Talking With the Minds Behind This Year’s Finding Trails Festival

Written by Sam Doherty | August 8, 2022

This is the fourth year of the Finding Trails Theatre Festival, but for the first time, it will be in person! Produced as part of the Seattle OAC Art in Parks program, Finding Trails: Bridging the Gap will be an hour-long performance created through the collaboration of playwrights Pamela Hobart Carter, Divya Rajan, Kyle Gerstel, and W. Barnett Marcus with directors and actors from the Seattle community. The festival will consist of four short pieces written for and performed in the parks that explore our relationships with nature, our communities, and ourselves through the lens of public parks. Following the performance will be a facilitated discussion to reflect on the themes explored in each work.

At the center of writing are the senses, because without the senses, there is no experience. They are the human mind’s gateway to the world. The purpose of Penguin’s Finding Trails production every year is to foster the engagement of the senses in the natural world, both in the audience, and in the writing of the plays themselves. That’s why I talked to the playwrights of this year’s Finding Trails Festival to ask them how they went about constructing their stories. In particular, I asked them how they went about drawing inspiration from their surroundings. Each playwright, in preparation of writing their piece, spent time with the park they wrote for.

Q: Tell me about how you went about developing your story, and what inspiration you were able to draw from your park.

Divya (Beer Sheva): The spot has a lot of blackberry plants, so my first thought was “how can I incorporate these blackberry plants? Is there a way?” And they were flowering and they were completely unripe. So the first thing I did was look up “what is blackberry season going to look like during the time of the performances going to be like?” And hey, you know, it’s going to be peak blackberry time. So I would certainly like to incorporate that.

W. Barnett Marcus (Westcrest): That restored area, that mosaic, was likely a very planned and gridded out thing when it was first being restored, but then it grew into something organic that worked together really well. And putting that up against this concept of the pea patch which is very utilitarian, it’s very useful, it’s very social, but it doesn’t have that self-sustaining organic quality that the organic area has. So to revolve those two concepts around the stinging nettle, I wanted to examine the ways that nettle is utilitarian, the ways that it’s useful to people (tea; it makes really good pesto), and ways that it exists with its environment as part of this ecosystem, the decomposition and the growing, and existing in various forms of shade, and height, and tolerances, and how we can view our own relationships like that. So I guess where I’m going is that the two similar but different relationships in this play follow something organic, but something planned. Something hurtful, but something helpful. And it all comes crashing together.

Kyle (Beer Sheva): There was a place where there was a bench. It seemed like a good spot where I think that two strangers would potentially meet up if they’re both on a walk and they get tired and they want to sit somewhere. So there was that, but most of my play comes from experience in terms of just taking walks around the corner—actually, during the pandemic—and the different types of interactions we have over the phone, whether leaving voicemails for the people we are trying to call, or trying to foster new connections and calling people or organizations that you wouldn’t necessarily.

Pamela (Westcrest): The part that roots deepest for me in the script is that this is a place where nature is in charge. Even if we trim some things, or build some things, we’re secondary here.

In Finding Trails, the act of writing is more than just cognitive; it is a way of interacting with the writer’s environment. We live in a time in which many of us feel disconnected from others, and from the world around us. In-person theater, outside in nature, is a way to start safely healing those rifts. Public parks are a huge part of that. I asked the playwrights their opinions on how they think parks should function within our communities:

Q: How do you think parks should function within our communities?

Divya: It’s open to everybody, there’s free access, you don’t need any tickets to go in there. So in that sense I think it’ll be wonderful if we can encourage people to meet in parks more, and give them an incentive to do so. And I think there is a lot of work that gets done in that direction.

W. Barnett Marcus: The more I think about it, the more I see parks as a community service. It is a place for people to interact, it is a place for people to organize, and organization is so multifaceted, it is a place for people to help each other, it’s a place for people to coordinate their dreams, it’s a place for people to break up, it’s a place for people to get together. And sometimes I feel like parks are built with only certain forms and functions in mind, like this is a place where this event will happen, this is a place where that event will happen, when really, it’s an open space, and it’s a place for us to decide what to do with it, and how we exist alongside it. The way I feel about parks and public natural spaces is, they’re so often presented as a utility or a use by people, when really the park, and the nature, is a member of our community, and we exist alongside it, as another being. And we lift each other up, we pull each other down, we take care of each other. And it’s a great responsibility to be involved with your fellow community member, whether that’s just sharing space, whether that’s taking care of them.

Pamela: I theater can bring people to parks that don’t ordinarily visit them. We have those lovely amenities like playgrounds or trails through the trees. We can think of parks as lungs of the city, that kind of thing. This one in particular (Westcrest Park), with pea patch, and playground, and the dog park, and the trails, and some big open spaces, can invite people for all kinds of things…With theater, we want people beyond that direct periphery to know that there are these different places, these different gems all over the city, we have something like 400 parks all over Seattle!

Kyle: When I was younger, I always thought of theater and the outdoors as Yin and Yang in terms of being complete opposites. I always wanted to be inside because I loved theater and film and things like that, where it wouldn’t be an activity that I thought you could participate in outside. I think the great thing about the Finding Trails Festival, and also things like Summer Shakespeare and other summer performances is that it bridges what an outdoor space can provide without necessarily tying athletic activity to it. In my mind, public spaces and the arts should have a relationship where the public spaces can serve the arts and they aren’t seen as opposite, while promoting inclusivity and making sure that the spaces we do create, and the ones we have we maintain, and that if we do have a space that is public, and inclusivity is a value we prioritize, to make sure to stay true to that.

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Finding Trails playwrights. Clockwise, starting top left: Divya Rajan, W. Barnett Marcus, Pamela Hobart Carter, Kyle Gerstel.

Come see their work live!

August 27th 2pm at Be’er Sheva Park

August 28th 2pm at Westcrest Park

Entry is FREE! Simply Join us at the right time and place. Stay tuned for location details!


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