First nocturnal performance festival brings people, community together
Something magical happened on a family farm in Belmont Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
Mennonites from 1942, an astronaut from the year 2040 and females from Shakespearian plays appeared in various spots on the farm, telling their stories and then vanishing, making way for more characters to appear.
They came from a variety of performances at an all-night, outdoor festival called Dark Crop and had audience members entranced as they performed on outdoor stages in between trees, inside an old windmill and around a bonfire.
The festival, which debuted this year, was organized by the OPIA Theatre Collective and brought together Canadian artists and patrons for just over 12 hours of performances — musical, theatrical and poetic — local food and camping.
Around 60 people hunkered down for the night with blankets, sleeping bags and lawn chairs as they enjoyed Canadian theatre that explored history, relationships and the human experience.
The catch was that all of the performances were created for the outdoors and were enhanced by natural elements such as the sun, moon, fire and trees.
For Theatre of the Beat and their show, Yellow Bellies, this meant utilizing a large pile of rocks and wheel barrow as their main set as they put on a history-based show about two Mennonite men who were Conscientious Objectors during the Second World War and worked in alternative service instead. The play was created with the use of archival materials, fictional scenes and live, Canadian music.
Johnny Wideman, one of the writers of Yellow Bellies said he was excited by the idea of performing the show, which has so far been put on indoors, outside.
“It’s a new festival so you never know what you’re going to get,” Wideman said. “But I’m really excited by theatre that doesn’t take place in conventional spaces so for me it’s pretty cool.”
Sometime around sunset, people began to bring out blankets and light a fire, adding to the cozy, friendly atmosphere at the farm.
Many of the cast members and patrons knew each other in some way but several were meeting for the first time, proving how small the theatre community can be but also how much room it has to grow.
Carlos and Tessy Sousa came to London from Newmarket to attend the festival. They said they didn’t know what to expect, but after watching three performances, were pleasantly surprised.
“I think the calibre of acting is excellent,” Carlos said. “And I think any venue that presents an opportunity for these performers to practice their craft is a great opportunity for them.”
Barbara Hudson came to watch her son’s 4:30 a.m. improvised Shakespeare performance. She said the festival is a great opportunity for actors to connect and most importantly, act.
“It’s hard to break into theatre. There isn’t funding,” Hudson said. “You have to make your own way in some fashion or another to get your name out there and that’s a tedious process.”
Organizer Brendan Kinnon said he was extremely pleased with the how the night went and that plans are to put on another Dark Crop festival next year.
“It went so smoothly and the performances were all incredible,” Kinnon said.
“We’re definitely coming back next year. We have many plans to make it even better and run smoother and be bigger so more people can come.”
Over the course of the night, some patrons took breaks to power-nap in their tents while others pulled all-nighters, not missing a single show. They were taken into deep space with the show The Isle is Full of Noises, into the private and tumultuous life of an Ontario-based couple in Bound to the Rocks and into a magical forest in A Nightmare for Oberon.
Each show was unique and brought many different worlds to the Belmont farm, transforming the classic Southwestern Ontario landscape into a place of community and performance for a full 12 hours.
This article was first published in London Free Press.