope you'll give it a try.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Plants Have a Rhythm" - a character study from Ryder Farm (Cory)

Where to begin?

This is the end of my first week as an intern on Ryder Farm Organic in Brewster, NY. I'll be here until October 1. Then I'll head back up to Maine for the month to experience rehearsals, do any odd jobs the OFAF team asks of me, and hopefully carve a pumpkin or two! (Halloween in Germany just isn't the same.)

And...where to begin?

Living on a farm has turned my brain into a veritable hothouse of thoughts and ideas about farming. Observations we'd made last summer that had slipped my mind until now resurface like perennials: for example, how each farmer and farm worker develops his or her own "work costume" - like Tali and his hoodies, Penny and her boots, the Ryder interns and their daily long-sleeved plaid-patterned dirty button-downs. New experiences spark new thoughts and connections: I worked my first-ever farmer's market yesterday, in Union Square, and interacting with customers, setting up displays (and seeing what sells and what doesn't!), answering questions, inventorying - it all really drives home why it's important to plant, harvest and prep the way that we do. On a farm that manages to stay afloat, there may be madness, but there is a whole lot of method to it.


ABOVE: What the Ryder Farm stand at Union Square Greenmarket looks like

There are many things I could post about. An endless number of things. But another important thing I've (re)learned through the process of writing, sharing, and revising our play is this big thing that a successful small farm and a good play have in common: They are about people. Just as audiences are far more likely to invest and engage in a piece of theater if they care and understand and connect to its characters, customers are far more likely to support a small farm if they know and trust and care about the people who work on it.

So I wanted to write about a person on Ryder: Fuad, the field manager.

In some ways, Fuad reminds me of Jordan Farm's PeeWee. Fuad hails originally from another country (Bangladesh). He has worked on Ryder Farm for 15 years. Like PeeWee, he has developed over his time here an important relationship with a strong woman whose family owns the farm (Betsey Ryder), a relationship based on trust and communication. On a farm where most of the workers change from season to season, Fuad provides a strong and capable through-line, training and managing each year's new team.

Of course, Fuad is also not like PeeWee at all. I think the point of divergence starts with that crucial question to which we're always returning: What is a farmer? We've asked PeeWee before if he considers himself a farmer, and he's said "No." Though Fuad does not own Ryder Farm, though he is an employee, there is no question that he considers himself a farmer. He was trained in organic farming at UCA Santa Cruz, has worked on many different farms in many different states of this country, and lives, breathes and dreams farming.

Farmers are chock-full of knowledge and information about what they do - but it can be pretty rare to find a natural sharer who'll try to let you in on some of that information without being asked first. Fuad, however, is just that. He's a born teacher. He will never stop at telling you how to do something; he always tells you why to do it that way, too. A day working with/for Fuad is a day packed with knowledge nuggets and impromptu mini-lectures on sowing, harvesting, prep, food, plants, pests, tools, climate, sustainability and just about anything else you can imagine. There's a guest blog of his on Katonah Green about growing garlic from the 2009 season where you can get a taste of how much he loves to share his craft.

On Thursday, as we were sowing tiny sand-thinned radish seeds by hand in the hot midday sun, Fuad was inspired, waxing poetic in an unstoppable monologuic stream. "Plants are not active. They are passive. If there is not much of water in the soil, the plant will grow deeper roots to find the water. If the plant is growing in the shade, it will develop broader leaves to try to catch the sunlight. That is passive, that is not active. A plant cannot act. That is why I say it depends on environment. This is all environment. Water, light, sunshine. I do not believe people have green thumbs.

"Plants have a rhythm," he added. "You feel it when you touch the plant. In order to work with the plant you have to feel the rhythm."

Fuad is quite a character and it doesn't take long to pick up on his quirks. Like his own personal turns of phrase: "much of" (as in "There is too much of bugs") and "pick up" (as in "How much of basil did you pick up?"), and beginning sentences with "So what I have in mind is...". And his habit of always having a coffee mug in his hand until lunch - you'll often find rogue coffee mugs scattered forlorn and forgotten about the fields - and taking a nap during the midday break. He is curious about everything - he's already asked me scores of questions about the plot and characters in our play - and clearly beloved by the long-term members of the Ryder Farm CSA, who often show up to visit, bringing him hugs and chicken dinners.

"I know how to cook everything I grow. I eat everything I grow," Fuad said a few days ago. I think that's the heart of what makes him a successful and passionate grower.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Torn Apart by a Bear: Cycles of Innovation (Jennie)

Yesterday a late birthday present from my husband arrived in the mail. It is a 365 page art book with 300 full-color illustrations and it is entitled: “Making the Scene: A History of Stage Design and Technology in Europe and the United States”. It is big. It is beautiful. It is my end-of-the-day, relax-on-the-couch CANDY.

As with many histories of western theater, this one begins with the Greeks and we talk at length about the Theatre of Dionysus, but but but . . . it’s all (all of it!) written from a scene design and audience-relationship-to-performer perspective. I have always been a sucker for captivating scenic designs, and I love to talk about audiences, but I really expected to treasure this book for its pictures. I didn’t actually anticipate reading it. I was wholly unprepared for the entertainment value of the writing, for full submersion in literary/visual heaven.

There are a number of things about the book that I love. The predominant message I’ve walked away with so far (I’ve only made it to the Renaissance), is that nothing ever changes. Really. So often we think we’re being innovative. From funders, from audiences, from the media – there is a pressure and an expectation to innovate in all that we do. This narrative has been one big fat reminder that we are recycling material and ideas ALL THE TIME. If the Greeks could fly an actor in 400 BCE and medieval priests could hire tradesmen to create “dummy bodies that could be hacked open to expose entrails and blood”, I think it’s all been done before, at least when it comes to scenic effects.

Intentionally or no, the book makes plain the cycle of innovation in the theatre (and we could probably extend this to include any branch of human endeavor) from a broad cultural perspective. First we see the germ of an idea, an organic movement, a collection of happenings just firm enough in their cultural presence to exist in some record 2500 years later. Then the idea grows, we see it crop up in more places, it changes a bit and it becomes more permanent. Where a temporary shack used to be fine, a standing theater gets built. Where a day or two and a collection of hand-made carts used to suffice, we find accounts of forty-day passion plays preceded by processions of people on foot and on horses. Eventually, the story is removed entirely and all that remains is the parade, the spectacle. Produced at great expense in celebration of some great king or government or body of power, suddenly we have the capacity to raise and lower animal cages, people, and scenic machinery from twenty feet below the Colosseum:

“In one recorded instance, a criminal impersonating Orpheus appeared from below the arena level, as if he were coming from Hades. He then played music that enchanted rocks and trees, which moved to greet him, and animals crouched at his feet. At the end of this display, he was torn apart by a bear.” (Brockett, Mitchell, Harderger, 23)

I’m pretty sure that last part is meant quite literally.

And then there is this:

“And there are accounts of actors falling off a machine and sustaining injuries or dying. It is not known how frequently mishaps occurred, but the emperor Claudius decreed that if any ‘automatic device or pegma’ had malfunctioned, the machinatores (engineers), builders, or assistants would be punished through gladiatorial combat.” (Brockett, Mitchell, Hardberger, 23)

Well, I guess that would have been one way to deal with the whole Spider-Man debacle.

I find the ongoing interest in scenic effect fascinating. I love the age-old question across centuries of dramatic pursuit: “how are we going to make that happen on stage?” For the OFAF team it will be: “how are we going to make weeds continuously grow throughout the play?” And: “how the heck are we going to burn down a barn?” (Thanks, Cory.) Even more delightful to me, however, are the reminders that the very core of our intentions, the basic need to make theater at all, is as old as humanity.

It is clear to me that I do not live or create in a vacuum. I am constantly in awe of the artists, leaders, practitioners, and organizers who have blazed trails with their courageous and truthful work. Most directly and in particular, I am thankful for the artists of Cornerstone Theater Company – but also for the vast web of community-engaged artists across America who generate the ideas, muddle through approaches, and prove that anything is possible.

Still, it is nice to be reminded of the community-engaged work from centuries ago, to acknowledge that ours is not the only moment that has inspired innovation and collaboration of this kind. In medieval Europe, it was Corpus Christi, the famed church festival conducted in nearly every town and hamlet. Corpus Christi encouraged and facilitated the participation of an entire community in the presentation of elaborate plays, generally dramatizing biblical events (Brockett, Mitchell, Hardberger, 33). I can imagine the impetus for a community event of this kind being similar to our incentives today. And clearly, many of the approaches are alike as well. I giggled audibly over this timeline for The Mystery of Three Masters at Romans, France in 1508:

July 1508

  • Representatives of St. Bernard's Monastery and the town council meet to discuss the ideas of the performance
  • Money is pledged from various sources and churches.
  • A body of commissioners is appointed to oversee the production.
  • Authors and secretaries are engaged.
December 1508

  • Monsieur Sanche of Dijon is appointed as producer.
  • Monsieur Francois Trevenot is hired as the designer.
January 1508

  • Building begins on the stage and auditorium at St. Bernard's.
  • Carpenters, a blacksmith, and a clocksmith are engaged.
February 1509

  • Canon Pra of Grenoble has a reading for the commission, and three notaries are engaged to make copies.
March 1509

  • Pra finishes the script and rehearsals begin. Notaries have trouble finishing scripts. There is one rehearsal per week in the town hall, and refreshments are provided.
May 7, 1509

  • A costume parade is held throughout the town to publicize the play and ensure the costumes are finished. Part of the text is rewritten.
Late May, 1509

  • The play has one dress rehearsal, and opens, but runs much longer than anticipated. It is a popular success, but loses money (Brockett, Mitchell, Hardberger 38-39 cite Harris, 122-24)

It is all just a little bit too familiar. For comparison, here is an early timeline (The Roadmap) made by Farmer Penny Jordan for Of Farms and Fables:


PHASE I

Nov 2008 – May 2009

PHASE II

Jun 2009 – May 2010

PHASE III

Jun 2010 – Aug 2010

PHASE IV

Sept 2010 – Apr 2011

PHASE V

May 2011 – Aug 2011

§ Advisory Board Formation

§ Fiscal Agent Identified

§ Funding Options Identified/Pursued

§ Demonstration Materials Compiled

§ Advisory Board Meetings

§ Core Artists Contracted

§ Fundraising

§ Community Gatherings at Farm

§ Advisory Board Meetings

§ Core Artists Work at Farm

§ Weekly Performance Workshops

§ Advocate Project at Farm

§ Advisory Board Meetings

§ Draft I Script Completed

§ Fundraising

§ Public Reading

§ Advocacy for Project

§ Designers/Stage Manager Contracted

§ Production Meetings

§ Advisory Board Meetings

§ Script Completed

§ Casting Completed

§ Rehearsals Conducted

§ Design/Technical Elements Completed

§ Performances Promoted

§ Performances Held



Five centuries later and the play still has to be publicized, the costumes still have to be finished.

Oh yeah . . . Spread the word! Of Farms and Fables! Of Farms and Fables!