PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF STORYHORSE DOCUMENTARY THEATER
Despite the rapidly increasing popularity of the podcast format, the practice of sharing oral histories remains somewhat retrograde and quaint. But if you have the experience of being a party to a storyteller, generous in spirit and candid in word, it can be a truly dynamic encounter.
Restoring this element of dynamism to the oral tradition is writer Jeremy Davidson’s intention in his documentary theater project Storyhorse, which he co-founded with his wife, Mary-Stuart Masterson. Both husband and wife are career actors in stage and screen (with numerous credits too lengthy to list) and cultivated a deeper appreciation of oral histories after moving in 2013 from NYC to the Hudson Valley to raise their children. Davidson, shortly after getting settled in Dutchess County but still commuting to NY and L.A. for work, was struck by that sense of disconnection that many experience when work takes you away from the place where you have chosen to live.
This sense, which Davidson defines as a “spiritual disconnection,” inspired him to reach out to local Hudson Valley farmers, gather their stories and assemble Good Dirt, a multimedia performance happening at Bard College in October. Written by Davidson and directed by Masterson, the production is based on interviews with six farm families in the valley about their experience as career farmers, including Green Goats (Red Hook), Soul Fire Farm (Grafton), Tello’s Green Farm (Coxsackie) and Northwind Farms (Tivoli).
The stories collected since 2014, while originating from lived experience, are not told by those who lived it but interpreted onstage by professional actors as a way to gather stories from the community and offer them back to the community in theatrical form. “When you hear a story told by someone—there is a power to someone opening their heart,” Davidson contends. “The story impacts us in a particular way.” The performance is meant to be “a sustained meditation on these collected stories and words,” according to Davidson. “It is a collaborative thing happening in the community about the community. Live theater happens but once.”—Eric Steinman
Fisher Center, Sosnoff Theater
Sunday, October 2, 3pm