Scientist: …may natural truth be found always at your fingertips,
Artist: …and your dreams be colourful and varied,
Farmer: …and may the good earth be sweet and moist, beneath your feet
The billboard out the front of The Roxy Theatre on Saturday declared “full house” for the launch of ‘An artist, a farmer and a scientist walk into a bar...’, with over 120 tickets sold. The presence outside of a giant porous limestone rock on the back of a ute, lit up beautifully, suggested that something unusual was afoot (farmer and collaborator Glenn Morris had placed it there to illustrate the honeycomb structure of healthy, humic soils). It would be fair to say that as 7pm rolled around, most of us involved were feeling some degree of trepidation about it. Would the freshly workshopped play be well received? How would the community perceive the artists, especially as what they’re aiming to do is not very “art-like”? And wouldn’t weeds introduce too much bitterness into the dishes?
Such are the risks taken when very different communities come together: the cast of the NorthWest Theatre company, the Friends of Touriandi (a catering group raising money for a local nursing home), organic farmer-activist Glenn Morris, Diego Bonetto and Marnee Fox designing the foraged meal, us artists, and a “very mixed audience”. This audience included townsfolk loyal to the theatre, some scientists, some environmentalists, a few KSCA comrades, and a large group of farmers from the district, some of whom are ‘traditional’ in their methods, and some of whom are adopters or indeed vocal advocates of regenerative agriculture. Not a crowd that find themselves in the same room very often.
As it turned out, the play was a hoot, drawing chuckles from across the room. Rick Hutton’s script had the characters at “The Bar at LingerLonga” fulfilling various stereotype of themselves. It was a litany of absurd stories, bar jokes, puns and pedantic arguments about logic and evidence from the scientist. The bartender egged them on, and in between we were treated to the misanthropic wailings of the drunken Scotsman in the corner. The state of land and the fate of the planet were at the very margins of the dialogue, with just a few cheeky references to ‘temperatures rising’ and the ‘more-on method’ of chemical agriculture.
So what was the punchline?
There was a very earnest section of the play which found a meeting point between the 3 perspectives:
Artist: I would just like my art to be truthful. To make people think about, and seriously question our options. What are our lifestyle choices, and at what cost?
Farmer: All I hope for is that I can produce good clean food and fibre and leave my farm in a better condition than I received it.
Scientist: I have the same hope for science. Science means the search for natural truth. I’m sure that truth is out there, we’ve just got to find the ways and means to discover it.
Artist: And then put it into practice. Design is so important. Beautiful design is so uplifting. The “Science of Art!”
Scientist: … and it occurs everywhere in nature. Consider how the spirals of a sea shell and the spirals of the Milky Way repeat the same patterns. “The Art of Science!”
Farmer: …and the flower head of a Sunflower, the seeds spiral the same way. A beautiful pattern, plus money in the bank!
But really, the spirit of the play was captured by the sing-alongs at the end, led by the Scotsman with his electric guitar. This was, naturally, where the characters found friendship and comradery despite their differences. As the concluding, original “odd socks” song declared:
If you walk into a bar ‘n’ Lingerlonga,
Doesn’t matter who you are you will be stronger,
‘Cause there’s perfect harmony, and such good company.
If you’re a scientist, an artist or a farmer,
The strong and silent type, or just a natural charmer,
If you want to make things grow, there’s one thing you should know,
Keep Calm and wear odd socks,
Be cool, don’t blow your tops,
We’re all in this together,
Keep Calm we’ll see it through…
The food also delighted everyone. Diego Bonetto has written his own account of the remarkable collaboration behind the meal with foraged ingredients here. Both Diego and Glenn spoke to the audience about their produce, with Glenn speaking passionately about how vital it is that we maintain healthy landscapes and build humus in the soil. As dessert was served, we artists had the privilege of sharing our ideas with a curious and considerate audience. Some serious discussion of farming methods followed, and the table conversations continued for hours afterwards. It was, without doubt, a great night out.
The two people responsible for it all coming together are Rick Hutton and Garry McDouall, the driving force behind of The Living Classroom and The Carbon Farm (as well as the restoration of The Roxy theatre), and our main collaborators on this project. We are learning that Rick and Garry have very strong stomachs for risk. They obviously feel that if Bingara is to reinvent itself and thrive as a small rural town, their whole community needs to be encouraged to take risks, try odd things and make friends with strangers. We – as the outsider element in the town - are participants in their socially engaged art project as much as they are in ours. I’m reminded of how a year ago when KSCA first met Rick, Susan, Garry and Linda, we were told that Ian Millis’ poster of a fictional future for Kandos was “great futuring”, similar to their own very detailed, community-engaged strategy for regenerating Bingara. What a magic art moment that was.
With grateful thanks to:
The Friends of Touriandi, Glenn Morris, Diego Bonetto, Marnee Fox, Katrina Morris, Leanne Thompson and the many other people who assisted with food preparation, Carmen Southwell for deft stage management, Martin Hansford of Wombat Tracks for flawless sound, Susan Hutton for stupendous paleo desserts and of course the cast:
Johnette Walker - Ms Phillipa Glass (the Bartender)
Linda McDouall - Ms Esme de l’Orange (the Artist)
Therese Green - Dr Therese Green (the Scientist)
Garry McDouall - Arthur Farmer (The Farmer)
Rick Hutton - Jock McTavish (the Silly Scotsman)
You’re all stars!!