Local farmers to act in community-based theater project

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Farmers on stage and actors in the field – that is what artistic director Jennie Hahn envisioned when she created Of Farms and Fables, a community-based theater project.

A project within Hahn’s Open Waters Theater Arts, Of Farms and Fables incorporates actors into daily farm life, and teaches farmers the art of storytelling and acting. At the end of the three-year program in the summer of 2011, the actors and farm workers will perform a play about local farming, agriculture and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Hahn is from Thomaston, and currently lives in South Portland. She spent four years working in Los Angeles with the Cornerstone Theater Company, which identifies community needs, meets with community leaders, and creates a play casting community members as actors.

She said she wanted to add to the community theater scene in Maine, and decided to focus on a theme she felt is at the state’s core.

“Farming is the bloodline of Maine,” she said. “I am not the only one who does this kind of work, but Of Farms and Fables is specific to my vision.”

Hahn’s vision includes a representation of Maine economics, land use and the history of Maine people.

The project started to come together when Hahn developed a relationship with farmer and Town Councilor Penny Jordan. Now, with the help of a grant provided by the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust in Holliston, Mass., the project is in its second year.

The first year was spent developing the project, writing grants and hiring artists, she said. This year, the work project will begin, followed by rehearsals and the performance.

The three collaborating farms are William H. Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Broadturn Farm in Scarborough and Kay-Ben Farm in Gorham. Hahn wanted three different types of farms in the area, and found a variety in the three participants.

Jordan Farm is a family-run farm with a vegetable stand. Broadturn Farm is owned by a young couple new to the farming industry, and Kay-Ben is a dairy farm that produces milk for Oakhurst.

In addition to the financial support from the Cabot trust, the project has local support from community partners ROiL, Cape Farm Alliance, Scarborough Land Conservation Trust, Cultivating Community and Threshhold to Maine. While it is not financial, their help will provide insight about community needs and assistance spreading the word to their constituents.

Hahn is now seeking an actor and playwright for the project. In the work exchange portion, the professional artists will spend 12 weeks working with the farmers on a rotating basis, and the farmers will participate in an acting workshop once a week.

“It will be a give and take,” Hahn said. “The professional artists will be out of their element learning from the farmers, and the farmers will also learn something new. The process will generate relationships.”

There will be an informational gathering at 12 Waumbek Road in Cape Elizabeth on Wednesday, Jan. 20. To attend, RSVP with Hahn by calling 899-5208.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net