https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/10/theater/farm-theater-pennsylvania-climate-change.html?smid=em-shareThe Farm Arts Collective Ensemble presented Dream on the Farm on August 4-8 at Willow Wisp Organic Farm.  


Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Lend Us Your Ears, and Don’t Forget Your Farm Boots

Theater and agriculture intersect at Willow Wisp Organic Farm, where an arts collective performs site-specific plays about climate change amid the greenhouses and flower beds.

Seeing a play at Willow Wisp Organic Farm in Damascus, Pa., has a simple but highly recommended dress code: sturdy shoes.

At the farm, which recently finished a run of a site-specific play about climate change, the boundless stage includes a courtyard lined with hydrangeas, greenhouses and a field of flowers. Over four nights last week, audience members trekked the outdoors there, walking from scene to scene, as the actors, musicians and stilt walkers performed in vibrant, whimsical costumes.

The performance is the second installment of a decade-long series, “Dream on the Farm,” in which the Farm Arts Collective, whose home is on the 30 acres, plans to produce one play a year centered on climate change.

“This is an intense and troubled time and as an organic farmer and theater maker, we’ve got to keep making work about this issue,” said Tannis Kowalchuk, the ensemble’s artistic director, who started the farm — which sits just across the river from New York — with her husband, Greg Swartz. (They sell their wares at the Union Square and Grand Army Plaza farmers’ markets.)

Tannis Kowalchuk, artistic director of Farm Arts Collective, directed the show. She is also a co-owner of Willow Wisp Organic Farm with her husband, Greg Swartz.


Jess Beveridge, left, and Annie Hat at a rehearsal in June. The show was the second of 10 annual plays about climate change that the collective is planning to perform.
ImageA rehearsal inside a Farm Arts Collective greenhouse on a rainy day. The collective is a group of artists and farmers. 

This year’s play transported guests into an “Alice in Wonderland”-esque fantasy in which two scientists, the astronomer Carl Sagan and the biologist Lynn Margulis, are brought back from the dead to help save life on Earth from the climate disaster. Audience members watch as Sagan encounters eccentric characters representing the atmosphere and the hydrosphere, as well as a man trying to find a way to escape the planet through space travel. The rest of the group followed the Margulis character on the other side of the farm. (The audience was split into two to avoid overcrowding.)

At the end of the show, the audience of about 80 people received chilled cucumber soup made from ingredients grown on the land.


Audience members walked from scene to scene, including through a corridor of painted fabric, essentially going on a walking tour of the farm.


Audience members made their way to the next act.
An assistant director’s notes and a snack from the harvest table.


Waiting in the wings: Daniel Lendzain chilled out before making his entrance on opening night.
It was the job of Simon Kowalchuk-Swartz (son of Kowalchuk and Swartz), to transport the musical instruments. The pianist Doug Rogers, left, also helped compose original music, and the guitarist Melissa Bell helped write the play.

But the reality of the pandemic burst the fantasy bubble on Sunday after one of the people in the accompanying band tested positive for the coronavirus, despite having been vaccinated, and the arts collective decided to cancel the fifth and final performance.

Kowalchuk said she hopes the play will be performed again, though. She has imagined bringing it to New York City, where the ensemble might be able to find a new stage in a park or botanical garden.

The “Alice in Wonderland”-esque play posed a question: Is it better to look at climate change through a wide angle lens or a microscope?
Marguerite Boissonnault played the character Fungus.


Gregg Erickson played the character Hydrosphere.
Cast members, including Hudson Williams-Eynon, center, in white, faced off in a tug-of-war.
Williams-Eynon, Beveridge and the rest of the cast took a bow after a performance.

A live, in-person site specific performance event held out doors on Willow Wisp Organic Farm. The annual eco-drama is created and performed by Farm Arts Collective and incorporates live music, stilt walking, and dynamic physical performance exploring  human-nature relationships in the face of climate change.   

The performance is designed for an all-ages audience and invites spectators to walk the 25 acre farm (wear your farm boots). This year’s performance begins in a boxing ring where two famous scientists, astronomer Carl Sagan and microbiologist, Lynn Margulis return to planet earth to engage in a series of matches to help humanity save life on earth.

The performance features the Farm Arts Collective ensemble of performers, with live original music by Doug Rogers and Rima Fand, text by the ensemble, Melissa Bell, Manon Manavit and Hudson Williams-Eynon, dramaturgy and co-direction by Mimi McGurl, and directed by Tannis Kowalchuk.