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Maintaining Connections from the Hyperlocal to the International

Jeffrey Mosser: Dear artists, welcome to another episode of From the Ground Up podcast, produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. I'm your host, Jeffrey Mosser, recording from the ancestral homeland of the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee, now known as Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These episodes are shared digitally to the internet. Let's take a moment to consider the legacy of colonization embedded within the technology, structure, and ways of thinking that we use every day. We are using equipment and high-speed internet not available in many Indigenous communities. Even the technologies that are central to much of the work we make leave a significant carbon footprint, contributing to climate change that disproportionately affects Indigenous people worldwide. I invite you to join me in acknowledging the truth and violence perpetrated in the name of this country, as well as our shared responsibility to make good of this time and for each of us to consider our roles and reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship.

Dear artists, so glad you could join me once again. Welcome to From the Ground Up, and thank you so much for joining me for this episode. I have to tell you that today's episode with folks from Double Edge is really important to me. I did their summer training institute in 2013, and it was an amazing experience. I have some real stories that I'd love to tell you about, but it would take the entire episode. Not even kidding. What I will tell you is that I never felt so connected to an artistic space. It is deeply rural. Each morning I walked from our housing to the farm. The roads were narrow. The horizons were wide. It was really exceptional to slow down. There are artists I met there from around the country, and it was a really beautiful way to be making thoughtful, physically exhausting, emotional work.

And at the end of the program, I swear that I was the healthiest that I had ever been. Healthy food, physical exercises, training the body, all these amazing things, all coming to fruition while spending time in beautiful Ashfield, Massachusetts.

Hey, I said this in my last episode, but if you are a fan of From the Ground Up, please find, follow and favorite us on Instagram and on Twitter @ftgu_pod or email me at [email protected]. I'd love to know more about you and what you want to hear about on this show. Seriously, thank you in advance.

Today we've got Carlos Uriona and Jennifer Johnson, co-artistic directors at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts, coming to us from the land of the Nipmuc, Pocomtuc, and Mohican Tribes, as well as on the land of Wabanaki Confederacy. I wanted to talk to them because they are doing work that is sustainable in such a beautiful way.

They moved out to Ashfield from Boston in 1994, and Double Edge has been rural with a capital “RURAL” ever since. They are located on a farm where they all live, work, and create. Their work often incorporates the beautiful outdoor settings as well. Going off of what Jawole mentioned in episode one of season three, so just before this, festivals deserve to be in rural spaces. At the time of this recording, they were putting on the Magdalena Festival, an international festival that has its roots in Wales, but goes everywhere. Stacey Klein, the founding artistic director of Double Edge has, experienced it, and I'll let the rest be revealed in this interview. Something you ought to know before we go in. We mentioned the Odin Teatret in Denmark and Eugenio Barba. I'll make sure to put a link to them on the show page for you at howround.com. I'm really grateful to share this interview with you all as it does much more than just provide a trip down memory lane for me. Our call was held on April 25th, 2022. Please enjoy.

Yeah. Well folks, really quickly, thank you so much for taking time to do this. I know you're coming off of a really big celebration and a lot of work that's been done and a lot of energy that's gone into this. So I really have to say that I appreciate your time and the energy. The time we spent together and the time we're spending together, it's all very real for me and I thank you so much for taking time to do this. I don't know why it's taken me so long to get back to you all, but I'm so glad to be having this conversation now because what you are talking about just in your lightning round of market economy and transactionalness and just the idea of you all going out to the farm and establishing yourselves there and recreating what it means to make in a way that is sustainable to you and in that process is so fascinating and so interesting to me.

But ultimately, I want to know what has sustained you. And I remember being with you for the Art and Survival Conference in '13, '14, '15 and having that very rich conversation. But before we get too far away from the moment that you just had, I want to, my first question to you all is just can you tell me a little bit about your celebration that you just held for your fortieth anniversary for rights, and what is something that you learned from such a great celebration of yourselves and of the cultures that you've brought into town?

Jennifer Johnson: Sure, absolutely. So it is really nice to connect with you and it's a perfect opportunity because Double Edge is celebrating our fortieth anniversary this year. We have a lot to look back at and a lot to look forward to. So I think it's a perfect moment for us to connect. So we have a five-month celebration of our fortieth anniversary, and this was the first event. So we have three big highlights of this five-month period, and the first is a Magdalena Festival here at Double Edge. I can talk about that. The next is the featuring some of our partners. We can talk about that. And then, this summer, we will be performing and premiering our new performance for outdoors The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae. So it's these three big events back to back and they will buoy us through these busy moments because it's very exciting. Yes. Today as we're sitting here, international guests are being loaded into cars and taken to the airport.

Carlos Uriona: Or walking around in the gardens and we can see them from the window. They're roaming around the farm—

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Carlos: —somehow reflecting on what just had happened.

Jennifer: Right.

Jeffrey: Right off the bat, I'm wondering why it's important to feature international artists at such a festival.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Well, first we are an international ensemble. We are a multinational group of people working together. Magdalena is an international festival and an international project—

Carlos: Organization.

Jennifer: —or organization. It includes artists from all over the world. Magdalena and Double Edge are important together because Stacy [Klein] attended the first Magdalena Festival in Wales, hosted and organized by Jill Greenhalgh and Geddy Aniksdal among others. And Stacy had established Double Edge about three or four years earlier and came to this festival because she was very interested in the work of women artists. And Double Edge at that point was founded as a women-centric feminist ensemble. On the bus ride to Cardiff, she rode with Geddy Aniksdal, who's one of the people who's leaving here today. And that began a long, long relationship, friendship, and artistic exchange relationship that's gone on until today, literally today. So Double Edge has attended different Magdalena performances and these two organizations have really grown into much larger inclusive cultural organizations that have both blossomed in their way. So it was a really great way to kick off what is the start of this celebration.

Carlos: I think that historically Double Edge always had an eye on, Stacy when she was already studying, she chose to study things from abroad and she believed in the Polish theatre very deeply. But then traveling and going to Poland during the harsh years of the seventies and meeting Rena Mirecka and [Jerzy] Grotowski and [Tadeusz] Kantor and other artists, and then meeting Odin Teatret and being with them and writing a dissertation on Eugenio Barba's work, she found that there were things that here in the US, at least, they were not that available. And when you go to Latin America, like what I was telling you about Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, you see something that could be potentially created here, but it's not being created for whatever reason. It doesn't matter. But going abroad, going to Asia or meeting people from Asia, you start learning things that in your environment you don't have.

I come from Argentina, and for us it was crucial to see people from abroad. It was otherwise everything became very, I would like to say mediocre, like washed out or repetitive theatre or let's say performance or artistic manifestation. So when you travel and you see a lot of really things that are not attractive or they're not at the level that maybe you would love them to be, but a lot of times you get surprises and you are like, wow, I would like... Like we just said about Ana Correa from Yuyachkani, I would like to be that type of actor. And then the thing is, last night before they left this morning, they left at 7:00 a.m., so we had a meeting at the very last time, and we already committed to get together and at least have exchanges because they're also very attracted to what we do, and they think that what we do is unique and it hasn't been done in the world.

And what she said after fifty years of working in theatre, “this to me is a discovery. I discovered Double Edge Theatre. I heard vaguely about you guys, but now I'm surprised at what you do and how you connect with everything.” So there is always this learning component in the international, but I would like to say that one of the key and this relates to sustainability is that we don't just work on the international, we work as intentionally in the international as we work in the national, as we work on the regional, and then as we work on the hyperlocal. So there are four theatres in Ashfield, four theatres in Ashfield, and there are 1,700 inhabitants in this town. So we are trying to, it's not that it's our responsibility or “I cannot create Double Edge for the four theatres,” but I do think that there is something about us being here that had infused the little town with that encouragement to do something like that.

Not only that, but there are ten kids in the last twenty years that came from as Ashfield schools, the elementary school and the middle school that are now actors. Ten. You count the Pecoza, the Gabriel, Bianchi. I can count them out loud, but I won't.

The training and the autonomy of the actor, I think that that's a pillar and a foundation for our sustainability. Then that creates a model of operation.

Jeffrey: I want to know a little bit more, Carlos, how you talked about how you work on the hyperlocal to the international, and how are you working at those scales at any given time?

Carlos: Let's say skill is patience and also to focus on the process. So let me go back, and let me merge some of these subjects. Otherwise, we go into too specific, but you talk about sustainability. Our training method and the fact that we focus the creation of the ensemble in the autonomy of the actor, so each one of us is creating something that then becomes part of a whole, gave us a blueprint of how to function as an organization that is not in the model of the corporations or reproducing a model, a corporate model of functioning, which the majority unfortunately of everything that we do reproduces that because that's what we've been trained to do, not because we are just done.

But if you're trained and overly trained, you end up repeating the model that you're given. I was forty when I made this, and I didn't know how to get out of that. And then, all of a sudden, I started seeing this way that they... Actually, this is one of my teachers, Jennifer Johnson, let me introduce—

Jennifer: And this is one of my teachers.

Carlos: Oh, thank you. But when I first came, Jennifer was started and gave me a lot of really methodic, rigorous way of working, and then I needed to, for the first time, I'm serious, for the first time in twenty years that I was making theatre, I found myself in a room by myself trying to create something. It's like, wow, this is crazy. I don't know how to do this. So that's one thing, the training and the autonomy of the actor, I think that that's a pillar and a foundation for our sustainability. Then that creates a model of operation, in my opinion. We could debate about this, and I'm sure that there are many different, I'm talking to a lot of people that are not from theatre about this.

Even David Bollier is right now talking with me about this thing. There is a model of operation that emerges from this creation process, which is we create our thing and then we edit it. And we have outside editors, too, and we have dramaturgs we're working with and a director at the end. Now this is our shape of collective. When we are working on what I call the four burners, international, national, regional, and hyperlocal, we are working in a similar way. So each one of us is doing something. We're not all with a goal. We have goals, but sometimes you can put a goal in suspense. You don't need to... Your deadlines, you can shift them around. Sometimes randomly something appears and they say, “Oh, we want you in Poland this time,” and the other things that you have plans are not really crystallizing this. I'm sure it happens to everybody.

So then you shift. So something that has happened is that we have developed an incredible resilience and that again, that can be proven by what happened to us during the pandemic, that we immediately shifted from the whole structure that we had and we ended up doing completely, we were on tour and we ended up building apartments as carpenters in old pieces of thing that allowed us to then house our new partners that were coming, Jupiter Performance Studios, like the Theatre Offensive. So we have now room, and that enables us to have a very safe operation during COVID or as safest as it can be. That explains you, gives you a little bit of resilience, like the idea of resilience. So when you're working with international, so that's where I kick in, in sustaining. I sustain the relationship not with a goal in mind, but with the idea of a process.

So the process is not just for the artist, it's also for the model of operation that then somehow it bridges us out of the market economy. So we don't need to be depending on the tickets that we sell or the grants that we get, or it's a combination of an amalgam of resources like our neighbors contributing in kind is enormous and we never quantified it, although a lot of people are asking us to do that. But to get approx $5,000 of bread a year is exchanged, just to give an example, among other things. A tractor, I don't know. A cow for a scene that you don't need to pay. Housing, a neighbor offering you the housing for a visitor, so you don't need to pay for the hotel. I mean add up, and that is a base for sustainability.

Jeffrey: Can you talk a little bit about who your partners are, who they've been and who they currently are and how you maintain them? I mean, Carlos, you talked a little about maintaining that connection, international connection. It's so hard to divert from that language of quantifying things, but how do you reciprocate? I mean, how do you trade a cow for a scene?

Jennifer: Definitely. I think also there's such a wide variety of what could fall under the umbrella of partnerships at Double Edge, but we can maybe speak to some of them and others. And I really agree with what Carlos is saying about there's not an end game to these partnerships. There's a just evolving process. Together with partners, we enjoy shared experiences of different kinds, artistic, grassroots, community, facilities.

Carlos: Farming.

Jennifer: The farming. Because I think our definition of theatre is just very, very expansive. Some people may feel like, well, what does farming have to do with theatre? But it is the way that we do theatre, it's how we live our theatrical life and make our work here. It's just part of our picture and who we are. Some partnerships, like this partnership for example, with Magdalena, is an ongoing partnership that has currently resulted in this big festival and there's not necessarily an expectation that now we're going to do this on an annual, semi-annual basis. The relationship keeps going and growing. The ripple effects of the artists who were here experiencing something like Magdalena and now connecting with a network of artists who they didn't previously know, that the founder of Magdalena talks about this big ripple effect. Now this person is traveling to Japan in the fall, and this person—

Carlos: India.

Jennifer: —has been invited to India. This person wants to host the next Magdalena. So there becomes these networks, and I think that that is true for our partnerships. So we have partnerships like a local partnership maybe with a construction company like local person’s company that's helping us build everything and is dedicated to the space because he has been contributing to it for twenty-seven years. So it's more than just, and probably has donated more has been required because of this trust that we just rely on to survive in ourselves and in others. So the partnerships take really different forms. Some might be fully artistic, and what we do with this person is training exchange or performance development, but that's rare.

Usually there're a larger picture, and we may not always know exactly. Sometimes a project like the Art and Survival Fellowship that we do with Jupiter Performance Studios, a main partner of ours evolved out of how do we want to work together and how can we work together and how can we include other people, young people who are trying to find their way through art and activism and create their own voice? How can we together provide that platform for other people to be involved with us?

Carlos: I want to greet Stacy there because Stacy Klein, our director, she is an incredible designer of projects and relationships. And on that level, I mean I would like to say we have a genius on our team.

Jennifer: Agreed.

Carlos: But there is another level that I want to talk about a little bit, which is for instance, you and us, let's talk about some things. You know us. So when you talk to me, what do you feel? I'm interviewing you.

Jeffrey: Yeah. I feel a relationship, a connection, a friendship, a partnership.

Carlos: But it's something, you reached out. It's very accessible. You don't have a filter there because we have sustained. It's not like when you try to reach somebody you don't know, you know how you feel. Let's say an artist that you want to interview but you don't know, well, they might not reject me. So a lot of the work that I commend or I try to encourage and is done, the ensemble does it. I think we all do it in a certain level is to not discard what is not part... The opposite. On the contrary, not only not discard, but think about what you do that is not part of the work.

And that I started to develop and I'm writing about is a concept of radical care, which is the opposite to the market economy relationship. So it is not goal oriented. There's a lot of things that I care about Jennifer that has nothing to do with our work. If Jennifer comes and talk to me about her son that is going on a trip, and of course there's all the excitement and the pride that this kid now is at the age. He can travel alone, and he's going to the West Coast, but there's also the other side of that. There's the risk. So I need to be somehow embracing that gentle and with enough space to not be invasive, but to be attentive to that. Now most of us have been trained to think that that takes away from the work or the work takes away from that, which to me is completely the opposite.

And the Native people are always telling me this. That is exactly the opposite, actually. If you're taking care of someone and if you're loving someone, you get enriched and your work therefore gets enriched. So that's another pillar of sustainability in my opinion. And that was transmitted also to our work with our partnerships, but also our partners are bringing a lot of that to us and they're showing us. The Ohketeau people are like, no, no, no, this is very important that we're not talking necessarily to the point that we said we were going to talk about.

Jeffrey: I want to come around to work again here soon, but I want you to walk me through a little bit about the new partnership with Ohketeau and the connections that you've been making there and what led to it.

Jennifer: I'll start with how it came to be.

Carlos: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jennifer: We were doing a large project that we were working on for probably two years called the Ashfield Town Spectacle and Culture Fair. It was partnership with the town, and it was an incredible and extremely well planned and produced by Stacy and Adam Bright, who's our producer, and Cardiel [Klein]. And there were a thousand details and it was ultimately became after many, many long months of process, a two-day, ten-hour-a-day festival that included I think five Double Edge performances each made by different ensemble members. We had, I think something about two hundred local artists performing—

Carlos: Performing, yeah.

Jennifer: —reading. There was a concert all day concert going on of local musicians. There was a small film festival, there were poetry readings in the library, there were painting exhibitions, there was food. I mean, just really anything—

Carlos: There was a—

Jennifer: —you could imagine.

Carlos: There was a thread, a little bit of a thematical thread about the history of the town.

Jennifer: Right. As part of the research for the whole thing and part of the performance creation. We were investigating the history and historical figures of Ashfield, and it was very interesting. There are many very interesting lives that have happened here. For instance, one, the first woman elected to office in the United States was a woman who was elected to the Asheville School Board. So it was really fascinating things. There was an oral history project, et cetera, and we were working with the local historical society, and they were generously leading us through a lot of their research.

And we were curious and wanted to include history of Indigenous people in this area, and we were firmly and kindly told that there were no native people in this area, that it was possibly a walkthrough area for people, but there was not recorded native presence. And we felt like that can't really be right. This feels, we were discovering that there's some big historical record missing here. So we began to reach out to local Indigenous leaders in the area to try to help us to understand what is the actual history, not just the absence of history. And that's when you began a relationship, so you see—

Carlos: Well, then between you and me, if I don't recall poorly, we met Rhonda because Rhonda is native American mom in the school where her daughter is a classmate of Elliot.

Jennifer: Of my son.

Carlos: Jennifer's son. So we've got to talk and she's like, well, it'll be great to do something here, but I think we need to really get the people that were from here that—

Jennifer: She's an Alaskan Native.

Carlos: Right.

Jennifer: Originally, although she grew up in Plainfield, which is right next door.

Carlos: So she knew that there was this conference going to happen in UMass. Then I will tell you, I don't know if it's worthwhile Jennifer, because it was embarrassing. And we went and we met this storyteller writer Nipmuc, who lives in Webster, Mass[achusetts], later became the director of Ohketeau. And we went, Jennifer and I went together, and we listened to his lecture, which was in a classroom that was despicable. I wouldn't do even a class for students there, but that was the Native center. Painful. And when we finished, we stayed and stayed and he very kindly louder talked, and we were of shy and, “How do I talk to you after what I heard?” because every time you talk to them, there is this story of displacement, erasure, the boarding schools is always looming there. I mean, it wasn't far ago that it was happening.

So we came up, it was very interesting because immediately we had the instinct to say, “What do you need?” Instead of saying, “I'm going to do this with you.” Isn't that, what do you want to do? What can I do with you that will help you? And he said, “This is the first time that somebody says that.” I said, “What I need is what would be great is to have a space because look at this.” So we say we have spaces that we need to build them, but we have barns and stuff. And that was the beginning, and then the whole, so then we did a construction project and instead of hiring our local carpenters, we started asking, do you know carpenters that are Nipmuc? And he said, yeah, my cousins.

So we started hiring cousins that were starting to come from the east because a lot of them are displaced to the east. A lot of them are displaced to the central part of the US. So they started coming, and we built the center. And what we did, we did get grants, but we did have some floating money that we were getting from donations and stuff like that that allowed us to pay salaries and to pay, well to pay part-time salaries and to pay materials. We have a really great team here in that supported them.

Jennifer: Yes, Stacy and Adam. Stacy really became in a position of being able to lend her extreme knowledge of developing a sustainable non-profit organization because not only really is she an artistic genius, she's also a business—

Carlos: Yes, she's amazing.

Jennifer: —titan. A really incredible.

Carlos: And that also had them land in places that they started getting grants and they started to grow exponentially and people coming and then the conference that they are all HowlRound, we started this relationship with HowlRound. This was all their ideas. And what we were doing is like, okay, these are resources that you can, if you want to do this, we'll introduce you to the people. Needless to say that as soon as we open our mouth and we talk to Vijay [Mathew] or to Jamie [Gahlon] or to whoever we talk to, everybody's like, “What? Yes, let's do that.” It is success even before you start. So it just keeps growing. A filmmaker from France just came to do a documentary. It's crazy.

Jennifer: And we've performed with Larry, and we do with Larry and Rhonda, with Ohketeau, we do The Living Presence of Our History series, which they generously curate these incredible panels of artists, activists, Native thinkers and writers to come into our community so that they actually educate our community where there was an abyss before of knowledge of the presence of Native people in this area specifically

Carlos: And what happened? So one day we're sitting and we have a lot of moments where we're sitting just talking about whatever and not really focusing. And Larry starts, Larry Spotted Crow Mann is the director, one of the directors of Ohketeau, he starts talking about his family and the boarding schools and what happened to his great-grandfather who fought for the north in the Civil War. But when he came back, his kids were sent to boarding schools and his lands were taken away. So, his wife was almost like landless all a sudden. So, Stacey was sitting with him and he said, wow, that is a story for a theatre piece and also the way you're telling it. And he said, are you serious? And she's said, yeah, totally. Would you help me with that? And Stacey said, yeah, we will. So that became this performance Freedom in Season that now he keeps working is going to become more and more of a play.

Jennifer: And that's one of the performances in our upcoming outdoor Constellations festival.

Carlos: So you all need to come, everybody listening to this need to come and see.

Jennifer: That was a long plug.

Jeffrey: It's a long pitch. A long pitch.

Carlos: That's my five minute, that's my elevator speech.

Trying to produce theatre in a market economy that's driven by real estate does not lend itself to radical behavior, radical art making.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Good. Good. No, wonderful. I can see how these relationships and these partnerships and this community all builds in this rural landscape. And I'm wondering the rural setting for the farm and for the work that Double Edge does, how does the setting contribute to your artistic training that you might not get otherwise from being back in Boston where the company started?

Jennifer: An impetus to for Double Edge to move from Boston and its beautiful parish hall space, which is where I first experienced Double Edge to out here, was to be able to bring, first of all, for members of the ensemble and company to be able to live affordably. Because a theatrical life in an urban center in the US is nearly impossible. I think it's more and more impossible every day. We hear constantly our students, young artists, even people who've been at it for a long time, that life is extremely difficult and discouraging. Trying to produce theatre in a market economy that's driven by real estate does not lend itself to radical behavior, radical art making.

Stacey really wanted the company to be able to have a more sustainable base and to be able to invite people to train us and work with us and perform here. And so that became something that was possible with more space. Now of course, that's not the end of it. Yes, that's continued. We just had a week of that. There's not one performance that I didn't learn something crucial in that whole festival, but we began to have a relationship with the natural world that really defines a lot of our work right now. We spend the summer months doing an outdoor piece that has indoor aspects of it, but we create a piece in collaboration with fields and streams and—

Carlos: Beavers.

Jennifer: —beavers.

Carlos: They're really good.

Jennifer: The frogs in the pond. And this sounds romantic, and it is a challenge. I think the hardest way that now is a way that I love to work is outdoors. And Carlos really taught me that. Carlos has a history of working outdoors. I do not. It is challenging and it is also exhilarating. There's no pretense. You cannot pretend that you're not being rained upon. We have new goats. Our board president gave the goats to us. He raises goats and he said they live right next to one of the playing areas of the summer performance. And I've really noticed that one of them is loud, and I've thought about it and he said, “Yes, we very particularly wanted to get rid of that one because it's so talkative.”

And I thought there is one of the first challenges of the summer 2022, some spectacle is that loud goat. You are performing and one night there's a beautiful full moon that's not there the other night. The work is extremely alive. And I think that that keeps us in a place of awareness that allows our work to go beyond dailyness that we train out of ourselves. But everyone faces every day when they're performing.

Carlos: Another aspect of the rural life is well contrary what you think when you live in a city, in an urban type of mentality, market economy, urban is possible. It's not impossible. You need, the thing you really would encourage everybody is to modify expectations. So if you're coming to the rural, the type of comfort is not that it's uncomfortable, but the type of comfort that you have in a city you won't have. On the other hand, for instance, one day I was making the math in my mind of how much time I spent in red lights and subways and trains in the city. And instead of that, I was here sitting looking at a maple tree and how generative that was and how non-generative was the bus, the train, and the cabs, or when I was driving, sitting on the red light plus the bad energy of driving on a highway trying to commute and get in and out of a big city.

You need to compute those things because those are poisons that go into your system. Here, it's different. Here, you don't need that much. You need things, but you don't need that much certain things. So there is a certain economy, the economy shifts, but then the radical care and there needs to be a genuine openness to be with others and to accept help, which then we can talk a lot, and we can say, “Yes, I want help,” but then your pride gets in the way and you block the help immediately because you want to do, I'm a man and I want to carry your bag all the time. I've been told that and it's true. And then when I'm aching or I have sciatica, I even want to carry the bag. But it's like you're already sixty-five also, can you chill out and accept?

So when you go to rural, you need somehow to modify your expectations and your pride and your ego and work differently. Not that you cannot cancel that obviously because it's part of our who we are; it's our identity. But you need to modify it in a way that then you intertwine a support mechanism. So for us, and I think we have a pretty good budget and a pretty high budget for a group like ours, our operating now is $1,300,000, so it's not a bad thing even in a city. But still, I don't think we would be able to do as much as we do here because there's all this support mechanism. But in order for that to happen, there needs to be a behavioral change that again has to do with not if we're good or bad people, but we need to revisit and try to transform the ways we were trained.

Our idea of privacy, our idea of intimacy is different. Not that we shouldn't have it, but you have much more share areas with others or you need to share them because you depend on that support. So that needs to, the stats share space needs to be open so that when you understand that, for instance, we deal a lot with people that don't think politically like us actually, that they're on the other sidewalk of life. And still we collaborate enormous. Part of our partnerships are with plumbers and with constructors, with carpenters. And we have partnership with them because they know that we will provide for work. So there's a lot of give and take and there's a lot of donations or collaborations or a plumber that would come at any time because they know we're performing and if we have an issue, they're here. There's no doubt. It could be Sunday night and they come. And that is not because we force them to do, there's not a contract to do that. It's they want to do it, and they want us to succeed. I mean, they're benefiting for that.

Jennifer: We work with one farmer for a long time. He's done a lot here. And he comes whenever there's rain and we are performing outside. He's the one who decides if we perform or not. He has the last word because he's the one that really knows.

Carlos: He knows the weather really well. He's not really forecasting the weather, but he tells you with an hour with precision because he's looking at three radars on different computers and with precision, we'll tell you it's going to really, you have the chance that it's going to be lightning and you don't want the audience in the lightning storm. So cancel. Or he says, “Kiddo,” I'm in the middle of a scene and he said this, “I didn't see this coming, but you have half an hour. Tell your friends.” And on the spot we modify the performance, and we change it. And either we finish, we ended up in the barn so people are protected, or we rush through the end or towards the end we cut a couple of scenes. And so that's like, again, it's a training of resilience.

As an actor, you need to say, okay, screw the lines, I'm going to go for the end and here's the end. And that's a farmer. And he was the one telling me once, I said, “Well, it's great that now you like theatre.” He's like, “I don't like theatre.” I'm like, “Ray, you have come to seven of our last nine performance. What are you talking about?” And he wait for a second and thought the answer and he said, “What you make is not theatre, you make something else.” I say, “Okay, I'll give you that.”

Jennifer: But we tricked him because we do make theatre.

Carlos: We do make theatre.

Jeffrey: Whatever you're making though, he likes it.

Carlos: Yeah, whatever it is.

Jennifer: Yeah, because he's making it with us.

Carlos: Yeah.

Jeffrey: Yeah, yeah. Totally. That's amazing. I'm wondering, when someone comes to train with you, what is the thing that they walk away with that is unique? That unique thing that they take out into their practice or into their world?

Jennifer: Training is a lifelong pursuit. We just had a masterclass in that with Yuyachkani.

Carlos: Oh.

Jennifer: She's talking about her fifty years of training. It was hard.

Carlos: I wanted to talk to you. We didn't have time.

Jennifer: So someone may come here having never trained with us before, which is great. Someone may have come here, and people do, who have trained with us at great lengths, it's open to every experience. So I think what people take away is there's a lot of things, but if I had to really boil it down to one, I would say that what we hope people take away and what I think people do take away and keep coming back for is a new way of understanding and seeing themselves. Our training is not form-based training. Certainly we have physical foundations that are repeated or explored, that sort of travel, have traveled. I was trained by Stacy and actors of this generation. And I'm also trained by the younger people in the ensemble now.

But so a language has developed over forty years of training, and it is utilized in a variety of different ways, but all when it comes to an individual, they take what they want and what they need from it. So it really becomes very individualized there. And that's what I think people are touched by is being challenged to into some new physicality, into some new vocal training, into some new singing that they were assuming for themselves that they could not participate in. And that energy is what I think transforms people's idea of themselves. Does that make sense?

Carlos: Yeah. I think you—

Jennifer: I've left you speechless.

Carlos: Yes.

Jennifer: Oh my God.

Jeffrey: Whoa.

Jennifer: What?

Jeffrey: I would say as the recipient of training, I would say that's wholeheartedly true and that I walked away wishing I had your training at a different point in my life so that I could have encountered other things after it knowing more about myself. And I think that's wholeheartedly true. I thank you for sharing that. That's really—

Jennifer: Absolutely. It's true for me too. I was a young person and came to training and it's changed my life.

Carlos: I can say the same thing. I mean similar to you Jeff, but I'm older than you. I encountered training when I was forty, so I had a lot. And then I'm like, oh, had I known this before. But on the other hand was this past twenty-five years of my life has been of an amazing spiritual and imaginative journey. It is being a journey that brought me to places that I couldn't have imagined that I was going to see inside of myself. Now, it's interesting because what is training? What is a training? When you do a workout, what are you doing? So the elements of training, you would say there are certain elements of repetition of something because you're trying to somehow master a skill. There is a different, it's an element of exploration of something you don't know. But basically one time we was listening to a Tibetan monk, and he was talking about meditation and tap upon training. And he said, you people think that meditation is to put your mind in blank. Is that how you say in English?

Jennifer: Empty your mind.

Carlos: Empty your mind. And that's not true. That's not true. The mind can never be empty. And it's not true that you're going to get rid of, you need to pay the bill. And you remember just now that the electric bill is waiting for you and a couple of days pass and you're sitting to do the training that's going to be in your mind no matter what. And then there is another thing, you had a really sour discussion with your partner and that's not going to go away. Or you have had an amazing experience an hour before you enter the room and it's not going to go away. So what is that? So the monk says, we all have a monkey brain and we cannot give you a banana and the monkey brain is going to be quiet.

So you need to really entertain your brain. That's why when we do breathing, we ask people to count. That's a way to give the monkey brain a task so it frees you, but then you include your body by breathing. You don't detach the body. So that brings another side of your brain to the forefront for the first time for you, not for others. Nobody can see that. Only you see that and experience that. So when I'm doing training, that is what ends up happening after let's say twenty, thirty minutes of me exerting myself physically, is that the monkey brain is busy doing a repetitive thing. And the other areas of my thinking appear and discover side of myself that was there in the back, but I was not really being able to focus on.

Jeffrey: Yeah, yeah. That's really helpful to hear because I remember there was never a moment... I mean sometimes we would train and practice in silence, but I think ultimately there was always some audio or something that was connecting to that. There was always audio, there's always music or something that we were connecting to while our bodies were moving at the same time. Everything was so corporeal; we're just in our bodies. But the brain did have something to connect with. And I remember the instruction, don't let the music necessarily guide the emotion, which was very hard to do because that monkey brain wants to follow the emotion, doesn't it? I'm just making that connection right now.

Carlos: It wants to follow the emotion that is already stereotyped by the music. The music, particularly the commercial music, the majority of the music has been stereotyped.

Jeffrey: Right.

Carlos: Yeah, that's what we try to do.

Jennifer: But it's funny, we even had that discussion recently in rehearsal where some of us prefer having music, some of us prefer not having music. So we hit upon a compromise of music here, not music here, turn it on when you want, turn it off because—

Carlos: Or start without music at all.

Jennifer: —your practice evolves. That's what this woman from Yuyachkani was talking about. There's a point in your life where past exhaustion is the point, the creative point. Then you get to a different phase, then you get to a different phase. The phase that she describes herself in right now is circuitous. It's about balance and unbalance. It's gentle and then it may return, but it's always, usually when people first get here, there is this kind of introduction of this rigorous physical training or rigorous singing and that's really important. Going into the woods, that's all part of it. It's also not the end of it. And anything can be turned into training. Anything at all can be thought of as a training and reinterpreted as a pursuit in training.

Jeffrey: When you're developing a piece, then, my question is, I guess because it is so rooted in impulse and in the body, how do you edit for the sake of the story, the piece? Editing might not even be the right word. I know Stacy comes in with a particular idea or may see something new that day. How does she set her vision alongside what has been created in that rehearsal?

Jennifer: Well, ultimately when we're creating a performance, and we are bringing in lots of materials that are physically based or vocally based, dramaturgically based, there's literature, there are visual aspects. So there's a lot of research that goes in all different ways and we each have our portals into how we work. Everyone has a different way that speaks to them within this framework. And what we're trying to do is, of course, create a physical metaphor for an emotion or a situation or a dramaturgical idea. And we push that physical metaphor to a place, explore it fully, bring in objects, bring in a different environment, work with partner, work with it while that other person's doing their physical metaphor, bring in poetry, bring in our own writing, whatever. Stacy all the time is working on her work, which we will all know each other's resources.

We will know the big picture of what Stacy's vision is, and we work through our own autonomous, each of us way to interpret that collaboration. And those two things often push up against each other. This is not a kind of thing, it's not really interpretive. It's not like Stacy's giving us a script and saying like this, but we're bringing things and she's bringing things and we often don't agree on what those things are. And that luckily we all really fall back on the trust that we've developed with each other to find a way forward every day. But rather than thinking of Stacy as an editor, she's generative in her director way.

So she is really holding the world that contains these otherwise disparate threats. And then that world gets smaller and smaller and smaller as we begin to understand it more, I think. And she begins to understand us more and how each of us is relating and we're understanding each other more until the world becomes a manageable bubble that I think we all then begin to understand the terrain in and can make more concrete choices about with this shared, there's just a kind of reciprocal idea of what's right and what's wrong in this world, if that makes... I think that's the best I can do.

Jeffrey: Yeah. No, absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. I appreciate the perspective on it from being on the inside and being able to... I know you're not Stacy, but I appreciate the big idea from the outside, too, knowing that it's rooted in the source material, in the dramaturgy, in the content—

Jennifer: That's right.

Jeffrey: —that you come up with. That's really great.

Jennifer: That's right.

Carlos: The thing is, a lot of times it seems the pushback happens because it seems as an actor that you're doing something. Well, A, if you're focusing on impulse, then there a certain repetition, which I don't want to use that word because it's tricky, but how do you go back to the scene where you say to the other actor, blah, blah, blah? You say to the actor "you want this cup of tea." So every night you're going to do that. It's part of a structure of a structure that translates. As an actor, what I've been finding over the course of the last 25 years is that what repeats is an outside, what repeats is like a veil that we put, but inside of me that doesn't repeat. Inside of me, the emotion is each time different. So I'm seeing Leonora in the work that we do together, and one night I'm saying the text with a certain intention from within me and it produces an emotion in me.

The next day I go with the same intention and the emotion is different. So instead of repressing and trying to repeat the emotion—because that would be crazy, it's impossible to repeat the emotion. It's like the weather, it comes or it doesn't, you might cry or you might not cry that day—I'm just open to what is coming to me that night emotionally. And instead of controlling that, I try to ride the wave of whatever is happening. You see what I mean? It might be nostalgic that night or the following night will be euphoric or giddy for whatever reason. And then I need to write it and make somehow I cannot destroy the veil that we have created, because the veil in the light, the veil allows you to see the light because otherwise, you're not able to see the light. It blinds you.

Jeffrey: So earlier you were talking about market economy and transactional work and that being a sustaining factor, but what I really want to... I'm wondering what you might define your work then as, and I know one of the things that I've always really appreciated is how Stacy calls it a “living culture.” And I wonder if that connects a dot to what you might define that as, as anti-market culture or anti-market economy. I'm wondering what would you call the way of working that you have?

Carlos: Double Edge Theatre. I don't know. I mean, one thing that we try to not do is to put the artwork in the position of being the main, sustainable survival. So that decompression of the ticket sale as being the main thing or whatever, we don't need to satisfy a funder with what we do. Actually, we don't care. We do what we do, and if somebody wants to fund it, great. And if not, we're going to find a way to fund it. For the most part, in all honesty, it's very difficult. We haven't found funders that would like to fund what we do as artists, actually. I'm almost—

Jennifer: We're only beginning to enter that round.

Carlos: Well, I think we get funding for other things.

Jennifer: Yes, exactly.

So why do you need to define art? I mean just do everything with art.

Carlos: We get funding for other things, but we don't get funding for what we do on stage. And the audience doesn't cover a quarter of what we invest.

Jennifer: Right. We tour a lot or did in our pre-pandemic life. And again, although we really want to change even the way that we're doing that because we don't want it. We were on a big tour, and we did one performance, and then it was time for everyone to go home for COVID. But it also gave us time to realize that we didn't want to tour any longer to support ourselves. Although it supports us well, we want now to tour based on community, based on collaboration.

Carlos: Relationships.

Jennifer: Yeah. Because that's where our work is best presented, not just on a venue circuit because we have to be able to connect with a community and an audience before performing.

Carlos: The other thing I want to say, Jeff, is I would like to not use the word “anti-market economy” because I don't want to waste my time being an anti, I'm trying to create something, whatever it is, hopefully it's good. But yes, it's not based in the concept of market economy, definitely. It's based on a concept of solidarity, care for each other.

Jennifer: Imagination.

Carlos: Imagination, metaphor, art. Interestingly enough, my Nipmuc friends that were telling me we don't have a word in our language for art because everything we did was considered art. So if you're doing maple syrup, that's an art. If you're carving a canoe, that's an art. If you're singing a song and a prayer, that's an art. So why do you need to define art? I mean just do everything with art. And that if you go a little bit deep, I want to leave it there and don't want to say that's what we do. But if you go a little bit there, a little bit just peeking, then a new perspective, possibility happens. And we get funding for a lot of the stuff that we do that is not related to what we do on stage, but we keep doing what we do on stage.

And that is amazing because it happens. It's miraculous what happens here and the audience that comes and the success and the repercussion after sold out performance and we're not really actively selling what we do. It happens, but it doesn't help us in the sense that it doesn't, it's not the main support of the survival of this experience. And again, I want to say that the main support of the survival is the relationships and the care for each other and for our neighbors and for the land.

Jeffrey: Thank you. What is something you all wish everyone knew about Double Edge?

Carlos: Double Edge Theatre. Two answers were exactly the same. I mean, people don't know about us. I've been listening. I've been hearing it. This week I had heard about, and I don't know how many people came and say, “How is that people don't know? How didn't I know before about you guys? I just started to know now in the last two or three years, how come nobody knows?” I said, “Well, I think if people could know about this experience, it would be different.” But I think that that has to do well. This is a long conversation. I want to have it with you one day. We can do a second session if you want.

Jennifer: You're in for it.

Carlos: But again, the system of the market economy has guided the communication in a certain way. We can talk about communications at some point and about Marshall McLuhan and all the analysis in the studies on communication that have existed and continue to existence as well. Now with social media, it's even more. So when we thought we had a democratized way, internet was the democratized way of communicating. All of a sudden we realized, oh no, we actually, I'm thinking that needs to be regulated even if I didn't want it to be regulated because of course, it's being savaged by people that are very intentionally... Always the violent has the upper hand. Whoever is violent has the first move already. And when you're not violent, when you're pacifist, you are playing behind always. Because whoever wants to do bad thing will have that initiative before anybody.

Communication is doing a disservice for the community. We saw that in the health system. It's really difficult. It's a difficult situation. It happens also in the cultural field. So I think that the fact that people don't know about us is not a coincidence. It's part of how the things are. What is the confluence? Why is it that if three major newspapers, national newspaper, are thinking about writing an article about the voyage, it never happens. And Jeff, I cannot tell you how many times we have been approached and we are almost to the threshold. Any of the names that you can imagine is about to write an article or even NPR and it doesn't get there. But then you have platforms like HowlRound, thank God, and others but that's not enough also. So we need to think about communications and yes, what I would like for people to know is that this exists and that is possible. What do you want people to know?

Jennifer: Well, I want people to know that in all of this varied work that we do in these relations that we have as our facilities grow, we now have three separate areas in Ashfield as we continue to grow. At the heart of that is our never-ending faith in art. And that everything springs from that and our dedication to our artwork and our dedication to the artwork of others. Everything that comes from that. The new kitchen, the goats, the partnerships, the tours, it all comes from that impulse to create.

Jeffrey: Folks, I think that's a beautiful place for us to put a pin in it. Thank you so much again for your time.

Jennifer: Thank you, Jeff.

Jeffrey: And it just is, I came to you in a time where I was ready to expand my knowledge and you have continued to do so to even through to today. I think I need to let you both know that I'm getting a little emotional talking to you right now because I had every juncture… I just am overflowing with gratitude because at every juncture that I can, I will sing the praises of the moment of the weeks that I spent with you. And I want to let you know that you made a very important impression upon me in my knowledge of myself, as you've mentioned, in my knowledge of art making and my concept of metaphor and change and creation and the natural world.

I don't know if I can find the... This is the... To infinity, I could describe. Just so many things that were influenced by my training there, and I constantly refer back to and mention you at every opportunity that I can, and you should know that I am eternally grateful and speak your praises whenever I get the chance. So thank you, and I cannot wait to come back and visit, and I hope it is sooner than I expect. And I'm so grateful for this time that we've been able to spend together today. So thank you so much.

Jennifer: Jeff, thank you. And thank you for sharing that. It's extremely meaningful and it's very generous of you to share that with us. Come back. Come back. It's time.

Carlos: I will start texting you.

Jennifer: Yeah, you'll never get rid of him now.

Carlos: You said this. It's recorded.

Jennifer: It's going to be a daily check in.

Carlos: It's going to be recorded. No, not daily, but weekly.

Jeffrey: Yeah, that's fine. That's fine. Yeah. Yeah. No, I would love to talk to you more often.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jeffrey: Wonderful folks, thank you so much for your time and have a great rest of your celebration, and I wish you all, we'll see you again soon, I'm sure.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Carlos: Thank you, Jeff.

Jennifer: Thank you. Bye.

Carlos: Bye.

Jeffrey: Something I think that is really amazing for Double Edge is that they make a sort of epic theatre look effortless. The show that I came to know them for, Twentieth Century, spans a decade [err. century]. So when they talk about how they turned someone's life and family history into a piece, my brain sort of said, yeah, yeah, of course they did. That said, it isn't effortless. It is effortful and beautiful. I love what Carlos said about working on the four burners of internationally, nationally, regionally, and hyperlocal, particularly about sustaining the model of operation and the shifting that is necessary about following performance opportunities. And the partnerships go not just down to the hyperlocal, but down to the frogs that they perform with in their outdoor festivals, the talkative goat that was given to them. All of the challenges are therein the opportunities for their partnerships and performances.

It puts into perspective the Broadway freakouts towards audience members whose phones go off. There are no airplane modes for goats or frogs. They are so grounded in their community that they are necessary for big parts of it. The number of times they summon information from people in the community, mothers at schools, et cetera, is remarkable and not something I get with every interview. I'm thinking back to my very first episode with Michael from Dell’Arte International. Their partnerships are also very rooted with organizations in their part of Blue Lake, California. Okay.

Hey, if you like these kinds of conversations, a quick reminder that I want to hear from you, find us on Twitter and Instagram @ftgu_pod and me on Instagram @ensemble_ethnographer. Let me know what you're most curious about in the field of ensemble based and collaboratively created work. Won't you please, please. Thanks. Finally, before I go, a big thanks once again, the Quasimondo Physical Theatre who permitted me to use their Zoom line without limits. Much love to you all. Thanks you all. And now it's time for that lightning round sound check.

What is your favorite salutation?

Jennifer: Hello Friends.

Carlos: Yeah, companions, but also companion is a connotation of somebody that, so the region of the word is to break bread with. Con pan. With bread. So that's why I like companieros. And it is mostly used by the majority of the Hispanic America, and also Brazil, actually, as a working class.

Jeffrey: What's your favorite form of transportation?

Jennifer: I like walking.

Carlos: Mine is walking and the second one, hands down is train, but the third one is very close is boats.

Jeffrey: And what's your favorite exclamation?

Jennifer: Hola.

Carlos: Hola.

Jeffrey: What would you be doing if not Double Edge?

Jennifer: I've always really romanticized being an art conservator that you just go in and you by yourself quietly restore a precious artwork.

Jeffrey: What does ensemble mean to both of you?

Carlos: I think that for me, it's like my chosen family. Something I like is that the commitments are not set in stone and you need to refresh them periodically.

Jennifer: I would say a group of people who are committed to making this one thing grow, but we each have a different way that we make that thing grow.

Jeffrey: What's the opposite of Double Edge?

Carlos: Market economy.

Jennifer: Definitely.

Carlos: Division. Isolation. The self-made man, the idea that you cannot ask for help.

Jennifer: Transactions.

Jeffrey: What's your favorite kind of ice cream?

Jennifer: There's an ice cream around here that I love from the Hager's Family Farm Stand. It's more of a store, but it's still called a farm stand and they make a maple soft serve ice cream. That is really delicious. I recommend it to anyone who is in the Greenfield area.

Carlos: I know that this is not being filmed, but for those that are listening, Jeff just now sway in a way, when maple—what's the name?—

Jennifer: Soft serve.

Carlos: —soft serve came out of Jennifer's mouth. In the description that I'm giving to you, Jeff was swaying like he was being transported to some kind of other—

Jeffrey: This has been another episode of From the Ground Up. You can find, like, and follow this podcast @ftgu_pod, or me, Jeffrey Mosser @ensemble_ethnographer on Instagram, and @KineticMimetic on Twitter.

Think you or someone you know ought to be on the show? Send us an email at [email protected]. We also accept fan mail and requests. Access to all of our past episodes can be found on my website, jeffreymosser.com as well as howlround.com.

The audio bed was created by Kiran Vedula. You can find him on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and flutesatdawn.org. This podcast is produced as a contribution to the HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this series and other HowlRound podcasts in our feed on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, and wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to search “HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts” and subscribe to receive new episodes. If you love this podcast, post a rating and write a review on those platforms. This helps other people find us. You can find a transcript for the episode along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com. Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay, or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit your ideas to the commons.

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Thoughts from the curator

From the Ground Up is here to ask questions about ensemble-based creation. Who’s doing it? How is it practiced? Are they paid? Are they able to thrive? We’re also examining that word: Ensemble. What does it mean? There is no roadmap, format, prescription, description, or rubber stamp to the way ensemble-based work is made from place to place and process to process. This podcast interviews companies from around the country on how they make and pay for the art. If you have questions about where to begin or what to do next with your own company, stay tuned.

From the Ground Up Podcast


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