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.


"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."


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


"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!"

"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."

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.


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.


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!