Double Edge Theater marks 40 years of innovative productions with new programming

Back in 1982, a new feminist ensemble called Double Edge Theater formed in Boston and presented its first production: “RITES,” an adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy “The Bacchae” by Euripides, with this modern version set in a women’s public restroom, with an all-female cast.

“RITES,” written by British playwright Maureen Duffy, was directed by Stacy Klein, one of Double Edge’s founders. Now, 40 years later, Double Edge is a fixture in Ashfield, and the ensemble is celebrating this significant anniversary with several months of programming, under a title that circles back to the group’s beginning: RITES.

Programs include performances by past groups and artists the ensemble has worked with, an outdoor festival held with new partner organizations, and a new “Summer Spectacle” – Double Edge’s main annual production – that will offer another variation of “The Bacchae.”

Cariel Klein, co-producer with Double Edge, says some of this work, which begins April 20, is designed to pay tribute to past ensemble members and collaborators, as well as to look forward to how Double Edge will create new collaborative work in the future.

“This is in part about returning to our roots, going back and staging work with some of the people we’ve worked with,” she said. “In some cases, these are people we’ve known for the whole 40 years.

“We’re also celebrating the roots we’ve put down in Ashfield,” Klein noted. The ensemble staged its first production on its rural property, a former farm, in 1997.

The first installment of RITES takes place April 20-24, with an indoor festival done in partnership with the International Magdalena Project, a cross-cultural network that provides a platform for women’s performance work.

Those five days will include several performances from worldwide women, non-binary and trans artists, as well as work from a number of emerging artists. Performers are from Peru, Norway, Wales, and from several places in the US, including Ashfield.

Emerging artists include Tomantha Sylvester, who’s part of the Anishinaabe Theater Exchange in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Klein says these performances are backed by varying amounts of production assistance from Double Edge, based on their cast size and settings. They all take place in the ensemble’s large indoor performance space in a converted barn.

On May 27, the Ashfield troupe will open “Constellations,” an outdoor performance festival that runs through June 12 and includes productions by three of Double Edge’s newer partners.

“Freedom in Season,” for instance, which runs May 27-29, is written and performed by Larry Spotted Crow Mann, a citizen of the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts and a co-director of the Ohketeau Cultural Center in Ashfield, which has worked with Double Edge in recent years.

“Freedom in Season” is based on the experiences of one of Mann’s distant ancestors, Samuel Vickers, who served in the Civil War; the play also examines untold stories of other Nipmuc men in war, the dispossession of Nipmuc lands, and the removal of their children.

The two other outdoor plays, “Will You Miss Me?” and “In the Name of the Mother Tree,” will be presented by theatrical groups from Michigan and New York City, respectively. All three productions will be staged in set locations on the Double Edge property.

Cariel Klein and Carlos Uriona, a co-artistic director at Double Edge, say this year’s Summer Spectacle, which begins July 15 and runs through Aug. 6, will revisit “The Bacchae,” with Stacy Klein directing a story based more on the point of view of female characters in the play.

Uriona says Double Edge is recognizing another anniversary this year, as the first Summer Spectacle was staged in 2002. Those expansive productions have grown to include more than 50 participants, counting cast, crew, musicians, set designers and others, and the plays are staged in multiple locations on the property, with the audience moving along.

“They’ve become a real symbol of who we are, although not the only one,” Uriona said.

He and Cariel Klein say Double Edge has been fortunate to stage the productions the last two summers, given many other theater companies were shuttered because of COVID-19. Yet the 2020 and 2021 Spectacles were also scaled down somewhat due to the pandemic, and Uriona says the 2022 version will likely also have a smaller footprint, including audience size.

“We’ll be keeping a close eye on any new developments [concerning COVID] because we want to be sure everyone remains safe, ”he said.

The RITES 40th anniversary programming concludes Aug. 7 with a conversation between Stacy Klein and performing arts consultant and curator Baraka Sele on theater and life experiences, followed by a celebratory meal.

For more information on these and other programs, and to reserve tickets, visit doubleedgetheatre.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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