The River, the Wives and the Work!

We borrowed my mom’s sweet SUV hybrid and took a road trip from Austin, Texas, to the farm outside Belle, Missouri, for a weeklong retreat to further develop an experimental theatre piece, about women living in an isolated polygamist society.

Our farm team:
Jenny Larson, Artistic Director of Salvage Vanguard Theater
Jessica Gilzow, costume designer extraordinaire
Cyndi Williams, writer/actor

Though we are all slash people: director/performer/designer/producer/et cetera.

Driving in crazy rains, we said we must be elemental witches bringing storms as we traveled to conjure in another land! Cruising close to overflowing mountain lakes, wondering if we were bringing floods.

Jenny organized our days at Osage Arts Community: yoga and a walk, breakfast, free time for writing or research or whatever, lunch, composition time (building a theatrical moment following certain rules, incorporating certain ideas), river time, dinner, lolling with an episode of Sister Wives or Big Love.

We stayed in a little river house next to the Gasconade. I could have easily hit the river with a rock from my bedroom window, and I throw like, you know, a girl. The Gasconade is wide and shallow, dark, rocky, and silent, but with a powerful current under its smooth surface. “Does it ever flood?” I asked Mark, our host. The basement had been completely under water. “Is it always so silent?” It never makes a sound till it’s risen up in the trees. securedownload

But it only rained a little the week we were there, so we were never afraid the river would wash us away, just aware of the possibility.

We spent a lot of time by the river, thinking of the flood in our work. We crossed the strong current together. We wished we could bring people to the river to watch a site-specific piece. But since the eventual goal is for this work to live in a theater, we wondered how to put the river onstage. We thought about 12 dripping women, dragged down by long winding wet skirts. securedownload-2

We thought about being witches. Jessica led a ritual in the basement that was once underwater, and she made a volcano and a fireball. Earth, air, fire, water, y’all.

We thought of living in an isolated place, and how you function together as a small community and make do with what you have. We imagined what place we might have in a community like that: First Wife, Slutty Wife, Forgotten Wife.

A lot of work got done. We further developed the story, the rules, the characters, the images and events of this piece.
And we watched some Sister Wives and some Big Love. We ate healthily, (except for frequent incidents involving cheese and that one awesome bacon morning) but we made up for it by drinking lots of wine. We enjoyed a fantastic Greek restaurant in Belle, shopped at the Walmart in Owensville, and watched day turn into night at The Winery. We shared a few communal meals with the other artists in resident, Grace, Josh, Dan and Tim, and our hosts Mark and Tony. IMG_1003

But that river is the thing that keeps flooding my memories. Mark showing us how to cross it, on a diagonal, where the current tugs hardest. Throwing sticks for Murphy the dog. Sitting in the river chairs with your feet in the water, or balancing a plastic glass of wine while you tried to sit on the rocky bottom, buffeted by that crazy quiet current. Waving as boats go by. The eagle, the herons. IMG_0971

Damn I loved sleeping so close to that river; damn I loved standing in its tepid water on sharp little rocks in my new four dollar aqua socks. Written out one day during free time I crossed the river alone, unplanned, in yoga clothes. It started to rain lightly and I stood in the river in the rain, till I realized my writing book on the rocky bank was going to be a big blur of running ink if I lingered.

We got a lot of work done. We want to come back.

-Cyndi Williams



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