Friday, November 25, 2011

Harvest Theatre

In the fall of 2010, I worked with Highly Impractical Theatre ( to win a grant to write and produce a play about my hometown of Milton-Freewater, Oregon.

In December of 2010 I went to Milton-Freewater for two weeks with Elana McKelahan, the artistic director of HIT (and my wife). Together we conducted dozens of interviews with locals and partnered with the Milton-Freewater Area Historical Society to learn about the town’s past. Then we spent a very hectic three months back in Berkeley trying to turn funny, tragic, and haunting stories about a small town into a play. In April, we returned to Milton-Freewater and presented a reading of the script to the community for feedback. The result is what we called a trilogy ‘inspired by the stories of Milton-Freewater.”
Known together as The Harvest Trilogy, three one-act plays traced out an arc of Milton-Freewater’s history by portraying stories from different points in the past of the two towns that form Milton- Freewater. "Fruits of Paradise" looks at the family feud between the Fraziers and Irelands during the founding of Milton and two women who try to keep the town from being torn apart. The division between Milton and Freewater becomes the backdrop for "In the Earth, " as the owner of the local shoe shop searches for the truth behind a young woman’s disappearance. Finally, "New Era/Nueva Era" follows a Latina high school student as she strives for college and love amid the valley’s agricultural changes in the new millennium.
The performances were a fusion of Milton-Freewater and San Francisco. Actual Milton-Freewater high school students played the roles of high school students, and two of their teachers directed "New Era/Nueva Era." "In the Earth" was directed by a local and starred members of the community. Highly Impractical Theatre brought up a troupe of actors from San Francisco to perform "The Fruits of Paradise."
All three plays were performed at the same time in various parts of the farmstead built by the town's founder in the 19th century. Audience members picked which play they wanted to see and then could return two more times to see the complete trilogy. Actors and audience moved through the historic cabin, farmhouse, and barn in a fully-immersive theatrical experience that will literally brought viewers into the world of Milton-Freewater’s past.
Between shows, apple cider and wine made from Milton-Freewater apples and grapes was sold and a local group performed balies folkloricos to celebrate the town's currently cultural fusion.
All in all people really seemed to enjoy seeing stories about their parents and grandparents, or learning bits and pieces about the past of their town. Nearly 400 people came to the weekend's performances and the local paper gave it "four thumbs up." But perhaps most importantly, a lot of people stood around between shows talking about the town's history and future.