Knight Arts Challenge-winning theater piece blooms at Detroit community gardens

arts / Article

August 20, 2015 by Rosie Sharp

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Photo: Each performance of “The Harrowing” includes a ceremonial burial of artifacts that function as a metaphoric history of the neighborhood.

Nobody appreciates the blazing days of August like true Michiganders, who know that a long, cold winter is always just around the corner. And what better way to celebrate the rites of summer than with A Host of People. The theater group won $20,000 in the 2014 Knight Arts Challenge Detroit in support of their site-specific performance series, “The Harrowing,” which was developed and is being performed in community gardens across the city.

Led by co-directors Sherrine Azab and Jake Hooker, the Host of People crew was at Shipherd Greens Community Garden in Detroit’s up-and-coming West Village neighborhood on Aug. 16. A packed “house” was on hand for the Sunday performance, which began with an audio tour that highlighted some of the sights, crops, contributing community members and features of the garden—including a mural by former Detroit Waldorf School eighth-grader Molly Schneider and a sculpture by Cass Corridor great Robert Sestok.

Sam Moltmaker (standing) and Sarah Wilder, enacting the history of the onion and the neighborhood.

Following the audio tour, the audience assembled on stools for an ensemble performance by A Host of People players Joe Aasim, Mycah Artis, Torri Lynn Ashford, Siena Hassett, Sam Moltmaker and Sarah Wilder. The show unfolded in a kinetic and highly participatory manner, with the crowd dividing into groups to watch movies featuring interview snippets with community garden participants projected on a two-sided scrim inside a tent, as well as a didactic narrative of the history of the onion, and a calling of the names and addresses on Agnes Street, where Shiperd Greens is located.

All along the way, the performance was punctuated by songs, linguistic and physical antics, and a ceremonial burial of the metaphoric history of the neighborhood in a specially designated plot. Members of A Host of People spent the early part of the garden season working volunteer hours at all their host gardens. The gardens include Brightmoor Youth Garden, where the touring show kicked off in connection with the third annual Sidewalk Festival; Hope Takes Root; and Feedom Freedom, where the final show will take place on Sept. 19.

Shipherd Greens Community Garden members in exuberant spirits following the show.

The coming weekends afford several more opportunities to experience “The Harrowing.” No performance is exactly like any other, meaning that audiences can watch it develop, just like a garden, as it blooms to its full potential. For a complete listing of shows and gardens, visit A Host of People’s website.

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