written and directed by laura somers

Awards, Nominations and NotorietyProduction Notes Reviews

CAST
The Coroner Interrogation Cindy and Big A Jail The Band Haircut Memo Arriving at Lost Forest The Big Fight Cast
David Chain Greg Gondek
Big A Judson Jones
Narrator/3 Dollar Bill Sarah Chain
Uncle Charlie Corey Gagne
The Yes Man/Cop B. Michael Rains
Cindy/Elder Activist Ellie McBride
Nehima, a tree Christa Kimlicko Jones
Sleeper Russell Roten
Coronor/Logger/Cop/Elder Activist Lowell Bartholomee
Reporter Ellen
Sherrif Amy Elyn
Detective Freedom/Logger/Cop Weldon Phillips
CDF/Logger/Cop Brandon Crow
Anngie/Bettie Charlie Rain Melissa Livingson
Evidence Jesse Lalonde
Wild Leigh Anderson Fisher
Eagle/Elder Activist Chris Sykes
Leaf Rhea Hines
Jimmy/Ash John Moore
Frost Shannon Weaver
Angie/Betty Charlie Caroline St. Dennis
Aine-Nyssa, a tree Martinique Duchene
Xylona, a tree Jennnnifer Harlow
Dyanni, a tree Celina Hernandez
Young David/The Great Patriot Will Parsons
The Great Patriot/Hank Barrett Smith
 
The Band Judd Vowell
Mike Carpenter
Jordan Weeks
Josh Vonk
Corey Gagne
Levi Cory

Production Notes

It seemed simple enough.

Antagonists Camping Trip.

Three simple words. Each easy to understand and, if not understood, easy enough to look up.

Hippies!  I hate hippies! Funeral Smoking Tree spirits speak to Gypsy I said I Fucking HATE Hippies! Waiter hey man Plant a Tree for GC

Follow me so far?

Somehow this concept was lost on a group of people from the Protagonist faction, namely the Hippies. The bad guys/good guys line was drawn pretty clearly- one could even say painfully clearly- between those playing the loggers, mill owners, and money men who populated our slightly fictional hamlet of the Lost Forest and the lovable and equally foul-mouthed hippies who protested the work of the aforementioned group. This was as basic a morality tale as ever was told. So, when Jud suggested that the antagonists should go camping together to build a little espirit de corps, we figured everyone knew who would be going on this trip.

But three of the hippies, obviously having soaked up the “we’re all one big family of man” ethic that their characters espoused, had their own ideas. They thought the “Antagonists” descriptive meant all the bad guys and three well-meaning hippie types would be camping together. So you can imagine our surprise when they asked where “we” would all be going camping together.

And we were more than happy to tell them that we would be camping at McKinney, a lovely little campground not far from Austin. The three grinning hippies set off for McKinney immediately, promising to find “the perfect spot” for all of us to enjoy a night of nature.

The antagonists (Jud, Michael, Weldon, Brandon, and myself), of course, set off immediately for Krause Springs, a lovelier little campground farther away from Austin and in the opposite direction of McKinney.

We chuckled to ourselves and set up our campsite and quickly began cooking, drinking, farting, and talking trash- as antagonists are wont to do when they are on a camping trip.

When, suddenly, Jud’s cell phone rings. Caller ID tells us it’s one of the hippies. Fueled by alcohol and charred meat, we spring into action.

Confused Hippie #1: Hey, where are you guys?

Michael: That’s what we would like to know!

CH #1: What do you mean?

Michael: Where the hell are Jud and Lowell? Are they with you?

CH #1: No, man, it’s just the three of us here. We’re waiting for you to show up.

Michael: Well, they were supposed to meet us at the campground and we can’t find them.

CH #1: We’re here, why haven’t you found us?

Michael: I don’t know! Where the hell are you? We’ve looked all over Paleface for someone we know.

CH #1: (now even more confused) Paleface?

Michael: Yeah, Jud and Lowell told us we were all camping at Paleface tonight.

[author’s note: Paleface is an altogether different campground between Austin and Krause Springs. I have no idea how lovely it is.]

CH #1: They told us we were going to camp at McKinney tonight.

Michael: McKinney?!

Weldon: (just off to the side) McKinney?! What the fuck is McKinney?!

CH #1: Is that Weldon?

Michael: Yeah, Weldon’s with me. We’re supposed to hook up with Jud and Lowell at Paleface.

CH #1: Where’s Brandon?

Michael: He couldn’t make it. Wife told him he couldn’t go. What did they tell you?

CH #1: Well, they actually talked to [Confused Hippie #2].

Michael: Let me talk to her.

Weldon: (still just off to the side) Those fuckers!

Confused Hippie #2: Hey, man, wassup?

And it went on like that for quite a while. Past the point it was funny, even. Though in our exalted state of inebriation, it never stopped being funny. By the end of the night we had convinced them that Michael and Weldon were now standing at the Albertson’s at the intersection of 290 and 73 wondering what the hell was going on. The conversation ended something like this. . .

Michael: They really fucked us.

Confused Hippie 1, 2, or 3 (who can keep track?): No shit.

Michael: We’re going home.

Weldon: (still off to the side) Those assholes!

CH 1, 2, or 3: That sucks. Peace, man.

Michael: Yeah, whatever.

And we laughed and laughed. We had certainly attained some sort of Evil Genius status, individually and collectively, for such a well-maneuvered burn. We had, without a doubt, earned our night of drinking and talking dirty about everyone we knew. And when we fell asleep, we slept the sleep of the truly smug and sated.

The next day we gave them some story about how Jud and I had gone to Paleface, found a secluded spot, decided to get the party started, and got so drunk that we never went looking for Weldon and Michael. They bought it. In fact, the story was passed around as legend throughout the cast and at parties for the remaining month and half of the production. We bided our time, making veiled references to “Mrs. Krause” backstage and onstage. And on closing night, we made a gift to the three hippies of the pictures we’d taken on the trip.

Victory was ours. The shamed and wounded faces of our three targets were the delicious dessert at the end of a meal we had toiled over with such care and delight.

Take a moment to fully soak up the brilliance of our little plot.

Done?

Okay.

That was a long way to go to tell you that the show had turned us into monsters.

The psychodrama experiment that had once been a rather noble effort to tell the story of a slain environmental activist had started to take its toll. We were tired. We were overheated. We were desperate. And at a certain point we lost the ability to care about the feelings of those around us, particularly if they were in the hippie camp.

Much of this was due to the process itself. It had been a long haul; most of us involved in the creation of the show since the beginning of April. It had been a frustrating process. The early excitement of daily physical training and the promise of creating a brand new epic collaboratively had devolved through countless setbacks and the disillusionment of successive script drafts that didn’t even begin to live up to the hopes we had held going into the project. We had seen the best in each other. We had seen the worst. We had watched one of our original cast members collapse with a ruptured aneurysm during rehearsal. Romantic pairings bloomed and some existing ones floundered. We had become a huge extended family unit.

And we began to hate each other.

There were the usual interpersonal conflicts, as there are on any production. And with a cast and crew that numbered over 40 people, there were perhaps more than our fair share of those. However, the conflicts generally came down along party lines. Loggers vs. activists. Like our non-fictional counterparts, the two camps bitterly despised each other and animosity, with a few exceptions and generally only during hacky-sack breaks, became a daily flavor.

One of the great conflicts of the show surrounded the division of labor. This was a huge production that required intense physical labor to set up each night. And a lot of said labor fell almost exclusively on the shoulders of those playing the loggers. Yes, there were exceptions. Russ Roten could be counted on to pitch in on a regular basis. A great deal of the set and all of the pulley system would not be standing without Chris Sykes. There were others that helped out fairly regularly. But 99.9 times out of hundred it was the loggers hoisting the braces, moving the car parts, and doing much of everything else. In other words, the exact situation that exists in Humboldt County was in play around the production. A group of people showed up and did the job at hand and cursed to each other about the larger group of people that didn’t seem to care.

This would be an excellent time to point out that much of what was said in the previous paragraph is not true. The stuff about Russ and Chris is. Much of the other stuff isn’t. But that was the perception. The accepted gospel. Just as I’m sure the actors on the other side had their misconceptions and conspiracy theories about us. Much the same way that the real-life activists have false perceptions of the hard-working men who go into the forest every day to feed their families. And the way those hard-working men have the wrong idea about the people who are attempting to do nothing short of preserving our air, land, water, and lives. We became living embodiments of this twisted spiral of animosity and distrust.

Some of this manifested itself in ridiculous ways. Black Friday. The night one of the hippies flung his own face into Michael Rains’ flashlight and broke a tooth and proceeded to blame it angrily on Michael. The night I accidentally punched another actor during a fight scene. Now accidents happen and this one was avoidable given the great fight choreography we were given by Jud. But what makes it notable is that as sorry as I was that it had happened, I soon stopped caring. Given my feelings for the hippies as a whole (and one hippie in particular), I actually found myself feeling sort of proud of hitting him. And telling myself that I wished I could have it all to do over again. Not so I could keep it from happening. But just so I could prepare my punch better to cause more damage to him and less to me.

And then it got worse.

Different night: The fight scene ended with Jud and me exiting in the bed of my pickup. The night before, one of the hippies had decided to yell an insult after us as we left. Well, that just wouldn’t do. Jud and I told the driver of the truck that if the hippie yelled something at us as we exited tonight to immediately stop the truck. What would happen then was anybody’s guess and, well, we hadn’t really thought it through that far.

The fight scene came and went without injury. We loaded into the truck. The truck backed out. The hippie yelled something. The truck screeched to a halt and Jud and I locked eyes with the hippie- ours filled with homicidal rage, his with growing shock. Russ, who was standing next to the hippie, saw this immediately and got everyone off stage. We signaled and the truck pulled out. End of scene.

I honestly don’t know what would have happened if Russ hadn’t intervened. I’d like to say nothing more would have happened aside from an extended, profane shouting match (in a show that could use a few hundred less shouting matches). But I can’t honestly say for sure.

I was scared of what we were at that time. I wanted out.

I had tried to get out.

I was originally cast as a character loosely based on Michael Milken. Though Milken had played a not insignificant role in the events in Humboldt County, his place in the show was debatable. Which lead me to do something that combined the seemingly mutually exclusive motivations of self-interest and helping your production. I asked Laura to cut my character from the show. I knew that the show would be better off without any time spent on the plight of a greedy financier. But I also desperately wanted out of the show. And I was hoping that this maneuver would accomplish goals for both the production and myself.

It didn’t work that way.

Laura cut the character and then kept me around to play various authority figures and cops. A thankless job. But not every job has to be thankful and in the end my iron-clad belief that once you commit to a show you stay in the show kept me there long after I had any desire to be there.

And we did the show. And a lot of people saw it. And many of them liked it. And several of the people who liked it had not gone in with a predetermination to like it. Some described it as “everything they hope for in theater”. And though it was a financially risky production, it did not sink the company and even turned a profit. A miracle in theater.

Am I glad I did the show? I don’t know. I became friends with some wonderful people on that show and I cannot regret that. I became better friends with Jud and Christa and my current devotion to the dirigo group is directly linked to being in that production. I value that more than anything.

Do I value the actual experience? I end up talking about it more than I want to and look back on it the way people look back on traumatic events in their lives- car accidents, a bad break-up, etc. I am not proud of my involvement in the show. I don’t think I turned in good work. It was loud work and it was what was asked of me, but it was not good work. I took no lessons from that production that have aided me in my acting since. In the end, I would have rather been somewhere else. However, I now would rather be nowhere else, so I guess that’s the way things work.

We created an epic production is six months. A musical epic, at that. Such a thing shouldn’t even be possible, but it was accomplished. That is something to be proud of.

Did we tell David Chain’s story the best way it could be told? No. Not unless you honestly believe that David was a Christ figure sent by the Great Spirits to lead the world out of darkness. I believe that David was a wonderful human being, full of love and compassion and amazing qualities and was truly one of the people the world is lucky to have among its populations at any given time. I believe that he, like each of us, had the potential for greatness. I believe he found the one thing in life that he loved to do, that filled him with passion. And I believe that in performing that one thing- the thing each of us longs for in our lives- he was killed. In a single, senseless moment of bad judgment and sheer ill fortune . . . the world lost him.

I mourn the loss of a singular human being. The premature termination of a life that had yet to reach its full bloom. And I mourn the fact that the true loss that occurred on that hillside in Northern California has not changed the way things are done in the world of logging and the protection of our natural resources.

As far as The Gypsy Chain is concerned, I will always mourn the fact that this loss was diluted and muffled by a production that sought to honor the life of a fellow human, but became too enraptured in itself, too distracted by the novelty of its creation, too just about everything to keep its sights on the great work with which it had been entrusted.

There will never be anything like it again.

For better and for worse.

— Lowell Bartholomee, July 2003

REVIEWS

“At any moment, the production could be a rock opera, a docudrama, a fairy tale, a dream play, a political diatribe, a Brechtian epic, a requiem, a parody, or a melodrama.”
          Austin Chronicle -
Read the full review


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