New York Debut for DOUBLE EDGE THEATRE with
UNPOSSESSED, an adaptation of "DON QUIXOTE" into a visual performance
spactacle company is in the Grotowski tradition and an American first-cousin
to Poland's Gardzienice.
Double-Edge Theatre (www.doubleedgetheatre.org)
from Ashfield, MA chose to adapt Cervantes' "The Adventures of Don
Quixote" to the stage after the events of September 11, 2001. The
impulse was, according to director Stacy Klein, to answer the question
of whether it is still possible to have idealism. The company is rooted
in the traditions of Grotowski and South American street theater, so this
adaptation is no Broadway-styled "Man of La Mancha." It is titled
"The UnPOSSESSED" and it dramatizes the book in a style that
is primarily imagistic, filled with outdoor-like spectacle, trapeze tricks,
actors rotating in huge gyroscopic cow troughs, songs and very little
text. It is the troupe's New York debut.
Director Stacy Klein was primarily trained by Rena Mirecka, the only
woman in Grotowski's original lab. Carlos Uriona, her primary collaborator
since 1996 in Double Edge, was founder of Argentina's Diablomundo, an
outdoor circus theater which specialized in Street Theater styles. Double
Edge's work is characterized by an earthy ritualism, gleeful athleticism
and goofy peasant-like spiritual humor evocative of Poland's Gardzienice,
which Klein describes as "of the same tribe." Gardzienice, coincidentally,
is returning to La MaMa with a new production April 7 to 24, 2005.
Audiences come to the rural home of Double Edge Theatre, a farm on a
two-lane road northwest of Holyoke, MA, for theatrical spectacles with
visceral, forceful images. The Boston Globe reported, "Double Edge
produces an experiential, highly physical kind of theater, long on dance,
movement, and music, short on text. Puppetry and circus skills also play
a role….The major works are years in the making and emerge from
the actors' personal growth and their relationship to the community they're
working in." It is the only resident theater of its type on the East
A good artistic history of the company is available online, in an article
by Sigrid Bauschinger, at: http://www.doubleedgetheatre.org/article.php3?ArticleID=48.
The article includes discussion of the company's methods, its production
history, and the influence of Polish theater upon Stacy Klein.
The company was originally founded in 1982 in Boston
by Stacy Klein as a women's theatre group. It has evolved greatly since
then. Klein spent five months with Rena Mirecka in Poland and Sardinia in
1985 and wrote her dissertation on Eugenio Barba of Denmark's Odin Teatret
in 1987. She has collaborated with Wlodzimierz Staniewski and his company,
Gardzienice, since 1986. Published accounts refer to Ms. Klein's overall
approach as anti-rational: it struggles against a society that hinders creativity
through confining structures, cultural stereotypes, and ideologies. Double
Edge moved to the Berkshire foothills in 1995. The company's work always
invites comparison with Gardzienice, but it is actually more image-driven
and much more "female." The troupe maintains close ties with the
Eastern European performance community, through programs including Ex-CHANGE,
its summer training and performance program through which Double Edge has
brought European performers- this year from Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria-
to learn the company's movement techniques and collaborative development
process, to create a work together, and then perform it with Double Edge.
(This is the third year for that program; it's also the last.) Other exchange
programs have included Republic of Dreams (1992-8), a Central European/Jewish-American
exchange held in Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, and Hungary, and the Spiral
Mirror project (1997), a US/Latin American performance and training project
which has brought four guest artists and three troupes to "the farm"
for three months to one year.
UnPOSSESSED" sticks pretty closely to the twelve chapters of
"Don Quixote" it is based on. Like the characters of the
novel, "The UnPOSSESSED" makes a unique construction of
the world to determine who is the illusion and who is the reality.
Although the piece was inspired by the experience of 9/11, there is
no 9/11 imagery. There is, however, a lot of aerial "silk work"
and acrobatics. Swaths of white fabric hang from the lighting grid
and drape across the warm-toned floor, sometimes doubling as acrobatic
tools and costume pieces. Performers swing from the rafters and climb
through the audience, using the entire theater as their playing space.
In gigantic circular metal cow troughs, like the ones on sale at Agway,
actors roll and spin gyroscopically. (These huge wheels were set on
fire and then dunked in a lake last summer's production in Ashfield.)
The piece is scored from beginning to end and there is a lot of song,
all composed by company member Justin Handley. The design has a rustic
look, reflecting the farm settings of its origin. After a workshop
production in Boston, a blogger wrote, "(the) element of actual
physical danger made the show almost compulsively watchable. Everything
flowed so naturally, and spontaneously. It just reminded me of what
good, spectacle based theatre can do."
The piece is also partly a commentary on Stacy Klein's personal creative
style. In an interview with The Boston Globe, she said, "For
many years, during 'The Song Trilogy' [a wide-ranging work on Jewish
historiography, Rilke and Bruno Schulz, which occupied the troupe
for ten years], I felt I was possessed. People nicely said I was intense,
and my work was intense. They probably meant I was crazy." "The
UnPOSSESSED," originally created in 2003, was Double Edge's first
production based on a` book. They have been doing a book a year as
an indoor-outdoor spectacle. In 2002, it was "Manuscripts Found
at Saragossa," a novel of 66 intertwined stories by the Polish
ethnographer and historian Jan Potoki. This year, it was Bulgakov's
"Master and Margarita."
American companies in this mold are rare. Dell 'Arte, a group in Blue
Lake, CA, is a little like Double Edge. It describes itself as a physical
theater and has had a school for 25 years. It is fairly well known on
the West Coast and does a significant amount of work in Europe.
Ashfield, MA is 20 minutes from Northampton, home of Smith College. The
farm, away from by the busy-ness and noise of the city, it is a place
where you can find out where your vision is, Klein says. Company members
tend the vegetables they live on four months out of each year. There are
two performance spaces and housing for 30 people. Originally, the company
only intended to rehearse there, then tour. Mirabile dictu, as soon as
they started performing there, they started selling out to the five colleges
in the area. Ashfield was a haven where the Salem Witches were allowed
to settle in the old days. Later, it was a principal stop on the Underground
Railroad. In the '60s and '70s, it attracted many leading artists of the
gay community of New England. Outsiders have always found it a safe haven
to come to. It was a one-store town, but now it has added a pizza place
and a hardware store. Stacy Klein feels that Western Massachusetts holds
the original values of the Commonwealth: allowing individual liberty is
very clear there, as is the sense that "you can be different and
do whatever you want to do."
Coinciding with this production at La MaMa is another one built in Massachusetts:
Thunder Bay Ensemble's "Sea Change" and "Arctic Circle"
(October 28 to November 4, First Floor Theater). That company hails from
East Otis, in the Berkshires, and specializes in imagistic theater with
unusual music, primarily the vocal pyrotechnics of Ed Herbst. "Sea
Change" and "Arctic Circle" are inspired by the world of
surrealist painter René Magritte. They are designed by Obie award-winning
Japanese designer Jun Maeda and WindRose Morris, with lighting design
by Bessie award winner Paul Clay. Thunder Bay is returning to La MaMa
after a nine year absence. This company is also closely tied to Eastern
Europe; it is currently engaged in a three-way performance project with
Artus Company/Gabor Goda from Budapest, Hungary and Nona Ciobanu's Toaca
from Bucharest, Romania.
"The UnPOSSESSED" is conceived and directed by Stacy Klein.
It was created with Carlos Uriona, (who plays Don Quixote), Matthew Glassman
(who plays Sancho Panza) and the Double Edge Theatre Ensemble, which includes
Justin Handley as the Duke (Knight of the Mirrors), Joanna Wichowska as
the Duchess, Hayley Brown as Altisidora and Richard Newman as Master Peter,
the Puppeteer (Cervantes). Music is composed by Justin Handley. Lighting
design is by ML Geiger.
A workshop production of "The UnPOSSESSED" earlier this year,
part of the US/ Central European project Ex-CHANGE, was funded by the
Trust for Mutual Understanding, also in part by a Theatre Communications
Group/Doris Duke/Andrew Mellon Foundation New Generations Grant, and by
the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state arts agency.