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Of Farms and Fables: Planting the seed of collaboration and harvesting a play

of farms and fable theatre troupe, portland, maine

On par with its sea bounty, Maine is well known for its blueberries and other gifts from the ground. This produce doesn’t magically appear at local farmers’ markets, farm stands, and in the dishes of our award-winning restaurants. Despite technological advances, Maine farmers must still wake up at the crack of dawn, till the land, tend to the animals, and remain vulnerable to the whims of Mother Nature.

If I sound a bit vague in my description of the plight of agriculture in Maine, it’s because I have never worked on a farm. The same can’t be said for the folks at Open Waters Theatre Arts. Their ongoing project to illuminate agricultural truths for Mainers who have never herded a pack of Holsteins, Of Farms and Fables, grew from a meeting between Open Waters Director Jennie Hahn and Jordan’s Farm co-owner Penny Jordan. With changing land use, economies, and populations in Maine, Hahn wanted to contribute to a question nagging many in our fair state – what is the future of agriculture here?

During the summer of 2010, artists from Open Waters engaged in a work exchange with three local farms – Broadturn Farm, Benson Farm, and Jordan’s Farm. The four artists traded 12 to 15 hours of weekly labor for the opportunity to speak frankly with farmers about their experiences.

The resulting conversation morphed into a full-length play with the help of playwright Cory Tamler. (Some photos of the exchange are also on display at the Public Market House.) The drafting process included copious feedback from the farmers to ensure the play resonated with earthy truths. “We wanted to find themes in these conversations that might be relevant to both farmers and a wider audience,” explained Hahn about the work involved in gleaning one play from such a huge wealth of material. “The major thing we kept coming back to was the idea of farm transfer between generations – both within families and broader society. How do we transfer the lifestyle and the knowledge of farmers?”

With the script completed and the play cast with a mixture of experienced actors and experienced farmers, the curtain will rise from October 27th through the 30th. While the collaboration has been largely funded through donations and grants, Of Farms and Fables has set up a Kickstarter account to pay some lingering necessities and make sure that artisans who contribute their time and talent receive fair compensation.

There are a little over two weeks left on the Kickstarter campaign, and Of Farms and Fables is more than $3,000 short of its $5,000 goal. Pledging money to the project will get backers a variety of benefits and prizes, all viewable on the site. Tickets for the Of Farms and Fables play will be sold on a pay-what-you-can basis, so there’s no excuse not to show your face. Preferably while munching on some fresh root vegetables, pulled right out of the Maine soil.

Above: Director Jennie Hahn runs with the bulls of Benson Farm during the Of Farms and Fables Work Exchange Program.

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