Sunday, November 7, 2004
By Chris Fujiwara
PLENTY of theater companies may profess as much, but the Double Edge Theater company truly believes that art is life. On the Farm, the group?s 105-acre estate in Ashfield, Mass., the company has built the dramatic equivalent of a kibbutz: an intimate, utopian and self-sustaining community, where its seven members live and work together, integrating their onstage and offstage lives.
The group, which is just finishing its New York debut at La MaMa E.T.C. with "The UnPossessed" - a play (very) loosely based on "Don Quixote" - is the creation of Stacy Klein, who founded the company in 1982 and then moved it to Ashfield, a half-hour north of Amherst, in 1994. Living here, she said, allows the group to "rehearse based on our creativity and not on our schedule."
By joining the company, the members free themselves from prosaic distractions ? say, holding down a paying job. "We are self-sufficient in that we can house all of our people, so we don?t need to have these huge jobs outside of the theater in order to pay for an apartment for each of us," Ms. Klein said. "We can get as many vegetables as we can get off the farm."
Ms. Klein trained with a student of the renowned Polish director and theorist Jerzy Grotowski, one of the most important figures in avant-garde theater. "The Grotowski connection is like a tribe of theater," Ms. Klein explained, that views the actor as an creative artist in his own right, and "not as a puppet of the director or the designer."
Erasing the line between work and home life can sometimes be trying, even for the initiated. "Who we are upstairs," in the performance space, said Richard Newman, who has been living with Double Edge for about a year, "informs who we are in our daily life, but they?re not necessarily the same things. Some people I work with really well in the space, but in my daily life ? cooking or doing farm things ? I can?t really deal with them. It?s very difficult sometimes. It?s not bad, necessarily; it?s more interesting."
Hayley Brown, who has also been at the Farm for about a year, agreed: "It?s certainly difficult, but I think it makes the work more powerful. It seems that the more time we spend here, the more your life and your work are the same thing, and everything about your life can be put into your work, and everything about your work can apply to your life."
The members have been rehearsing "The UnPossessed" in the large barn that serves as a living and performance space. The show?s circuslike imagery and spectacle are evidence of the group?s fascination with street theater in South America.
After rehearsal comes daily training. The nine actors onstage (including the four interns who are working with Double Edge this fall) face one another in a circle and trade movements. Afterward, they work alone or in pairs or threes, balancing, rolling, hopping, running.
"The goals of the group training," explained Carlos Uriona, Ms. Klein?s collaborator and the actor who plays Don Quixote, "are to tap energy, to develop endurance and strength, and to find power," and, he added, to rid themselves of the "daily masks" that people wear.
Mr. Uriona described the group?s progress so far: "Have you ever spun yourself around to make yourself dizzy? If you try to control yourself, you get into trouble. The more you let yourself go, the better it is. That?s where we are now."
Ms. Klein created "The UnPossessed" after 9/11. "I was feeling like I was a fool to try to keep this enterprise going, and the whole idea of art going, when people would rather be at war and fighting," she said. "And so immediately we started thinking about ?Quixote.? I remember saying to Carlos one day, ?I feel like Quixote.? I?m just an insane idealist who is fighting windmills."
Issue Date: Sunday, November 7th 2004