Bayou meets Broad Brook in unique collaboration

Sandglass Theater, VPL bring New Orleans theater companies to Southern Vermont for residency

BRATTLEBORO — Separately, Sandglass Theater in Putney and the Vermont Performance Lab (VPL) are well known for innovative productions that push the artistic envelope.

So, what happens when they collaborate for the first time?

The answer is bringing another artistic collaboration from New Orleans to Southern Vermont for a residency.

Sandglass and VPL are teaming with a pair New Orleans theater companies, Mondo Bizarro and Artspot Productions, to present a very unusual theatrical performance, Cry You One.

Originally performed in October of 2013 in the wetlands of Lower St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, Cry You One celebrates the people and cultures of Southern Louisiana while turning clear eyes on the crisis of that area's vanishing coast.

Now transplanted to Vermont, this 2 1/2-hour outdoor performance combines the spirit of New Orleans music, storytelling, and procession with the beautiful Vermont landscape. Although the artists are intent on keeping this piece a Louisiana story, they hope to make Cry You One a Vermont story, too.

“We're collaborating with Vermont Performance Lab to present a big site-responsive theater piece and residency with a group of theater artists from New Orleans who have created a powerful piece about the experience of natural- and human-made disasters,” says Kirk Murphy of Sandglass Theater, the internationally-known theater company specializing in combining puppets with music, actors, and visual imagery.

“Their piece, in large part, is about Hurricane Katrina, but relates closely to our own experiences with Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, and brings into perspective our relationship to these issues through the experiences of the people of Southern Louisiana,” adds Murphy.

“Part story, part procession, part ecotour, this deeply thought-provoking, action-inspiring theater work, created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, marries the spirit of New Orleans music, storytelling and procession with the beautiful Vermont landscape and our own memories of Hurricane Irene,” Sara Coffey writes at the website of Vermont Performance Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting artists in the creation and development of new work and bringing artistic experiences to rural Vermont.

Cry You One will be performed on-site along a one-mile hike through forest and field. The performance begins at 2 p.m. on September 20 and 21, 2014 at the Broad Brook Grange in Guilford. From there, the audience will be driven by bus a short distance to the land where the walk will begin.

This event has limited accessibility, but there will be conveyance available for part of the trek for anyone not able to hike the full mile. The performance is rain or shine, therefore dress appropriately. Sturdy shoes, rain gear, warm clothes, bug spray, and a water bottle are all recommended. Tickets are $18 and $15 for seniors and students.

In addition to two full scale performances, on Friday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m., a concert version of Cry You One and Cajun Dance Party will be held at the Evening Star Grange, Dummerston. At this concert, the cast and musicians of the Cry You One project invite their audience to learn the Cajun two-step and feast on fresh beignets. Tickets for this event are $15.

Cry You One began with an idea by Nick Slie of Mondo Bizarro. “I would not say I created it,” he clarifies. “How our organizations work someone has to instigate a piece, and then it is taken over by the inspiration of a lot of artist. Many people come together in a room with new ideas and wonderful surprises.

“This piece all began with a dream I had about people from Louisiana going to the Gulf of Mexico carrying food. This led me to consider what happens to land in our industrialized landscape. I began then thinking what would the land tell us if the land itself or the animals could have their say to what was happening. I envisioned a work as a processional for the land, or rather one of our famed New Orleans jazz funerals, but for the land.”

The director of Cry You One, Kathy Randels of Artspot, explains what the creative process of the work was like.

“I gave a lot of prompts to the performers and other team members during the generative creation process of the piece,” she says. “Then I looked at, listened to, responded to all of the material that all of our artists brought together. I listened to the land, water, flora and fauna everywhere we set it: first in St. Bernard, La., Clear Creek, Ky, last month; and now the Vermont Performance Lab. Here in Vermont, I am working with rows of corn, beautiful rocks, vast space, wide open sky, deeply shaded woods, some of the oldest trees I've ever met.”

If Slie is the instigator, Randels feels like the mother of this piece, “with all of that love, and all of that responsibility.” She says, “I am constantly negotiating the need to control this vast ship; and the need to surrender to the storm I am in.”

As Cry You One moves to Vermont, Randall finds herself constantly negotiating the needs of designers and performers in this new landscape with its own presenters and communities.

“I am trying to create the best container in which everyone's work and intentions can shine and yet still remain faithful our initial themes and ideas,” she says.

Slie tries to sum up the boldness of this adventurous work which Coffey says defied categories. “With visual design, song, movement and text, Cry You one is a sincere blend of many disciplines,” he says. “We wanted to do it all.”

Eric Bass, co-founder and artistic director of Sandglass Theater, explains why his company has chosen to bring this work to Vermont.

“Sandglass wears two distinct hats,” he says. “We are creators of theater pieces, and we are presenters/producers of theater and music events. Some people only know us in one of our hats. Some people think of us as solely a puppet theater. In fact, we are engaged as much in the national ensemble theater world as we are in the world of puppet theater, and often they overlap.

“Wearing our presenter hat, the Voices of Community Series has become a more and more important part of what we want to bring to our community. The series is defined as theater work that addresses issues of social justice, race, gender, disability.”

Bass has had his eye on Mondo Bizarro and Artspot, the two New Orleans companies that have collaborated on Cry You One, for many years.

“They are extraordinary theater artists, and I've looked for an opportunity to present them for a long time,” says. “Finally, with Cry You One, the opportunity presented itself. The show won a national Theater Project touring grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts.

“This grant made it possible for us to dream of presenting the show, and to apply for other funds from national arts organizations such as NEA and National Performance Network and from local sponsors. We've been working on this for about a year and a half. This is the largest Voices of Community residency we've ever embarked upon. And I think this is the right performance to present in this place at this time.”

With such a big work, however, Bass felt the need for collaboration. “Sandglass is a small organization, and Cry You One is an enormous event,” he says “We could not have presented them alone. We've long felt that we had a strong connection to Vermont Performance Lab, a shared spirit about live art and community engagement.”

He and Sara Coffey had been waiting for just the right project to come along.

“Something that was, in some sense, bigger than either of us would take on alone,” he continues. “It is especially exciting to experience that some things are only possible through collaboration. We've shared resources, and we've shared a vision. It works because our organizations are different enough to complement each other. This collaboration is one of the real joys in the Cry You One project.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates