Leaning Into the Imagination of Place

July 7, 2018

By: Matthew Glassman, Vice President Double Edge Theatre

One of the oldest artist-owned ensemble theaters in the U.S. Double Edge Theatre, are getting ready to transform vacant and underutilized farm buildings on a 100-acre former dairy farm in Ashfield, MA into a vibrant arts campus, which aims to make Ashfield a destination that aggregates creativity, artistic expression, imagination, and culture alongside a rural identity; demonstrating how art is key to economic sustainability.

We spoke to Vice President Matthew Glassman about how artists might just save us all.

“These days, the world is throwing a dizzying amount of punches. At times, as an artist-led collective, fighting on many fronts, our organization can like be a gyroscope, spinning in many directions while holding its center. We are trying to learn how to hold the tensions and dynamic velocity at play. How to grow and maintain our rural/ international Farm Center, the structure and strategies of the organization, while evolving as artists? How do we simultaneously go inside to the source of vision and creativity and out towards the community, society, and the world at large? How do we educate ourselves and mentor the next generation? How do we confront the dysfunctional paradigm of our times while simultaneously creating our viable alternative? How do we situate ourselves at different points on the rural and urban continuum?

In the last few months, we have felt called not to resolve this tension but to hold it and encourage the same fluidity held by a balanced, spinning gyroscope. What holds Double Edge’s axis in place? We have recently taken great inspiration from the surrealist Leonora Carrington , the subject of our newest touring indoor performance, Leonora and Alejandro: La Maga y el Maestro, which premiered at Peak Performances at Montclair State University in March. Our dialogue with Carrington powerfully realigned us. We felt awakened anew to the vast power of one’s connection to art, nature, magic, flight, and most importantly, the imagination.

So we are leaning into the imagination and are asking ourselves: what happens if we see each thing we do -- performances, programming, community engagement, school initiatives, training programs, and even the renovations of our 100-acre rural Farm Center -- as spinning from an axis of imagination?

Our Summer Spectacle We The People (July 18 - August 19) became an opportunity to test this question. We The People explores the unique collective memory of our rural region illustrating culture through a mosaic of historical characters and events which have courageously evolved the community (e.g.: W.E.B. DuBois, Lucy Stone). Our audience will walk freely between intimate installations where characters from nature, history, and imagination create and inhabit lyrical, integrated worlds. This is a multi-generational performance, a traveling rumination on finding freedom through creativity, a profound relationship with the land, and a reverence for past generations. Through this work, we are seeking to define evolving communities, beyond what is dictated by the loud and often overpowering voices and forces of society. We are trying to think outside the box in terms of whom we collaborate with -- expanding beyond ourselves not just to local artists, but also to high school students from the city of Springfield, MA (Mass’ largest, most underserved youth population) and emerging artists enrolled in our Summer Immersion program.

Thanks to ArtPlace, we are in the design and early building process of our Meeting House -- a community space that will give primacy to the voices of area Native youth. We are imagining a space co-designed and co-curated by our local First Peoples’ community. This is but one aspect of our Art Justice initiative, led by Artistic Director Stacy Klein and a carefully selected working group of artist and activist leaders. Together, we are traversing disciplines and applications from building design, to community programming, to our Summer Spectacle’s approach to representation, community relations, and creating a tangible history.

Lastly, our environment in Ashfield is a wonder of incredible and shifting beauty. When we work outside all summer long, from performing our spectacle to farming, we travel this cosmos -- the streams, hills, trees, rainfall, birdsong, blossoms -- and we surrender, embracing nature and all its gifts. Again, thanks to ArtPlace, we are further integrating farming, performance, and sustainability. This fall, Double Edge will adapt Leonora & Alejandro into an outdoor spectacle-- re-imagining this visually rich, surreal, and magical performance to the autumnal landscape across multiple sites at our Farm Center. As part of our creative vision of stewarding the next generation of bold, interdisciplinary creators, we are inviting our Fall Immersion artists to take part in all aspects of this performance project, experiencing first-hand Double Edge’s process of performance and outdoor work development, as well as the deep local engagement embedded. The Immersion program is for anyone looking for an in-depth experience of training as the springboard for developing a creative path of artistic inquiry and work creation. The program fosters an intimate connection to the larger fabric of the ensemble through work on the Farm, and this fall these artists will experiment with us the exploration of a new artistic terrain.”