There’s a reckoning that happens sometimes in your 30’s—at least for me it was in my 30’s—where you take a cold, analytical look at your life choices and take some measurements. I’m not talking about wondering how your life has taken the particular turns it has or about comparing yourself to where your old classmates are—bank accounts, car makes and models, square footage and in what neighborhood, etc…
No. I’m talking about something deeper. I’m talking about looking in the mirror and asking—“Does what I am doing matter?”
As a theatre artist, what I do is so fleeting. A bunch of people pour heart and soul into a work, collaborate (and sometimes battle), and finally we give all the energy we’ve put in to our audience. We give it away. All of it… Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But either way at the end of the show the patrons go home. And at the end of the run the family you’ve built parts ways. Each performance is one of a kind, each journey unique and somehow the same. And after countless shows (some which you are passionate about and some that, at the very least, gave you a paycheck) you look at your body of work and wonder if you’re just a cog in a machine, recycling old stories that prop up old ideas.
It seems we’re in a national moment of reckoning. Some seem to actively debunk the old mythologies and some of us cling to the stories of our upbringing like a baby blanket. We fight against our apathy or succumb to it. We find comfort in moving quickly into the future or we find it looking backwards in time. But wherever we fall on the myriad of issues in the zeitgeist we are called to unpack them, dust them off, and reevaluate.
These past two days, I had the privilege of being an audience member for two new works. The workshop performances of SUMMERTIME by Mark Rigney and DAISY VIOLET THE BITCH BEAST KING by Sam Collier are radically different in style, but each provoke exquisite questions. SUMMERTIME, directed by Tom Burmester, hilariously shines a light on the fragility of the middle class, the absurdity of American politics, and the uncomfortable reality that our values often take a backseat when we strive to care for our own. DAISY VIOLET THE BITCH BEAST KING, directed by Lisa Quoresimo, is a surreal romp though the female psyche. The rules of femininity are laid bare as the audience wrestles to decide how many of these “rules” have been foisted upon us…and how many do we unconsciously perpetuate ourselves?
GFTF’s FIELD DAY culminates the festival in an offering of free theatre, Ensemble devised work, a community presentation on the intersection of climate change and theatre, and a demo of PLAY THE KNAVE, an augmented reality video game for Windows that enables virtual design and performance of scenes from Shakespeare. This collaboration brings together playwrights from across the nation, integrates world class scholarship through partnership with the University, while guided by the next generation through its student ensemble. Ground & Field Theatre Festival is an experiment in doing things differently. We’re breaking the old structures of theatrical hierarchy. Instead building our foundation on radical hospitality, radical introspection and flexibility, and building an ethos of ensemble both in our company and in our community. Sometimes doing things in a new way is uncomfortable but as Daisy Violet so elegantly puts it, “Breaking the mirror is sometimes a lullaby.”
Perhaps the most important partner this year has been the City of Davis itself. The City shares GFTF’s mission to be both a reflection of our culture and a portal into a future we have yet to create. The Arts and Cultural Affairs program is weaving the arts into the fabric of our community by supporting a range of artistic endeavors that range from the familiar forms we love AND new forms that test the boundaries of the traditional. The Civic Arts Commission creates Davis as a model of commitment to practices that we know are the foundation of a healthy society.
As the festival comes to close and disappears into the memories in the hearts and minds of the audience my haunting question surfaces again: “Does what I am doing matter?”
I think it does. I think we’re breaking new ground in Davis…partnering to make space for storytelling that matters.
The experience of breathing, listening, and reacting as an individual and as a collective matters. Being witness to the power of sound and imagery that will only be experienced this way once matters. The opportunity to discuss art with the folks around you matters. The ability to disagree about what you’ve just experienced but continue to be engaged in conversation matters. Perhaps now more than ever.
We are growing with our community and I can finally answer confidently…
What WE do matters.
-- Danika Sudik, GFTF Founding Director