Take Me To The River

As the summer comes to a close, I wanted to share something that caught my eye back in May. I bookmarked it and looked back at it periodically throughout the summer because I liked the idea so much.

Back in May, as a celebration of the Minnesota River,

“performers staged a “paddling theater production” …The event offered stories, songs and characters from local river lore, presented both as live theater and live-action radio drama in an original production called “With the Future on the Line: Paddling Theater from Granite Falls to Yellow Medicine.”

… Eighteen voyageur canoes, each holding nine audience members and a guide, paddled the 13-mile theater route. Audience members could choose to take part in the theatrical voyage by signing up for a spot on a guided voyageur canoe or by bringing their own canoe or kayak.”

Take a look at the pictures that accompany the article. (Actually it is more photo essay than written text.) It looks to me like the company may have stopped at different points along the river to perform for people gathered there.

I am not sure if they did one scene or the whole story at each stop. From the images, it appears that those of the audience that didn’t take the canoes may have been bussed to the second stop.

I just like the whole concept of using the river as a mode of transport and medium for performance. Even before I read about this project, I had been pondering the possibilities for doing something similar on the nearby Ohio River.

A few years back someone told me a dance concert had been performed on a barge anchored in the Genesee River (or maybe Erie Canal) where those waterways pass through Rochester, NY. The image of people arrayed along the shoreline watching the performance has fired my imagination since.

Even if you don’t live on a navigable waterway, something like this could be possible between towns connected by a railroad or a hiking trail like the Appalachian Trail. It could serve the double purpose of bringing performances to different communities in a novel way and getting those avid about outdoors activities involved.

Imagine your company arriving in town with an entourage of 30-40 hiker-campers. Along the way there could be commentary on the flora, fauna, geologic features and historical sites found along the route.

This is the sort of audience participation and interaction that everyone talks about, only it isn’t dependent on having a physical performance space.

(Not that passively listening to Talking Heads is bad 😉 )

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “Take Me To The River”

  1. When I co-founded the Mothership Ensemble (Contemporary Music ensemble based in Louisville) I had this dream of having our own venue in the form of a steamboat since this area was well known for such things in the past. I foolishly thought it would be a novel thing until our violist told me about the American Wind Symphony Orchestra which has its own venue made out of a converted barge dubbed Point Counterpoint II (presumably their second)! They apparently take tours along the Ohio on and Mississippi and have done tours in Europe and the Caribbean stopping at points along rivers to perform concerts right on the barge itself.

    I know that one of the local steamboats have become used for Steampunk (appropriately enough) events, and have heard of other similar types of events done on non-cruise ship vessels.


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