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CAPE ELIZABETH — After planting the concept, doing hands-on research and growing strong relationships, farmers and artists in October will perform an original play about local agriculture, farming and the future of small family farms in Maine.
Created by Jennie Hahn of Thomaston, “Of Farms and Fables” is a project within Open Waters Theatre Arts, an organization that uses professional and non-professional artists to promote communication and cultural exchange via theatrical productions.
Hahn said it took three years to develop the project, and special care went into introducing professional artists to farming practices and farm workers to storytelling.
Hahn said “Of Farms and Fables” started as a discussion with Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm. They formed an advisory board, wrote grants, hosted fundraising events and spread the word about the project.
They also invited two other farms to participate: Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, and Benson Farm in Gorham. Each farm is different and brings a new perspective to what it means to live and work in the agricultural industry, Hahn said.
With the help of Hahn, playwright Cory Tamler and company manager Claire Guyer, actors and farmers participated in a 12-week work exchange program. It was an opportunity for farmers to learn about acting and for actors to learn about farming, Hahn said.
“What takes time is building meaningful and thoughtful relationships with the farmers,” she said. “The work exchange was the beginning of that process. It allowed us to gather farming stories and experience hands-on, practical learning about what it means to work on the farms.”
The third and final phase of the program was writing and editing the play, reading through it and creating the production team, she said.
“My whole goal is to represent multiple view points on a conversation that impacts everybody,” she said. “The core of the play is about farmer perspectives and their lives more than the consumer or political perspective.”
She said the play also focuses on the complexities of running a small business and the theme of farm transfer.
“On a larger societal level, it speaks to how we pass on valuable things to the next generation while allowing for the possibility of change,” she said. “It is about how the transfer of land, knowledge and lifestyle is a complex issue.”
Seeing the growth and change in the participants over the past three years, building relationships and having fun despite challenges and complexities has been rewarding to Hahn.
“I got into this work to challenge myself to work with people I might ever meet or know otherwise,” she said. “As a fairly shy person, it’s a big deal for me when I put myself out there and to hear all these fabulous stories. To be invited into a world I once knew nothing about is the biggest reward.”
The project is funded by The MAP Fund, a competitive national grant program for contemporary performance; the Maine Arts Commission; the Maine Humanities Council, and the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust. The ROiL theater group, Cape Farm Alliance, Maine Farmland Trust, Scarborough Land Conservation Trust, Cultivating Community and Threshold to Maine have provided additional support.
A preview performance is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. Regular performances will be Friday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2 p.m.
The play will be performed at Camp Ketcha, 336 Black Point Road, Scarborough. Tickets are $15 per person or pay what you can. For more information call 883-8977 or visit campketcha.com.
Actress Anna Barnett, left, rehearses a dance with actor Harley Marshal, farmer Penny Jordan and farm worker Neftali Rivera of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth. Their performance, part of “Of Farms and Fables,” is observed by director Jennie Hahn at Acorn Studios in Westbrook.