A sense of place—this is an idea Carlos Uriona of Double Edge Theatre talked about recently in a Tedx Talk. I think this is particularly important for artists. In his talk, Carlos tells of his journey from Argentina all the way to Ashfield, MA, USA to Double Edge Theatre. Carlos was an artist and theatre maker in Argentina, with his company, Diablomundo, making puppet theatre throughout the political turmoil in the country. Eventually, he made his way North, ending up with Double Edge just as they were making the transition from the fast paced city life of Boston, to the quiet, spread out hills and forests of Ashfield. Double Edge moved to the rural in order to pursue artistic goals that would never have been possible in an urban setting.
In class, we recently read Diane Ragsdale’s In the Intersection, which discusses the relationship of commercial and not-for-profit theatre companies in the United States. A recurring concern in the book is the idea that non-profit theatre companies need to be more specific in their missions and values, and the question of whether or not this is even possible. During class discussion on this topic, I immediately thought of Double Edge. If there is one non-profit theatre in the US operating according to very specific values, doing so successfully, creating really meaningful art, engaging community, asking questions of the larger world, and bringing in a large and highly varied audience, Double Edge does all of these things.
How are they constantly achieving this level of success? Well, for several reasons: Double Edge is composed of a fixed ensemble of theatre-makers, living and working in close proximity, devoting most of their lives to their artistic work. It is a lifestyle. While not all of the company members live on the Farm, they are there nearly full time, running the business, maintaining the buildings and grounds, training and rehearsing together, and pursuing their own individual goals. They are not overwhelmed by the distractions of city life. Double Edge may be located in the middle of nowhere, but through extensive outreach, they draw in audiences from around the world. This year their summer show, Shahrazad: A Tale of Love and Magic, which ran almost every day for a month, was entirely sold out before it even opened. They also spend large portions of time touring their work around the world, and collaborating with artists they encounter on their journeys.
Double Edge is so successful, largely due to this idea of place. The conditions of where they are located enable them to create work of great substance so successfully. What does this mean for everyone else? What about all the theatre companies and artists working in cities, and other places around the world, who do not have the means, or interest to devote themselves to their art in such a way? Is it possible to achieve such a holistic level of success? I believe so, yet I think it will take even more sacrifice, devotion, and specificity of mission one might even think is possible.
(Here’s what Carlos has to say. He’s a wise man, I recommend giving him a listen)