When I received the press release, I was immediately intrigued. “Farm Arts Collective continues outdoor arts programming in the summer of 2020 with ‘Dream on the Farm,’ a live …
When I received the press release, I was immediately intrigued. “Farm Arts Collective continues outdoor arts programming in the summer of 2020 with ‘Dream on the Farm,’ a live theatre performance on Willow Wisp Organic Farm in Damascus, PA,” it stated. “This site-specific performance has been developed and staged for small audience groups in the time of COVID-19. Masks will be required.”
Chomping at the bit to get a sneak-peek and hoping for an opportunity to snap some photos during a rehearsal, I called artistic director Tannis Kowalchuk who directed last year’s sold-out hit “Shakespeare on the Farm,” as well as the NACL Theatre performances of “COURAGE” and “The Weather Project.”
“We’re still working some things out, but sure,” Tannis replied. “We have five shows scheduled, and the performance will be safely staged as a mobile experience in small groups of 12 people on the 30-acre organic farm where Farm Arts Collective makes its home.” Believing that Tannis could describe what audiences can expect far more eloquently than me, I asked her to send more information in her own words.
That same night, another email arrived. “‘Dream on the Farm’ is created and performed by the Farm Arts Collective ensemble of 15 musicians, actors, stilt walkers, writers, ecologists, farmers and Chief Gentlemoon of the Lenape-Nation of PA,” she wrote. “The company worked remotely in the spring months and has been rehearsing outdoors since late May. ‘Dream on the Farm’ is an eco-drama that brings the character of Mother Nature to the farm where she is holding an extinction event to warn humans of their destructive and risky behavior on the planet.”
“I’m in!” I wrote back excitedly, grabbed my camera and headed out to Willow Wisp Farm, anxious to get a first-hand look at what visual storyteller Kowalchuk and Co. have created. “The play is performed in two acts,” Tannis said by way of explanation upon my arrival. “The first act is a walk for small audience pods where they encounter creatures across the farm including DJFrog, Spider, Praying Mantis, Farmer, Stardust, Deer, Storm Chaser, Pigeon, Cavewoman and Deity of the Atmosphere. The second act is a shadow play presentation of a past extinction [of neanderthalensis] with a climactic warning.”
“Glad I brought the good camera,” I quipped, “Did you tell me that each scene is played out multiple times, and they’re all performed simultaneously? How on Earth does that work?”
“That’s where our COVID-19 response comes in,” Kowalchuk said. “This year, the audiences attending ‘Dream on the Farm’ will be limited to 60. To keep spectators and performers safe, we encourage families and friends to come to the same performance so that pods are comprised of people who are already comfortable with one another. We will divide the audience up into groups of 12 people,” she further explained. “Each small group will walk together with a ‘Dream Walker’ who will guide them to different locations around the 30-acre farm to witness a scene performed in a beautiful agricultural setting.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” I said to Tannis after my photographic journey through ‘Dream on the Farm.’ While the scenes are seamless and interchangeable, they’re interwoven with clear, distinct direction, regardless of which path the “Dream Walkers” take. “It really did feel like a dream, but it could be interpreted as a nightmare,” I suggested. “You yourself described it as an “eco-drama.”
“But it has an uplifting message,” Kowalchuk said in response.
“Does it?” I asked. “Or is it more of a wakeup call?”
To meet safety requirements, seating for each performance is limited. Showtimes are Thursday through Monday, August 6 through 10, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. For reservations go to www.myrivertickets.com.