Residencies

Research Questions by Ain Gordon

Message-to-Donnie-Dalrymple

How to research the sensorial fallout of a rote task two hundred and eight years ago?

I admit I could not frame that question till halfway through the research. I knew I was pulled toward an activity of no historic consequence (I often am). I knew I was interested in a moment and location that was daily and transitory, the task rather than the artifact of that task. (I often am interested in the moment before “the moment.”) Also yanking at my consciousness was the giant silence of one imagined cloudy morning in pre-industrial rural early America (facing the empty virtual page on a cold gray Wednesday knowing I should write is my version). Girdling these tangents was a question about historical reenactment. (I’m not sure where I got that – it appeared.)

In theater I have questions about “naturalism” or “realism.” I find I more readily accept the conceit of the real only through the conduit of the overtly theatrical; a stylized contract opening the door to rehearsed spontaneity. This thought-cloud drifted till it collided with the field of performed history; historical re-enactors are performing the past in the present for an audience who could not be in their world but are included as if it is “natural.” (Again, I am pretty sure I could not be this clear, if I am being clear, before several visits to Vermont.)

So, how to research the sensorial fallout of a rote task two hundred and eight years ago? (Yes, for me, research, like this blog post, is circular; honing in on intention through doodling in place.) Sorry, but I am not entirely willing to answer the above question in this forum because it is at the core of the piece I am writing. I will say that myself and Forrest (co-researcher and collaborator) went to Historic Deerfield and spent more than four hours with two passionate hearth-cooking experts; two fierce defenders of their historic cache. In one of Deerfield’s late 18th century kitchens we built a fire, prepared dough, and made bread. The heat from the fire, the cold from the open back door (or smoke would overwhelm), the ache in my shoulders from pounding and kneading, the hearth’s sparks and crackles, the dim candlelight (yes it was a gray wet morning) and, finally, the steaming bread. This was my visceral entry into owning the sensorial fallout I was trying to imagine.