Michael Fields is at pains to point out that Longshadr, his newly unveiled theatrical venture, is not a production company. Rather, it is project-based, existing solely for the purpose of putting on theater. The intention is not to compete with existing theatrical ventures but to expand the universe — a version of Blue Ocean Strategy for Humboldt theater, if you will, that creates a flexible and inclusive approach by mixing and matching audiences and productions on a one-off basis.
Notably, Longshadr is a for-profit enterprise with no physical facility or formal structure; all overhead is tied to individual productions. Fields is adopting the philosophy espoused by Max Bialystock in The Producers by inviting the public to act as angels and invest in projects they want to see produced. (Visit www.longshadr.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 223-0265 if you're interested.) It's an approach that makes perfect sense in the chronically underfunded world of the performing arts and, as Fields says, "Personally, I have written my last grant."
The name Longshadr comes from an old sign that hung over the driveway leading to Fields' distinctive eight-sided house ("not a yurt," he insists) on Wiyot land overlooking the Baduwa't (Mad River). It references the long shadows cast in the winter, when the sun dips behind the hill and the dark of the days becomes longer until the light of late spring. It encapsulates this sense of moving from the shadows into the light, of finding laughter in dark times, of rediscovering community- and place-inspired theatre as we emerge from the isolation of pandemic times.
While he no longer has any formal ties to Dell'Arte International, Fields, who just retired as its producing artistic director after 45 years there, anticipates continuing cooperation with the school. He has had several projects bubbling under for a while which, for various reasons, were not a good fit for Dell'Arte or elsewhere, and COVID-19 proved to be the spark that brought Longshadr into the light. Deeply embedded in all these projects is one profound question: How do we tell the story of us right now, as we unpack the trauma of the pandemic and learn to laugh again?
Making its public debut July 17 as part of the Baduwa't Festival at Dell'Arte is Madsummer, a slice-of-life look at senior living in Humboldt County in the style of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Through golden-oldie and newly created songs and short scenes, Fields and Donald Forest lead the cast (Bob and Lynne Wells, Kathryn Cesarz, Jesse March, Laura Murillo Hart, Wilda Thomson, Zera Starchild, Jeff Thomas, Wilda Thompson, and more) in a wryly comedic look at love, aging and communication challenges in a pandemic. The multitalented former Dell'Arte house band of Tim Randles, Marla Joy, Jeff Kelley and Mike LaBolle keep the Foggy Boomers' toes tapping.
Starting as they mean to go on, Longshadr is taking a significant percentage of the box office gross for the Dell'Arte performance and splitting the money equally among all performers and the band. That show is already sold out, so Fields is scouting out additional venues for this musical version of the show. Dell'Arte has agreed that Longshadr can stage the completed project in the Carlo Theatre in January of 2022.
Also in development are two collaborative ventures with Debbie McMahon of the Grand Guignolers of Los Angeles. Grand Guignol theater looks for laughter in terror, creating scary mental spaces through distraction and illusion. The three-part Hot and Cold Showers sounds like it will deliver: a psychological thriller, a brutal farce with tiny puppets and something described simply as "splatter." The second collaboration, Irish Ghost Stories, is billed as a "spooky ceilidh" — Irish ghost stories accompanied by Irish tunes from local fiddler Rob Diggins. Ideal for St. Patrick's Day in your local Irish bar.
Rounding out the planned productions is Radioman, Eric Hollenbeck's story of healing and redemption after the horrors of the Vietnam War. A sell-out in its initial run at Dell'Arte, the play has an important role to play in trauma recovery, no matter the cause.
Most productions are planned to be as portable as possible for ease of touring and flexibility in the use of venues — indoor, outdoor, bars and concert halls, as well as theaters — bringing theater of place to the people, wherever they may be. But no Zoom productions — Fields is adamant that the power of theater is in live connection between audience and performers.
Fields is hoping to incorporate training opportunities under the Longshadr umbrella, exploring how to train for today's theatre as well as storytelling and language with local tribes.
Theater is a continually evolving and expanding art form. Longshadr is an ambitious venture that aims to reclaim the enjoyment of creativity and performance art from the regulations and bureaucracy that threaten to stifle new ideas. We have only a finite time on this Earth and, as Fields succinctly says, "It's time to get back to laughing." I, for one, wish him every success.
Pat Bitton (she/her) is a freelance writer/editor based in Eureka who is theoretically retired but you know how that goes.