ReflectionsCome around the horseshoe bend on County Road 8 outside Spring Valley, Minnesota on a day in the middle of August and you won’t find Holstein cows grazing in the lower pasture like you did at the Shaw’s place about a mile back. No, you’ll see something that might make you take a second look: teenage kids moving their bodies (some might call it dancing) through the clover. Come into the barn on Dreamacres organic farm on that same day and you’ll find what you might expect: first-cut hay up in the haymow. But below that hay on the first floor of the barn, right next to the finished performance floor and the 12×12 projection screen, will be a drum set and a variety of musical instruments. You’ll ask yourself, “What kind of farming operation is this?”
And you’ll be right to ask. Because DreamAcres, home to
Flourish Summer Camp in Arts and Agriculture, isn’t any ordinary
farm. In 1995, I left the big city of Chicago and the little nest we
call Lookingglass to build a house and become
an organic farmer in my home state of Minnesota. This move also involved some vocational adjustment. I began to do artistic residencies in schools throughout the state. Working sometimes with hundreds of kids during the course of a week, I experienced that kids were essentially exposed to, but not immersed in, the art form.
I found myself mulling over questions: What are the conditions that
allow a young person to dig deep and say what they need or want to say?
How do you establish those conditions?
Could I do this on my farm? I reflected on the most important elements of a successful creative process, what we strive
to establish with each new Lookingglass work: intimacy, collaboration, and inventive play.
Curiously, I realized that these elements were primary to our success on the farm. It seemed there was inspiration to be drawn from the farm. Farmers are in fact, some of the most creative people I’ve met.
I began to build a program. I pulled together a group of artists to
teach puppetry, dance, music and voice for one week on the farm. I
would teach theatre. We would keep the group small enough to be able to
work one-on-one with the kids,
to establish an intimate working climate. We would honor
and guide the participants’ ideas through collaboration and inventive play, using spaces on the farm to take work out of the box. At the end of the week, we would have a showcase
of original performance pieces. And we did. We called
it Flourish Summer Camp, “a playground for the mingling
of performing arts and agriculture in an intensive week
on a farm.”
What struck me most about Flourish that first year was how mature
the group behaved, how open and supportive each participant was. It
reminded me of the early days of Lookingglass ensemble work, only it
happened in one week.
I thought it was a lucky first go. But, actually, each group since then has managed to arrive at a similarly mature working level. And it shows in the depth and originality of performance pieces, over which participants have sovereignty.
While the group dynamic is clearly central to the creative process,
the farm itself contributes at least as much to participants’
work. Being off-the-grid, much about the farm suggests
“alternative,” and this reinforces the spirit of
inventiveness: kids wash their faces in rainwater; they read
by oil lamps; they watch video images projected with solar power; and they spend mornings working in the organic garden. Participants comment on the freedom, peace and safety they feel on the farm. They rave about the experience
of picking the very carrot they will be eating for dinner. They disparage the sweet smell of the outhouse. The farm offers
an immersion into rural living that makes Flourish a unique performing arts experience.
So, while Dreamacres the farm nurtures the growth cycles
of plants and animals, Flourish Summer Camp nurtures the growth cycles of performance pieces, and, by association,
the performers themselves. In the end, Flourish is about establishing the prime conditions for growth (of the artist,
of the individual). And growth is the basis of vitality, right?
As a member of the Lookingglass family, I strive to keep live theatre vital in this world. Flourish does just that. It transforms a diverse group of teenagers into a functioning community of performing artists, artists growing in their abilities to use theatre as a tool to say what they need to say. And this contributes to the vitality of the craft.
You might say we are germinating artists in the field.