As you may or may not know, Jim and I live in rural New Hampshire in a small village called Wilmot. For a small community, Wilmot has a big heart: our library is a treasure, with a librarian unlike any librarian you’ve met or imagined. We have a Post Office; a gazebo for summer music; a farmer’s market; a veterinarian; a quintessential New England white clapboard church; a town hall complete with stage; a restaurant whose chef won’t show up unless you’ve made reservations; a vintage clothing store; and a building supply and showroom. Most of all we have abundant wildlife including (but not limited to) wonderful wonderful humans. Artists, poets, builders, furniture makers, farmers, writers, naturalists, bikers, and we all seem to muddle along with with one another.
It’s been a long time since I introduced the Restoring The Waters Puppet Theater on this blogging site. A year, in fact. But . . this MAY be the summer we offer our first community production, an adaptation of a children’s book which really isn’t a children’s book, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, by Douglas Wood. I use the word may in conjunction with our first summer production, because its actuality depends on the response of the community. This is not and never will be the Jim and Caroline show. We have been looking for actors (characters from the book and beyond), and offering Wednesday evening mask making and costume design workshops.
The first Wednesday we met, Jim brought in a five gallon bucket filled with surprises: netting; a frisbee, PVC pipe scraps, chicken wire, a few tools, a hard hat, wire wraps and wire clippers, and that didn’t begin to exhaust the contents. The next day, one of the young people attending went down into her basement, retrieved a now-too-small basketball hoop with net and brought it up into the kitchen. Her mom reminded her that it was for the yard sale, and this young person said, “no, I may need it for my mask. Or somebody else might.”
A friend who runs the Wilmot Transfer Station collects things he thinks will be useful: paint buckets with an inch or two of paint; wire mesh; wooden dowels; big sheets of cardboard. The wire face of an old electric fan makes a most excellent shield. Yard sales are rich in treasure! The colorful enamel buckets which perch on the heads of the Bucketheads were 25 cents apiece at a barn sale up the street.
This is a multi-generational effort ~ young people, singles and couples, groups, parents, and grandparents. We are not so attached to the outcome (the production itself) that we can’t let it go if the community engagement isn’t there. Still, we are proceeding as though there will be a show, August 24th. If it flies, it will be beyond amazing.
There is more at stake, though, than a one or two night production. Those willing to adopt animal roles (or the roles of wind, tree, mountain, or water) have an assignment beyond the making of mask and costume and showing up at a couple dress rehearsals. We are asking people to come to know the character(s) they’ve chosen. Why did you choose, say, a porcupine? How does a porcupine move? What does s/he eat? What habitat does a porcupine require? Who are his enemies? How are humans participating in making life challenging for a porcupine. What is the gift that a porcupine offers the biotic community?
At one point in the adaptation of the story, the characters will adapt a Council of All Beings, to share with the audience who they are, what they bring, and what they need. Our hope, of course, is to explore more deeply the living web and eco-systems of New Hampshire. Wendell Berry, among others, reminds us that if you love a place, you can’t destroy it. Although we’re working with New England systems, we’re expecting an exotic or two ~ perhaps an elephant or a cheetah. And what is a production without our Tundra swan (our neighbor calls her the Big Duck) and The Mother of the Waters (otherwise known as Mad Kate).
Along with the characters, we are slowly building the infrastructure: a light and sound technician; a narrator; several set designers, musicians, and enough bodies to make this happen.
The venue is a small local beach on Tannery Pond, where we will make use of everything that already exists: swing set; slide; monkey bars; trees; a foot bridge; a house across the street; a spit of land; and a snack shack.
Those of you reading this who might be local, we’re asking for your participation. And those of you around the globe, who are not able to justify a plane or train ticket to NH, just hold us in your heart and think kind thoughts as we try something new.
We all know, I think, even though we live as though we don’t believe it, that changes are coming to all our communities, whether rural or urban. We are on the downside (or very close to it) of our capacity for oil production. Communities are going to have to move more quickly than we’re ready, I think, to rely increasingly on the gifts and abilities of one another, including, for example, local food production. As life becomes more local ~ I like to think of it, paradoxically, as more (not less) spacious, we’re going to need to know one another in new ways, to trust one another, and to rely on one another.
As Jim and I consider what we might have to offer into our own community, this is it ~ an opportunity to build friendships through the arts, the experience of being at play with one another, an invitation to look at things in new ways.