The late Gabriel Gracia Marquez begins his novel “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” by describing a ragged band of gypsies setting up camp on the edge of a village each spring and who, with great fanfare, would display the new inventions of the world. When their leader, Melquides, demonstrated his magical irons (magnets) he proclaimed, “Things have a life of their own. It’s only a matter of waking up their souls.”
Twenty four summers ago a ragged band of gypsies showed up on the edge of Shepherdstown with enough clang and clatter and lightning and thunder to wake the town dog sleeping in the middle of German Street. And as it has come to pass, Shepherdstown has never been the same. I was lucky enough to find their camp early on courtesy of OG, (original gypsy) Mollie Brown, who led me by way of a complimentary ticket to a series of Sam Shepard vignettes in which she and fellow OG Joe Costa were performing. And I was stunned! Just as stunned as those villagers who had witnessed the miracle of magnets…and Melquides turned out to be Ed Herendeen. But it wasn’t science or inventions he was demonstrating; no, it was the raw, searing power and sweeping range of human emotion caught up and twisted by life, and played out on stage. As I say, I was stunned; so much so that afterwards I went out and read everything Sam Shepard ever wrote. But even larger is that I saw theater completely different from that moment on; no longer as entertainment but, in a deeper sense, as Art. I had felt the direct and unmistakable gut churning power of Art. And it changed my life as that was the tipping point in which I realized that I, too, had the heart of a gypsy, an artist. Such is the magic of gypsies.
Nowadays the gypsies are a bit more polished, one could say (a few lost ponytails included), but I don’t hold that against anyone and it certainly hasn’t affected their ability to bring the magic. And true to those very first plays in the un-air conditioned old gym with a complimentary bottle of spring water and a wish for a cool breeze to arise out of nowhere, right on through to the contemporary ambience of the new Marinoff Theater, the festival’s mission of developing cutting edge contemporary storytelling has not waivered one iota. That’s twenty four solid years of addressing current issues, gloves off and daring to focus on often overlooked and uncomfortable facets of our contemporary existence. This is Art by mirror and what we see may not be pretty, but it is beautiful in that it touches us and makes us think… and that is a gigantic accomplishment. That’s why this Festival is so important and that’s why it increases the quality of life for everyone who attends, especially those folks who live right here in Shepherdstown.
I’ve watched Shepherdstown grow with the festival and I’ve watched as summers have gone from overloaded hay wagons meandering down German Street, dodging sleeping dogs, to this lively and exciting arts scene with galleries and restaurants and venues of all shapes and sizes swept up in the excitement. The whole town buzzes and talk on the street centers on the plays. Creativity is everywhere. I’ve come to see this festival as a celebration of Truth played out by gypsies who come every summer and bring with them this huge swirling ball of creative energy. It’s very exciting to be around a group of dedicated, professional artists and to feel their energy and share creative exchanges; not many small towns can offer that.
Another endearing aspect of CATF for me has been the many great friendships I have developed with other professional artists over the years including writers, techies, designers, directors, and actors. Many of whom I remain close with even after all these years. It’s the closest I get to having a feeling of belonging to a family of artists; and since all artists (and gypsies) are basically self-imposed orphans, those friendships bring me much joy and comfort.
And while you can plainly see the beneficial effects CATF has had on local businesses, the local Art scene and the University, I think the largest, most positive and far-reaching effect CATF has had is on the thinking of the individuals who have attended plays or spent the summer as part of the theater company. I personally feel like my decision to become a full time artist was greatly influenced by my interaction with CATF, and that was the most positive decision I’ve ever made. While I don’t believe or expect that everyone finds those kinds of seeds there, CATF is one of the few places I know of where they are made readily available if you care to gather and plant them. I have to wonder how many other souls have carried away with them some sort of inspiration which, in turn, has expanded their thinking to a much larger understanding. I’ll wager many….many, many. And believe it or not, that is the true beginnings of a better world.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago this was all set into motion by the vision and determination of one man, Shepherdstown’s own King Of The Gypsies, Ed Herendeen, who like Melquiades, has proven that things do have a life of their own and that it is only a matter of waking up their souls. That’s no small feat. And Ed has done it by starting this creative fire, and then nurturing it, and then feeding it as much fuel as it can stand… and then looking for more to burn.
So Thank You Ed, for twenty four years of gypsies, inspiration, and fire….and for waking up souls. Especially mine.