Clear Creek Creative's new performance, Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man, is more than a play; it is a multi-faceted rural drama experience that wrestles with important themes.
The experience begins near the parking area with a snack and orientation. On the one-mile journey to the performance site, guests are greeted with live music and woodland art. The destination is a wooded temporary outdoor set on a ridge over Clear Creek. After the show, play-goers engage with the themes and each other through stops on the return trail. The evening concludes with a fresh locally harvested candlelit meal, including garden tomato soup, wild turkey meatballs, and pear crisp.
The extended time frame and experiential nature of the show is an invitation to linger and engage the story in a deeper way. It allows for interaction and dialogue among the guests and performers.
"From hosting events here for 12 years, we have realized that people naturally gather around food," said Carrie Brunk of Clear Creek Creative. "The quiet return walk after the performance offers guests time to reflect and embody their own experience. The meal allows for intimacy and dialogue."
That extra time for contemplation and discussion is important for this work, which raises challenging questions and difficult themes. As an environmental, cultural and spiritual parable devised and performed from the perspective of a rural white working class man in Appalachia, Ezell reckons with power and domination; with climate change, the extractive resource industry, and intergenerational trauma; and with the human desire for belonging, in nature and to ancestors and generations yet to come.
"As this region transitions from a coal economy, it is vital for all of us to have challenging conversations," said Bob Martin of Clear Creek Creative who devised and performs Ezell. "What kind of future do we want to leave for our families? How might we make a living and what are the ramifications of those choices?"
While the creators have a particular viewpoint about natural resource extraction, their hopes for the show are to humanize people on all sides of the issue.
"For people who agree with our point of view, we want to complicate their perspective," said Brunk. "For those who might not agree, we want to engage in conversation. The us versus them narrative does not help us move forward together."
The character of Ezell was born in 2014 when a real land man, a speculator for oil and gas companies, arrived on Brunk's and Martin's doorstep offering a lease for the mineral rights on the land they call home. The development of the play runs parallel with this community's grassroots efforts to resist the expansion of fossil fuel extraction in Appalachia in the face of fracking and repurposed pipelines and to expand renewable energy alternatives in the region.
Next year, Martin and Brunk plan to take Ezell on the road. While they haven't firmed up all the performance locations, they are especially interested in connecting with other communities impacted by resource extraction that might have particular resonance with the themes. Those include New Orleans, Buffalo and Knoxville.
The performance tour is possible because of three national grants. One is a competitive National Theater Project Creation and Touring Grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts. Ezell was chosen as one of eight projects to be funded from a pool of more than 100 applicants across the U.S. Clear Creek Creative is the only rurally-based ensemble to be selected in 2019 and the first-ever Kentucky-based project to receive the Creation & Touring award.
To reserve a spot for the final Rockcastle County production of Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man on Sunday, Oct. 6, check out Eventbrite.