Food on stage

Locavores + thespians = understanding
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  January 6, 2010

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LEARNING GROWTH Actors + farmers join forces in Open Waters Theatre’s next effort.

Maine is home to a nationally renowned locavore culinary scene, the oldest organic farming association in the nation (MOFGA), and a plenitude of farms that has increased by nearly 1000 in the past five years — and yet economic pressure to develop acreage remains. These are just a few of the facts heralded by Open Waters Theatre Arts founder Jennie Hahn, who is launching a year-long, community-based theater project to foster a civic conversation about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Of Farms and Fables, conceived by Hahn and developed with an advisory board over the last year, will bring together theater artists and farm workers to share in each other's work: Over 12 weeks starting in May, Open Waters will bring three artists to three Maine farms — Wm. H. Jordan Farm of Cape Elizabeth, Broadturn Farm of Scarborough, and Benson Farm of Gorham — for residencies that will engage artists in farm work and farm workers in acting and storytelling. The cultural exchange will culminate in the summer of 2011 with an outdoor performance by both theater artists and farm workers, which will draw its audience into a conversation about our land, agriculture and food, those so basic and so sublime elements of how we live.

Hahn, who has a drama degree from Vassar and trained in socially engaged theater with LA's Cornerstone Theater, has made civic dialogue and interdisciplinary arts the keystones of Open Waters' endeavors. Previous projects include a staging of Wallace Shawn's The Fever, a harrowing look at a typical American's complicity in the systemic horrors of our global economy, and its run included several panel discussions on poverty in Maine and a workshop with poet Marty Pottenger on "Enoughedness." Open Waters has also produced the installation art-cum-spoken word exploration of memory and place, called Living History; and a collaborative series of investigations into "success," via the Bertolt Brecht poem The Stone Fisherman. A project still in circulation is last summer's Choirspeak, which took its artists into the communities of Rumford, Belfast, Greenville, Millinocket, and Portland to talk to diverse people about the future of the Maine Woods.

For Open Waters' newest project, Hahn has assembled an impressive corps of supporters and consultants. The advisory board of Of Farms and Fables is made up of Stephanie Gilbert of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Penny Jordan of the Cape Elizabeth Farm Alliance, Cheryl Laz of the USM Department of Sociology, Rebecca Millett of the Cape Elizabeth School Board, and Tessy Seward of the activist theater group ROiL. Community partners supporting Of Farms and Fables include Cultivating Community, the Threshold to Maine Resource Conservation and Development Council, RoiL, and the Cape Farm Alliance. Open Waters was also recently awarded a one-year grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust in support of the project.

Open Waters invites input and further support of many kinds from both community groups and individuals as the project begins its launch. At an informal informational soiree over hors d'oeuvres and drinks on Wednesday, January 20 at 6:30 pm in Cape Elizabeth, Hahn will talk about Of Farms and Fables, participating farmers will speak about their farms, and those who care about our local agriculture may commune. Those interested may RSVP to Hahn at 207.899.5208.

Megan Grumbling can be reached at mgrumbling@hotmail.com.

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