"If These Trees Could Talk" Tour with Brenda DeVita

Posted September 9, 2020

Brenda Tour Blog Marquee

Yesterday we shared the exciting news APT will be offering a taste of what we've all been missing this summer - a walk in the woods, accompanied by the Core Company actors, and a few other talented friends. We chatted with Artistic Director Brenda DeVita on how the idea for the tour was born, how it evolved and what to expect on your walk in the woods.

On the 110-acre APT campus, it’s been a silent summer. Not literally, of course. The birds and cicadas continued to sing; the wind still whispers its susurrus through the prairie. But, for the first time in over 40 summers, their chorus has gone on without an audience. Until now.

While the theater is not yet able to produce plays on its stages, APT is looking forward to welcoming back the audience this late summer and fall, to bring some life to these lonely paths. If you haven’t heard, ‘If These Trees Could Talk’ offers a chance to walk in the APT woods, accompanied by a recording of APT’s Core Acting company and some other phenomenal actors reading poems and passages to lend new meaning to the land we’ve been celebrating for so long. Artistic Director Brenda DeVita is excited to offer the APT audience a little of what’s been missing this summer.

“It’s going to be all the things we are craving right now.” Brenda said in a recent interview. “It will be enjoyable and comforting and, you know, fun. And important. And that is exactly what art does. It responds to the moment, it responds to the artists in the room, and it thrives on the creativity they’re bringing to the table.”

The idea for “If These Trees Could Talk” sprang from the minds of Director Aaron Posner (Heartbreak House, 2018) and Sound Designer André Pluess (August Wilson’s Fences, 2019), who brought it to Brenda just a short time ago. She was immediately hooked.

“I’ve always wanted to do a walk in the woods for Halloween and wanted to have the actors in all kinds of bloody makeup and scary costumes,” Brenda said. “And that got no traction and a lot of eye rolls, but I’m not ruling it out! Just kidding. Sort of. André and Aaron had talked about using APT as a site-specific kind of adventure. And they all had these like really great, wild, creative ideas. So, this summer, in a completely heart-driven and generous fashion, André sent me an email about how much he cares about the institution, and how much he loves the property, and he pitched the idea for this experience. And the very next day I got a document from Aaron who put some real legs behind it with this notion of, ‘What if these trees could talk?’ And it came together vey quickly from there.”

With the concept in place, they knew they would need to get a creative team together to really put the words behind the will. The first step was brainstorming with the Core Company and other APT artists about possible stories and poetry that they could use for the recording. And once they had a firm foundation of content to build on, they created their writers’ room, which included Core Company member and writer Melisa Pereyra,; Isabella Star LaBlanc, an actor, poet and playwright from Minnesota; and Jim DeVita, who is a playwright and novelist, as well as APT’s Dramaturg and a Core Company member.

“They brainstormed and researched and created and wrote and rewrote, and just made this amazing thing happen in a very short period of time,” Brenda said. “And during that process, it very quickly dawned on us that we can't talk about these trees and this property without considering that there was a whole group of people that inhabited this land for three ice ages, when this has only been our home for 40 years. And, all the words we use to describe this place – mystical and sanctuary and sacred – there is a reason for that. Because there's thousands of years of stories that were told here that we know nothing about. So that fact became overarching; that idea that we need to honor that heritage, and to actually make the history of the land part of this experience in a real way. It turned into a deep invitation to experience the land through different voices.”

That epiphany led to commission of works from writers and poets who are new to APT, as well as some beautiful, original pieces from APT’s writers’ room. Like the intermingling of the familiar and the novel on APT’s Hill and Touchstone stages, these poems and recollections told with new voices fit snugly into the world of the stories told here. And together, they make the experience richer.

“When we are taken in by Shakespeare; when it really hits us in the soul, it’s because his poetry is expressing things in ways that we don't know how to,” Brenda said. “Brilliant poetry, speaking to ideas that we understand but don't know how to talk about – that is familiar to our audience. So even when they might not know some of these authors’ work, the poetic expression is going to be completely familiar. It will make those stories feel like home.”

Part of that feeling of home comes from APT’s Core Acting Company, who will be reading the content that the audience will hear during “If These Trees Could Talk.” Devoted APT patrons have come to know these actors well over the years (and if you’d like to know more about them, check out the video series “Six Feet Apart,” where Brenda interviews each of these actors on her front porch). Their skill with language is what makes seeing plays at APT both enjoyable and accessible.

“The Core Company actors are, I think, some of the best speakers of heightened language in the world,” Brenda said. “That’s why, when they speak Shakespearean verse, we understand it. So we're going to use the same kind of incredible linguistic gymnastics that they have - the surprise, the technical genius, the heart, that deep understanding of poetic language and how to make it mean something to you and do something to you – we’re using all of those skills in this piece. They’re going to make this auditory experience into a symphony.”

And along with the Core Company, there will be some familiar, but more recent additions to APT. Accompanying them on the soundscape will be Jamal James (She Stoops to Conquer, 2019; Zoom reading of Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been….) Alys Dickerson (Macbeth, 2019; Zoom reading of As You Like It), as well as creative team member Isabella Star LaBlanc.

“Jamal and Alys are here, in Spring Green now, to read poetry with us. And Isabella is here,” Brenda said. “And they are absolutely who we're talking about when we talk about new voices. They’re people who love poetry, who understand the poems, and who help me understand the poems, as someone from a different culture and different background. And it’s really important work, to unlock those poems for us, and for our audience.”

It’s been a long strange summer without that audience. The people who journey to this rural Neverland, braving the rain and the mosquitoes to sit under the stars and really breathe in a story. Brenda says those are the people who have, over the years, made APT what it is.

“Our audience, they’re going to love this. They understand the power of poetry, and they deeply, deeply love this place; this home that we have here. And they may arrive saying, ‘I don't know this playwright, I don’t know this story’. And then leave saying, ‘Oh my God, that was beautiful, what a great night.’ They’ve always been game for that. And that’s what we’re doing here – we're curating fantastic stories and poetry for them that they might not have found on their own. APT has always been act of faith. Faith that if you put the right people on the Hill, and you get the right people in the seats watching, something miraculous can happen. That, I believe, is what we’re doing here.”