Ashfield, Massachusetts could be Grover’s Corners. It is an impossibly quaint village in the Berkshire hills about fifteen miles from the Vermont border. Norman Rockwell’s studio is only a couple of counties away. Just in the middle of town is Elmer’s General Store. You can pretty much run into everyone there on Sunday morning when you stop in to get some of Elmer’s famous pancakes. Other than that, there is not much else in Ashfield of great note… a couple of farm stands and of course a white, shingled church.
But if you approach town from the east on country route 116, you will find the old Fitzvale dairy farm, a curious place that requires a bit more investigation. The farm sits on 103 acres of bucolic rolling hills dotted with pine trees. In the winter, it is postcard perfect—snow covers the trees and the pond is ideal for ice-skating. There is a red barn and a farmhouse with the ever-present wisp of smoke rising from the chimney. And somewhere up in the hills behind the barn is me, shiny bald head, covered in sweat as I and several other members of the Double Edge Theatre Company run in the woods in uncompromising conditions. Someone is yelling at me: “Come on Kevin, push yourself!”
Sorry. I took you out of the Northeast utopia there for a second. And, I admit, I exaggerate a wee bit. My association with Double Edge Theatre began not at this farm in Rockwell-land, but in the theatre at Brandeis University where I received my MFA in acting. The group, considered to be one of the great laboratory theatre companies in the country, was there to teach us an unusual acting technique that was ominously referred to as “the training.” But that imagined scene on the hillside in Ashfield is likely what you would find if you were transported there now. That’s what they do. Double Edge (rightly) believes that an actor is an athlete and that true imaginative creation comes from intense physical involvement and labor. They do run in the hills, practice martial arts and lead a life of constant physical activity. Lead actor Carlos Uriona describes the point of their “training”: “You don’t have resistance to the other stuff and you don’t care anymore. This is the point… I don’t really care about being nice. I am going to be myself for a while because I am tired and I am sick of this and I am sick of you… so stop bothering me.” Creation coming out of strain and exhaustion? A little nutty, you might conclude. But I have seen the results. The company develops performances that are on fire, and the performers redefine why live theatre is such a human necessity. There is connection there… a sort of theatrical communion.
Double Edge doesn’t perform plays per se. They spend years on the farm developing what they call études that eventually become performative spectacles. Generally they work with a classic story or piece of art. When I first worked with them, we created a dream piece about Don Quixote that included actors in rolling cow troughs, on stilts and on flying trapezes. Currently, they are developing a performance about the paintings of Marc Chagall.
When all of that training is done, the Double Edgers can be found with everyone else in Ashfield, sitting at Elmer’s for a Sunday brunch and discussion with neighbors. For thirty years this unique company has been using the environment and its community to create theatrical spectacles that transcend all of the ideas we may have about traditional theatre. That farm and that town are critically important. For them, theatre is integral to the life of the town and indeed to the healthy functioning of life as we know it. It is as crucial as farming, eating, sleeping and breathing. Their home, the tiny village of Ashfield, has become a location of theatrical and cultural development. I have seen it and studied it first hand… which is why I am so thrilled to introduce Double Edge to you.
THEATREWORKS and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at UCCS are proud to announce that for the month of November, Double Edge will make Colorado Springs its home and will bring its unique brand of theatrical training to the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre. The Double Edge residency in Colorado is made possible by a generous grant from the University of Colorado’s Roser foundation. Over the course of three weeks, the company members will work with advanced acting and music students on a project that is completely devised. That is, the performance is yet to be written or conceived. I don’t know what it will be and the Double Edge practitioners don’t know what it will be.
Devised performance, to be crudely capitalistic, is a tough sell. The performances that we will present will be unlike anything that you have seen in our theatre. We hope that excites you and entices you to find out more about this mysterious company from rural Massachusetts. But for their work to be truly effective, their ideals of community connection has to be preserved. This is where you come in. You will be able to be involved in this process of discovery. While Double Edge will be working with our students primarily, we are going to open the doors of our theatre for several special events. On Sunday, November 14th the company invites you to an open training that will include a light meal and a discussion about the discoveries that are made. It is hard work but many who do these trainings find it to be exhilarating and, sometimes, life-changing. To reserve a spot, see the information on the back of this newsletter.
Between the 18th and 21st of the month, Double Edge and the students will present a performance of études that will consider the paintings of Chagall and the stories in The Arabian Nights. We are calling it The Chagall Tales and we hope that you will be there to see what we create. Seeing one of the most exciting theatre companies in America for $5 a ticket is an absolute steal. Stick around after the performance on Sunday the 21st for an un-missable Prologue Lecture Series talk back with Stacy Klein, the artistic director of Double Edge.
Having spent so much time studying this company—and joyfully enduring the pain—I am proud to be able to share a little piece of Ashfield with Colorado Springs.
Prologue Events Associated with Double Edge
Open Training with Double Edge Ensemble (Includes light meal and discussion): You need not be an actor to participate in this training. All you need is openness and imagination. Sunday, November 14th 1-4 pm. To reserve a spot please call 255-3232 or reserve your place by clicking here.
The Chagall Tales: November 18-20 at 7:30 pm and November 21 at 4:00 pm. Tickets: $5.
Laboratory Theatre in America: Discussion with Stacy Klein, artistic director of the Double Edge Theatre, about creativity and devised performance. November 21- immediately following the performance (about 5:30 pm).