5 Questions with Reina Oduro
There are certain indelible performances that stay with you your whole life. If anyone asked me what the most unorthodox or adventurous theater pieces I’ve ever seen, I would answer “The Oddysey,” that my partner Chris Foster and I saw at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA, in 2012. It was recommended to me by my Aunt Paula, who had a summer rental nearby. It was one of the most exciting, engaging shows we had ever seen and a complete surprise as we had never heard of the 40- year-old company or their practice of using the physical environment as their stage. It’s played on a farm space, and the audience follows Ulysses’s journey home from a pond through a grove of trees and into a barn. The actors appeared in the branches of trees, up the side of a hill illuminated in the dusk, and pigs were used after the encounter with Circe.
I have been dreaming of returning for a decade, and this summer, I reached out to Reina Oduro, the Outreach Associate for Double Edge Theatre, and she graciously answered my 5 Questions along with an assist from her the Co-Artistic Director at DE Carlos Uriona. I am greatly looking forward to attending this summer’s production of “The Territories of the Bacchae” in another week.
PW: Could you talk about Double Edge’s unique presentation of theater?
RO: I have been to many theater productions throughout my life. All these performances have been indoors with either a stage set up or the expected curtain draws to change scenes. In other productions, I have seen that the music is generally recorded or sung by the actor. At Double Edge the live music productions and performances happen in sync with another artist’s interpretation of the character they embody.
At Double Edge, the surrounding landscape is the stage. For every performance, the beautiful grounds are transformed while respecting the land and working around its natural beauty. Performances in the stream, the pond, the field, the gardens, and sometimes even inclusive of their farm animals. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. Their indoor spaces are crafted into captivating scenes that bring the audience up close and personal with the creative minds of the ensemble. Every scene in all the spaces is created collaboratively by all the performers to bring out the intricacies of each character. I find that I want to attend multiple times to see the performance as the atmosphere is so alive, with surprises hiding in the trees and everywhere you look. It can feel different each time you go depending on where your focus happens to be.
The other piece that is important to me is that these performances and who plays any given character somehow relate or understand the character in such a way that you are drawn into the authenticity of that experience. I have cried, I have laughed, I have been surprised, I have felt empowered, I have felt supported, I have felt compassion, I have felt friendship and love, I have felt discomfort, I have felt anger, I have felt passion, I have literally felt any number of feelings each and every time I go to a performance. The performances are also thought-provoking and bring up so many questions. Luckily Double Edge offers a wonderful opportunity to gather after the performance with the DE community and have some of those burning questions, and ponderings satiated with conversations about their creative process and experiences. This is theater like no other.
PW: Why “The Bacchae” at this time, and what distinguishes Double Edge’s production from others?
RO: I would have to say that I could not see a more appropriate time for this production to be in existence. With women all over the country losing their rights to their own bodies and with making decisions about their bodies illegal and criminal, we are in a dangerous place as a society. Individuals make unhealthy, tragic, or shunned decisions, but rarely are you fined or jailed for doing something that only involves a medical decision involving your own body. Today, 40 years since DE’s first interpretation and presentation of “The Bacchae,” the situation concerning women and their rights in our country is increasingly oppressive and aggressive. It is perfect timing for such a provoking and captivating performance that every person on that stage and in the audience can feel deeply. I have yet to see this year’s production, but I did see a small snippet last year during Double Edges’ 40th anniversary celebration, RITES. The 5-month celebration was dedicated to the first production and performance by Double Edge in 1982 called “Rites.” It was a modernization of the Bacchae by the playwright Maureen Duffy. This summer season, along with new and longtime collaborators and partners, DE is embarking on an ever-so meaningful and empowering form and support and advocacy for women and the LGBTQ community all over the world. I very much look forward to attending this season.
PW: Do you have a favorite moment, visual, or scene from this production that epitomizes the Double Edge approach to classics?
RO: From what I saw last year, there is a pond scene where the artists are chanting and melting into the surrounding waters and mother nature seemingly becoming her and with the earth’s pulse coming through them. It was captivating and exhilarating. I personally felt more moved and engaged than in any previous theater experience. I felt almost a part of it. You do become part of the production sometimes at Double Edge, and I found it unique, and no nightly performance is the same by design. The passion, talent, joy, and pain are what draws people even now to the classics, and Double Edge has the rawness of them all.
PW: Has the cast been through the Double Edge training program? Could you talk about how the show was cast and the rehearsal process?
RO: I don’t know much about this process other than the fact that it is rigorous and time-consuming but also the foundation for creativity and relationship building, as with any intimate group working towards the same goal in productive ways.
CU: Yes, the vast majority of the cast has been through the training program. Like all the things at Double Edge Theatre, the casting process does not follow the traditional canon of conventional theater. Instead, a) the cast is mostly assembled from the ensemble members who have been with Double Edge for an average of 10 years and by collaborators that, in the majority of the cases, have trained and worked with Double Edge Theatre for over eight years. The actors that are part of the ensemble work here year-round. They create their stories and characters within the given story, which then become part of the story through a process of editing by our dramaturgs and by the director in this case, Stacy Klein. This reflects a couple of things. One is the participation of the actor in the creative process. The actor’s autonomy during the creation. The actor also owning the work as being part of creating the piece but also as being part of the production. It also reflects our dedication to developing work based on sustaining relationships over time. First and foremost, by sustaining a group of actors that work together, and not only actors but designers, builders, costume designers and makers, musicians, aerialists, riggers, lighting designers, and electricians. But also a community that participates and helps accomplish the productions and the life around it.
PW: What is a play that changed your life, and how?
RO: As a Social Worker in spirit my whole life and professionally for the past 20 years, I am an advocate and activist for social justice movements like women’s rights, children’s rights and education, and Indigenous rights, and now quite happily supporting Double Edge in their inspiring journey in Art Justice. Certainly, my view on theater has been changed indefinitely, and I have yet to experience a rawer form of contemporary activism than everything they bring to the spaces they create.
“The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae,” directed by Stacy Klein, runs at Double Edge Theatre through 8/6. Tickets: www.doubleedgetheatre.org