Editor’s Note: Oxblood, a new outdoor performance about land, labor, and home in the contemporary South by local theater ensemble NEW NOISE, take place from October 10th-26th, and again November 22-23rd. Grow Dat Youth Farm sets a stage for music, theater, and dance centered around the story of one family’s future. We asked the company of this production to share what inspires them to make such work:
Making a piece of collaborative theater from scratch has its sublime moments of creative ecstasy, but it can also be an arduous process. Attempting to cull the best and most brilliant impulses from a group of human beings can make for high drama indeed. Creating new original theater is exciting and sometimes a little overwhelming, like trying to conjure a performance up from thin air, so we rely on lots and lots of research. Our work is informed just as much by music, poetry, film, and visual art as it is by other works of performance. Here’s a smattering of things that inspired our process.
When Oxblood was still in its nascent stages, we were reading a lot of Wendell Berry. The Kentucky-based farmer, essayist, activist, and poet has hands-in-the-dirt experience of working the land combined with a deep understanding of the sacredness and spirit inherent in the natural world which we tried to tap into at the core of Oxblood. “I walk in these reopening fields / as in a forefather’s dream. In dream / and sweat, the fields have seasoning. / Let my words then begin in labor. / Let me sing a work song/ and an earth song.”
One of our first purchases for Oxblood was a box of old Baptist Hymnals from Ebay. We knew we wanted to incorporate church music into the performance but we weren’t sure how. Though Oxblood is set in the present day, this video from 1982 was on heavy rotation in our research process.
We watched this 2007 film by Jeff Nichols and starring a stoic, reticent Michael Shannon early on. The intense sibling relationships were relevant to Oxblood, but we were also interested in the panoramic nature of the filmmaking. The characters in this film don’t have much to say, but Nichols allows the Arkansas landscape to speak with a specificity of place that simultaneously reads as universal.
This series of photographs by Kathleen Robbins was taken during the two years she lived back on her family’s farm in Mississippi. The pictures range from a dreamy landscape of blurry blackbirds to a stark portrait of a small boy holding a pair of antlers in his hands. Robbins states that the work “explores familial obligation and our conflicted relationship with ‘home,’” and the images also speak of a mythical South where the line between past and future, between nostalgia and forward motion, is thin and shifting.
Cormac McCarthy’s novel resonated for us for its description of Knoxville on the verge of transformation. The final image of the novel is the Interstate coming through and knocking down all the “seedy” older parts of town where much of the narrative takes place. It’s not that the story takes place in the Old South—everything’s too dirty and fallen for that—but it definitively describes the beginning of a New South. “The white concrete of the expressway gleamed in the sun where the ramp curved out into empty air.” Oxblood takes place at Grow Dat Youth Farm in City Park, which is just a stone’s throw away from the 610, and deals with these same radical transformations of land and home.