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A multimedia show asks, 'How does your garden grow?'
An expansive collaboration between a group of more than 20 Island writers, thinkers, dancers, musicians and performers will bloom on the Blue Heron stage this weekend, when “Through the Garden Gate” premieres as part of Vashon Allied Arts’ New Works series.
“Garden Gate” — described by its creators as a feast for the senses — was inspired by “Soul Gardening,” a 1999 book by Island author, inspirational speaker and landscape designer Terry Hershey. The book, with a long list of rave reader views on Amazon.com, is described on the site as a tool that uses the metaphor of gardening to address readers’ “longing for spiritual growth, a healthy lifestyle, and a more centered life.”
Hershey, reached by phone at an airport while dashing back to Vashon after a business trip, said he hopes the new play has the same effect.
“Inside each of us is a garden, and it’s not about planting plants, it’s about cherishing the world we live in,” Hershey said. “That’s what this play is all about.”
The drama of the play, he said, comes from the characters’ inner struggles to overcome problems in their complicated lives and achieve “intoxication — a willingness to just revel in what is here.”
Characters in the episodic show — structured as a mediation of the four seasons — include warring garden goddesses, dancing fairies, a broken young girl who finds the strength to grow up in a garden tended by her elderly neighbor, a couple of clueless tourists who learn to slow down and an older woman who overcomes the dark power of wintertime by drawing on her memories.
Hershey had high praise for Islanders Patricia Kelly and Pat Churchill, who co-produced and directed the show, conceiving it as an in-the-round style production that uses the entire Blue Heron gallery and performance space.
“Pat and Patricia are phenomenal to work with,” he said, adding that the pair had enticed an impressive array of Islanders to participate in the premiere.
The show’s personnel includes actors Kelly, Gordon Millar, Lissy Nichols, Michael Whitmore, Mia Giovanna Helene Kuzma, Ellie Hughes, Gaye Detzer, Kirk Beeler, Tami Brockway Joyce, Jennifer Sutherland and Marc Powell. Abby Enson and Blue Heron Dance Company dancers will also have their turns in the spotlight, performing new dances created especially for the production. Hershey will also appear in the show, as will Island poet, author and magician Tom Pruiksma, who has written new poetry and conceived new magical tricks for the show.
New music will be part of the event as well. Islander Jason Staczek, perhaps best known for his evocative film scores for the acclaimed Canadian film director Guy Maddin, has composed and will perform new music for the production, and Nova Karina Devonie, an accomplished performer and accordion and ukulele teacher on Vashon, will also appear in the show, along with percussionist Barrett Cooper, violinist Gaye Detzer and Island maestro Christopher Overstreet.
The play will introduce many Islanders to the creative spirit of Pat Churchill, who wrote much of the play.
Churchill grew up in the Northwest and had a second home on Vashon for many years but only returned to live full time on the Island three years ago, after a long career as a producer and production manager for such well-known television programs and films as “Lost,” “Sea Biscuit,” “Space Cowboys” and “Disclosure.”
Her first foray into the cultural life of Vashon was as one of the planners of the literary festival, “Read On Write On Vashon” — an event that introduced her to Hershey, Kelly and some of the other performers who are now part of “Garden Gate.”
Churchill, who said that some of her favorite works of theater are by experimental innovators Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman, said the play’s creation was a process of discovery.
“It was quite a mulling over, it took a long time to figure out,” she said. “And being inspirational and spiritual, it’s not set up as a dramatic narrative.”
Instead, Churchill said, the play evolved organically — much like a garden — planted with a crop of native performers.
“These doors just kept opening,” she said. “It was a real sign to me that I should just keep going.”