What if…Theatres Partnered With The Local Food Movement?

by Stacy Klein

in What If

Learn more about the What If…? Project

What if…theatres partnered with the local food movement?

In her speech on the essential nature [and importance] of locally based community to the sustainability of our world, Helena Norberg Hodges wrote that migration to cities and the subsequent elimination of connection between life and survival have made it impossible for rural or urban communities to sustain themselves. Urban people have no real community (i.e. a group of people focused on a common, cooperative living) and rural people are forced to export all of their products, along with their young people, and therefore lose their own ability to survive.

What if an alternative model was developed that would enhance the local qualities of both urban and rural communities? This model would consist of locally based food growth in which rural regions surrounding urban areas would grow and provide a substantial part of people’s food and other necessities. This product could be supplemented by other locally grown produce, perhaps even from different parts of the world. What is the difference between this idea and the import and export model we are surrounded by today?

Local produce is a very small part of the picture in today’s global economy. Rather than using locally grown produce from different parts of the world, large corporations dominate the food market. There is no direct tie between the food we eat and the people growing it. Food has become less and less tangible and, in spite of the increasingly large organic market, less local in its nature. This creates an economy in which the people responsible for the food and planting it, picking it, etc., are not part of its economic roots. Organic does not even necessarily mean local, therefore a perfectly hormone free cow, or a vegetable that is not genetically engineered, might still be made in a large factory devoid of any human touch, and far from any idea of local. In contrast to both corporate produce, local growth creates an overall sustainability— in terms of health, economy, and humanity.

Using this model, the concept of a theatre that is locally grown can be posited. A locally grown theatre would find its own individual model in each place it was being developed; in that way it would not become a foreign being, or a stranger, in the midst of a community. As with produce, a local community which desired aspects of theatre not available, or grown in its midst, could seek out and bring in and exchange with other locally grown experiences from throughout the world. This would create an environment around the world in which the theatre being created was unique and identified in turn the unique aspects of a community’s life. It would also bond the community in an important and essential way, in other words, it would be part of the creation of a living culture: a culture that is alive and growing.

Now, what if theatre that was locally grown joined forces with food that was locally grown? This is the experiment we at Double Edge are creating in our rural community in Ashfield, MA. We have a Center in which we make ensemble-based theatre in a site-specific environment as well as indoor performances that we exchange by touring to other centers and organizations around the world (and we also bring in international artists for workshops and conversations). We are growing our own vegetables, which feed the ensemble, our students and audience for three or four months a year. We share with local farmers by offering our theatre for their products and knowledge, or in cases where theatre is not what they desire, our audience provides a market for their retail. We sell their products at our performances and receive donations for the theatre. We are supplied with year- around bread for the theatre, and this fundamental exchange is based solely on the owner of Bread Euphoria’s belief that ‘theatre is essential for the community to live.’ Local restaurants donate food for our events, whether that be for performance cycles or for Conversations (and local bed and breakfasts supply heavily discounted housing for all the international artists who visit).

This type of partnership creates a winning situation, based on interdependence. Not just for the farmers and local businesses, not just for the theatre, but for the entire community. The tide turns in this way from a solely export based economy to one that is increasingly sustainable from the inside. Moving from an endangered, unstable economy to one that is nourished is only one of the benefits of a local outlook. The interweaving of a locally based theatre and food provides strong roots for the community to survive and thrive. The growth of a community cannot be based solely on economy, nor only on culture. Before Double Edge became involved with the local food movement, and other local businesses, it was an island set apart from the realities of the region. In turn, businesses and farmers had substantially less avenues to sell their products.

In the past several years, the development of the theatre in summer spectacles, performance events, and teaching, combined with increasing involvement and participation of new and expanded local food providers, has led to enormous cross sector collaboration, including tourism, artists from other disciplines, and other cultural organizations throughout the region. The community has grown together as a genuine example of living culture.

This model is not confined to a rural situation. Local means just that. What if theatre partnered with the local food movement?

Well, communities would begin to renew themselves, and the essential aspects of sustainability—health, economy, and culture—would regenerate. And in so doing, once again, the essential aspect of community would be found.

Stacy Klein, Founder/Artistic Director of Double Edge Theatre, has led the company for almost 30 years into one of the foremost laboratory theatres in the U.S., applying rigorous physical training and the principle of an actor’s autonomy to create work in an ensemble setting. Klein’s acclaimed original performance cycles include the Women’s Cycle, the Song Trilogy, and the Garden of Intimacy and Desire. In 1994 Klein moved the company to the rural town of Ashfield and created a groundbreaking international center for living culture, performance and exchange. Klein is presently working on The Grand Parade, which marks the beginning of the five-performance, five-country Chagall Cycle.

  • Maureen Chesus

    This is a great, innovative idea. Theatre is clearly an important tool for establishing a sense of community, and the thought of bringing different sectors together to create a community celebration around a theatre event sounds beneficial for everyone involved. Would love to hear more about your experiences with incorporating these ideas in Ashfield!

  • http://www.suilebhan.com Gwydion Suilebhan

    This is a very beautiful and inspiring story as well as a well-reasoned argument. I share your concerns and your vision.

    We have a new festival in DC that’s in part inspired by the locavore movement. I wrote about it here: http://www.suilebhan.com/2011/05/17/im-a-local-writer/

    Thanks for sharing what you do.

  • http://www.mondobizarro.org Nick Slie

    Wow! Thanks for this, Stacy. I’ve often thought about how our companies can learn form CSA’s, where folks pay into a farm and receive vegetables/food in return. Great work.

  • http://www.doubleedgetheatre.org Carlos Uriona

    Sorry for this belated response to all of you. Maureen, Gwydion and Nick.
    I am Carlos Uriona, producing director of Double Edge Theatre. We met Nick a couple of times and I haven’t met Maureen nor Gwydion. I would be more than happy to follow up on this subject and subsequent developments. Through email or Facebook. The truth is that the Farm, is only one aspect of the Living Culture, which then becomes a more sophisticated system of exchanges, including housing, transportation and the organization of other aspects of life with a collaborative approach. It can be a long discussion and I don’t want to take the space here. But yes I am open to continue this conversation.
    Thank you all