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where the river widens, by Kate Russell

Wabanaki REACH has partnered with Threadbare Theatre Workshop to craft an original, community-devised play together– where the river widens– to be performed along the Penobscot River in September. This collaboration with the Wabanaki community is part of Wabanaki REACH's truth-telling initiative, Beyond the Claims– Stories from the Land & the Heart; an oral history project illuminating the Maine Indian land claims.

As summer takes its usual flight– right on by– I wanted to slow down for a moment to reconnect with you. There is so much beauty emerging at every turn of our theatremaking journey on the People's Island– so much that it is hard to know how or what to share with you here. But I'll try.

Making a play from scratch often feels like pulling a story out of thin air, or a rabbit out of a hat. But the truth is, it is a painstaking process like any other, one step at a time, until at some point you look behind you and find characters keeping apace, a sense of place coming alive, and layers of depth and meaning beginning to effortlessly unfold. Mostly, I wanted to share with you some of the things you'll never see, even if you do come out to witness where the river widens come September.

On rainy days, we step inside to rehearse at the Sockalexis Arena, a cavernous space shared with after-school programs and now summer camps. Toddlers and teenagers alike eye us from across the basketball court as we unspool ourselves into landscape– becoming the river, rattling stones, dew on the rock, and dawn. We are a multigenerational ensemble playing with childlike wonder, giggles and all. One day we stopped to reflect on the images we created, unwittingly standing as a land mass split in two. And a group of children came barreling through us, chasing after one another in absolute glee with an exuberance you could never write or direct. Maria Girouard, executive director of Wabanaki REACH, looked at me and said, "Well, there's our river". It was a magical moment. And a reminder that it is not always up to us to make the thing, but to create a space in which the thing itself can play, find delight, and fly.

Devised theatre, or collective creation, always begins with not knowing, which is to begin with humility, curiosity, and an intrinsic connection to those in the room with you. In short, it calls on us to trust– the process, the people who have gathered to be part of it, and the story itself as it unfolds before us. I believe it is this trust that makes the "magic" and carries it forth. I also believe it is this work that coalesces so beautifully with Wabanaki REACH's mission of bringing truth, healing, and change to the Dawnland.

Neighbors who haven't sat with one another in years are coming together to remember; share stories, photographs, hopes and fears; and offer their ideas– how to embody sweetgrass, which songs to sing, what jokes to sprinkle in. It has been a truly remarkable time making a play in the Dawnland, along panawahpskek, in the warm summer breeze. We look forward to inviting you out to see where the river widens soon.



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