Founded in 1982 in Boston by Stacy Klein, Double Edge Theatre evolved several times before settling down at the Ashfield farm that the company now calls home. It all started when Klein arrived in Boston in 1979 to begin a graduate program at Tufts and was shocked to find that there were no real opportunities for women in theater.
“So it started as a feminist training theater, I think I could say. And we basically kept going,” Klein says. “We found the Church of Saint Luke’s and Margaret in Allston, and we started creating our own work. Original performances that involved music, and physicality, and image.”
After researching and performing in Europe in the early 1990s, the company returned to the United States with a singular goal in mind: to develop a space that would cultivate community. So in 1994, the company moved to its 105-acre farm, and since then have taken root in the town of Ashfield, opening two performance spaces, a house in town for resident artists, a growing garden enterprise, and student training programs.
Despite the many changes that the company has experienced over the course of its 30+ years, the desire of those involved to create musical, physically stunning works has not changed from their days in residence at that Allston church. With a combination of rigorous physical training and a collaborative, laboratory setting, the company pushes the boundaries of creativity in order to bring surreal, larger-than-life works to the stage. Enter The Grand Parade (of the 20th Century), a multifaceted, multimedia performance that combines acrobatics, puppetry, dance, imagery, and an original score to tell the story of America’s historic journey—inspired by the vibrant paintings of Russian-French artist Marc Chagall.
For Klein, the choice to juxtapose the work of Chagall with American history was not a far reach. His paintings beautifully combine reality and dream in a way that is both inspiring and perfectly aligned with the mission of Double Edge. Although he lived half a world away, Chagall’s life experiences mirrored the growing pains of American culture.
“He deals with the masses in turmoil. On top of that will be the lifeblood of the community. People getting married, people celebrating, animals that are larger than life. There’s not a cutoff in Chagall between all the different worlds that we exist in,” Klein states.
“I find that really interesting for our [contemporary] times, where things are so segmented and specialized. If you’re a scientist, you’re not allowed to dream. That’s kind of a generalization, but I think our society is extremely specialized in a negative way. We don’t see our whole life as a creative force anymore.”
Neither a play nor a work of performance art, The Grand Parade carves out its own space between the two. It’s a documentation of a time of great change and growth in American history; it’s a celebration of the work of an incredible artist; it’s also a showcase of the incredible scope of human ability.
“There’s always somebody flying,” Klein says. “We really like to fly!”
Touching on unforgettable events including the moon landing, the assassination of JFK, the creation of the atomic bomb, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Grand Parade casts a creative and compassionate eye on the circumstances that led our country to where it is today, at a breakneck speed that examines how quickly time can slip away—as well as how history has a way of repeating itself.
“The performance poses, I would say, paradoxical questions. The reality is, maybe, difficult—but why aren’t we using our potential to change that reality and create?” Klein says.
But don’t let the deep musings scare you away. Klein promises that the performance is anything but boring, even for those who aren’t history buffs.
“It invites people in on the level of invention instead of demanding that they intellectualize things,” she insists. “It’s bringing one to think about their own memories. Where was your grandmother when JFK was shot? When the radio was invented? These are things that people did. Everybody has memory and everybody has family. That’s very important to the performance.”
ARTSEMERSON PRESENTS: THE GRAND PARADE (OF THE 20TH CENTURY). PARAMOUNT CENTER, 559 WASHINGTON ST., BOSTON. APRIL 30–MAY 3. $25-65. FOR TICKETS AND INFO, VISIT ARTSEMERSON.ORG