There’s a reckoning that happens sometimes in your 30’s—at least for me it was in my 30’s—where you take a cold, analytical look at your life choices and take some measurements. I’m not talking about wondering how your life has taken the particular turns it has or about comparing yourself to where your old classmates are—bank accounts, car makes and models, square footage and in what neighborhood, etc…
No. I’m talking about something deeper. I’m talking about looking in the mirror and asking—“Does what I am doing matter?”
As a theatre artist, what I do is so fleeting. A bunch of people pour heart and soul into a work, collaborate (and sometimes battle), and finally we give all the energy we’ve put in to our audience. We give it away. All of it… Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But either way at the end of the show the patrons go home. And at the end of the run the family you’ve built parts ways. Each performance is one of a kind, each journey unique and somehow the same. And after countless shows (some which you are passionate about and some that, at the very least, gave you a paycheck) you look at your body of work and wonder if you’re just a cog in a machine, recycling old stories that prop up old ideas.
It seems we’re in a national moment of reckoning. Some seem to actively debunk the old mythologies and some of us cling to the stories of our upbringing like a baby blanket. We fight against our apathy or succumb to it. We find comfort in moving quickly into the future or we find it looking backwards in time. But wherever we fall on the myriad of issues in the zeitgeist we are called to unpack them, dust them off, and reevaluate.
These past two days, I had the privilege of being an audience member for two new works. The workshop performances of SUMMERTIME by Mark Rigney and DAISY VIOLET THE BITCH BEAST KING by Sam Collier are radically different in style, but each provoke exquisite questions. SUMMERTIME, directed by Tom Burmester, hilariously shines a light on the fragility of the middle class, the absurdity of American politics, and the uncomfortable reality that our values often take a backseat when we strive to care for our own. DAISY VIOLET THE BITCH BEAST KING, directed by Lisa Quoresimo, is a surreal romp though the female psyche. The rules of femininity are laid bare as the audience wrestles to decide how many of these “rules” have been foisted upon us…and how many do we unconsciously perpetuate ourselves?
GFTF’s FIELD DAY culminates the festival in an offering of free theatre, Ensemble devised work, a community presentation on the intersection of climate change and theatre, and a demo of PLAY THE KNAVE, an augmented reality video game for Windows that enables virtual design and performance of scenes from Shakespeare. This collaboration brings together playwrights from across the nation, integrates world class scholarship through partnership with the University, while guided by the next generation through its student ensemble. Ground & Field Theatre Festival is an experiment in doing things differently. We’re breaking the old structures of theatrical hierarchy. Instead building our foundation on radical hospitality, radical introspection and flexibility, and building an ethos of ensemble both in our company and in our community. Sometimes doing things in a new way is uncomfortable but as Daisy Violet so elegantly puts it, “Breaking the mirror is sometimes a lullaby.”
Perhaps the most important partner this year has been the City of Davis itself. The City shares GFTF’s mission to be both a reflection of our culture and a portal into a future we have yet to create. The Arts and Cultural Affairs program is weaving the arts into the fabric of our community by supporting a range of artistic endeavors that range from the familiar forms we love AND new forms that test the boundaries of the traditional. The Civic Arts Commission creates Davis as a model of commitment to practices that we know are the foundation of a healthy society.
As the festival comes to close and disappears into the memories in the hearts and minds of the audience my haunting question surfaces again: “Does what I am doing matter?”
I think it does. I think we’re breaking new ground in Davis…partnering to make space for storytelling that matters.
The experience of breathing, listening, and reacting as an individual and as a collective matters. Being witness to the power of sound and imagery that will only be experienced this way once matters. The opportunity to discuss art with the folks around you matters. The ability to disagree about what you’ve just experienced but continue to be engaged in conversation matters. Perhaps now more than ever.
We are growing with our community and I can finally answer confidently…
What WE do matters.
-- Danika Sudik, GFTF Founding Director
I've had mixed (but mostly positive) reactions to the GFTF logo. Most people seem to think it's pretty cool...or at least cool enough to serve as a placeholder until we all have enough bandwidth to come up with a more permanent logo, and no one has told me that they actively dislike it.
At the same time, no one has asked me, "why this design?" Maybe it's obvious, but I thought it might be an interesting blog post to explain "the why" behind this particular design.
So, without further ado, here's how I came up with the logo.
I wanted to find an image that was simple, easy to look at, bold, and somehow captured the particular ideas at the root of Ground and Field Theatre Festival: sustainability, community, locality, theatre, and play.
Since GFTF is a collaboration with the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance, I knew that there would be branding guidelines to be considered - particularly with color. UC Davis - like all the UC's - uses the California state colors of gold and blue for their official school colors. Those colors, in addition to being bold and graphically dynamic, carrie symbolic meanings that are very easily taken up by GFTF. The blue signifies the sea and sky, and the gold signifies...well, gold. It's a nod to the 49er gold rush responsible for the early migration of Americans (and others) to the state.
I like to think of the gold color with a bit more breadth, considering it, instead, the gold of fertile ground - of the abundant earth. The soil. This seems truer to present day California, and certainly vibes more with GFTF. In addition to these specific symbolic meanings, taking up the UC Davis colors is another way we can diagram our commitment to locality and community. The colors help place us in California, and specifically in Davis, California.
Next, it was about giving some thought to the title of the festival. We didn't pull "Ground and Field Theatre Festival" out of thin air. We wanted something that addressed both our mission to develop new works of theatre, and something that stayed true to our commitment to sustainability and to our local community. Perhaps the title deserves it's own blog post explaining it's origins, but here is the summarized version:
For play development: we want to provide a place where playwrights can develop a firm base for their work - a solid ground to grow from - a beginning, from the ground up. And then to bring the work into a playing space, to field the work by giving it an audience and potentially to move the work into the field by helping to find it a production life beyond the festival. Moving from ground to field.
For sustainability: the title lines up intentionally with the three pillars of sustainability. Which diagrams the notion that sustainability cannot be maintained without first achieving sustainability in each of the three pillars.
Ground = the Environment: the unbroken land, the Earth. Field = the Economy: the tilled earth, cultivated for a crop. Theatre = the Society: A people and the ethics, culture, and identity of the people. And Festival = a celebration to bring all of all of these things together in play.
"Play." Play is critical in what we do. And I'm talking about "serious play" - "critical play." Play in all of it's definitions. We are, after all, an ensemble of players, are we not? And we are developing plays, are we not? But more than that, to play means to engage, to participate, to enter into a liminal activity, to open oneself to transformation. Play is the the space between, play is moving forward, play is fun.
Hmm, how to bring "play" into the logo...
Putting those things together: the colors, the title, the pillars of sustainability, and play, this is what I came up with:
The three angles of the triangle each take up one of the pillars of sustainability. The top left corner is "Society" - the Theatre corner of the logo. Here is a un-gendered figure in a shaft of theatrical lighting, striking a pose that many may read as Hamlet holding Yorick's skull - although it really doesn't have to be. Theatre, at it's best, reflects or challenges the values of the society in which it is performed in such a way that urges discourse moving us towards greater justice, greater peace, and greater equity.
The bottom left corner, where we see the tilled earth, the Field, takes up the pillar of Economy. How do we draw on the resources of the earth? How do we consider work and labor? How do we sustain ourselves as theatre artists in an economy that does not necessarily support the arts?
In the right-hand corner - the corner pointing us towards the future - this is the Ground we stand on, the Environment, the unaltered earth and the air we breath. How can we interrogate our own practices as theatre makers, and as human beings, in order to work against the tragedy of commons and make (the sometimes challenging) choices that support a healthy environment?
So there it is. Ground and Field Theatre Festival in a logo. Hope you like it.
Formerly the Artistic Director of Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble, and Audience Experience Designer at Center Theatre Group, Tom now plays a Director at GFTF and a PhD student in Performance Studies at UC Davis.
School hasn’t even begun yet, but the brand new Ground and Field Theatre Festival (GFTF) is already under way! In most programs actors are often just taught how to audition or worse… act. And if you’ve been involved in the arts ever in your life, you’ve certainly wondered “Will this make me money?” or thought “I totally don’t know what I am doing”, or even contemplated where to pitch your homeless tent (you might get discovered on an LA sidewalk). But this is Davis we’re talking about. Whoever came up with this idea of a new works festival must’ve thought “What better way to prepare green, burgeoning artists for college afterlife than by giving them the chance to learn and engage in building a play or a musical from its roots?”
Make a play for the future.