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A sense of place

“You look wonderful!” a friend exclaimed, seeing me at the NACL festival recently. That friend was a founder and former artistic director of said theatre company, and she was looking pretty good herself. “What is it?” she wanted to know, imagining who knows what? A lover, cool-sculpting, a facelift?

Whatever she imagined, in fact it was more mundane. Something we had just been discussing in a talk-back after the show that night. A sense of place. “Cabin,” by Sean Donovan, was a work-in-progress that had its setting in a cabin in Upstate New York, a place not unlike the place we were in. Professor Thomas Bartscherer of Bard College led the discussion that had asked the audience and dramatists what role place plays in the theatre.

“I’m here,” I told my friend Tannis. “I’m finally here. After 30 years of back and forth, I have landed here, where I have always wanted to be.” No more divided loyalty, no more constant leavings and arrivals. One home, one place. A haven. She understood.

 

“It’s what I feel, too,” she told me. She, who recently made a similarly huge change, resigning as artistic director of the theatre she co-founded with Brad Krumholz to spend her manifold energies on the newly enlarged organic farm she and her husband Greg Swartz own in Damascus, PA. Some people worried it meant Tannis would stop making theatre.

They were wrong. Her incipient show about depression, “Out of Mind,” developed in concert with Dr. Allison Waters, neuroscientist and former thespian, previewed at the Kaleidoscoping Festival last weekend at NACL in Highland Lake to prove it. But she no longer feels divided by place. Instead of commuting between Damascus and Highland Lake every day, she spends all her energy in one location, the same place she grows her magnificent bouquets of organic flowers and the vegetables Willow Wisp Farm sells at farmers' markets and to restaurants and retail outlets. The street theatre ensemble, NACL Streets, meets and rehearses there too.

The computer revolution was supposed to make place a non-issue. We could work anywhere and everywhere. Learn anywhere. FaceTime anyone anywhere. But what computers can’t replace is place. And place informs so much of who we are and what we do. Our senses crave the reminders of places where we felt alive, or in love, or just comforted or safe. A whiff of the fizz of a coke bottle opening used to put me back on my grandfather’s patio at his home on the Indian River in Ontario, Canada. It was the place I always wanted to return to but never could. And it is the place my home in Narrowsburg on the Delaware River most reminds me of.

Now that I’m here, I think I must have been crazy to think I could run this place part-time. It is a full-time job just keeping house. But maybe that’s the difference. For years I was playing house at my place in the country, leaving it just as I was getting it running smoothly. Returning to find something left undone or gone awry. A flooded basement, a plate-glass door busted open by an eagle in flight, hydrangeas deflowered en masse.

Friends tell me I will want a pied-à-terre in time. I tell them I will want a hotel room, an Airbnb, a sleepover on their couch. But, please, not another place. I have my place. It’s where I live.

 

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