Wandering Aesthetics co-founders Kyle Jozsa and Benjamin Rexroad are taking some personal experience and expanding on it by collaborating with local artists and groups in order to bring a new play, “Trail Magic,” to the Balch Street Theatre.
Jozsa and Rexroad went on the 2,186 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail last year. Jozsa turned that experience into a series of solo performances under the title of Wandering Aesthetics’ “Mountain Cycle.” He related things that happened along the way.
Turns out, of course, that they weren’t the only ones to do that, or the only ones interested in turning someone’s experience into a theatrical performance. Eden Valley Enterprises took on the adventures of Emma Gatewood (affectionately known as Grandma Gatewood) – who was the first woman to walk the trail from Georgia to Maine, in 1955, solo and at the age of 67 years. She repeated the quest a few times more, finishing at age 83 in 1970.
Gatewood became well-known as one of the first ultra-light hikers (she wore only a pair of sneakers, while carrying an army blanket, a raincoat, and a piece of plastic for ground cover). She has been quoted as saying that you only need to buy some cans of Vienna sausage; the rest you can find in the wilderness. Pretty amazing.
Gatewood also helped establish the Buckeye Trail that runs through her native Ohio (and through the middle of Akron). She served as leader of the Buckeye Trail Association for several years.
Eden Valley Enterprises employed playwright Kelly Boyer Sagert and researcher Bette Lou Higgins (who both also live in Ohio) to put together Grandma Gatewood’s story.
Wandering Aesthetics is producing their play, “Trail Magic,” and performing it for only the second time in its two-year history. Jozsa will serve as director – the first time ever in this role for the actor. Priscilla Kaczuk will perform the role of Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, and Nici Romo will narrate the play.
In a telephone interview, Jozsa commented that Wandering Aesthetics is sticking to the text Sagert created, but they are modifying the presentation by having the narrator (a figure who bookends the narrative and who makes comments about Gatewood) be a magical trail angel. That way, he added, they can create, freeze-time scenes, as well as have the angel interact with Emma, thus creating more conflict to lend the drama some tension.
Wandering Aesthetics is developing a corollary project called “Boogers, Witches, and Haints” that feeds off the same kind of experience that they, like Gatewood, had along the extensive and often rural and wild route through the eastern half of the nation. That project will, according to Jozsa, be completed and performed in the spring.
Wandering Aesthetics was formerly called Heads Up Productions. Interestingly, the group used the basement of a local florist, Every Blooming Thing, for rehearsal space. Wandering Aesthetics, in conjunction with the Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture (CATAC), which regularly performs in the Balch Street Theatre, and with Ma’Sue Productions, another local group and an African American based theater company, hopes through cooperative efforts to make the Highland Square area of west Akron more active theatrically – to form a destination for small, independent groups that like to present new works. Wandering Aesthetics' production in the Balch Street Theatre is a step in that effort.
After the final performance at the matinee on November 23, Wandering Aesthetics is hosting a reception (tickets are $10) to raise money for Eden Valley Enterprises in order to help them along with a current project to create a documentary film about Emma Gatewood.
Wandering Aesthetics will present “Trail Magic” November 21-23, at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, at the Balch Street Theatre, 220 S. Balch St., Akron; 330-990-5138. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online here: trailmagic.brownpapertickets.com.