My name is Isaac Klein, and I am a very proud member of the Artists on the Farm Collective. My weekends at Ryder Farm this Summer were incredibly special to me for several reasons.
First, there was the farm itself. The glorious beauty of its sprawling meadows, majestic forests, and pristine lakefronts never fail to inspire in me a deep sense of awe, serenity and gratitude. (I cannot overstate the personal importance of these bucolic escapes from big-city living. They cast a powerful restorative spell over me, and bid the creative spirits within to revel and fly free.)
Next, there was the divine purpose of our work in the Ryder homestead: The Sycamores. It was deeply gratifying not only to be working towards the realization of a fully functioning arts retreat center, but also to be doing this work within a veritable living museum. Every room was chock full of family history, and relics from another time (but the very same place!). A large component of our work was sifting through troves of antiquities, in the pursuit of organization, marveling all the while at the lives and stories they contained.
Last, but most certainly not least, were the friendships and artistic bonds that were forged over creative endeavors, campfires, communal meals, sunbathing, laughing, hiking, cleaning, and endless, endless paint-scraping. Susan Goodwillie and Emily Simoness managed to assemble a group of artists who unanimously possess a truly astounding amount of heart, openness, diligence, creativity, and unbridled enthusiasm. Each weekend’s artistic activities were incredibly special to me, but at the cheerful request of the powers that be, I will speak here about the weekend which I hosted.
I am a writer/director of theatre. Some of my favorite projects have been ‘devised,’ meaning I and the actors formed a piece together that was previously unwritten. Heading into my weekend, I knew I wanted to create a devised piece with the group, but it also felt important to get rid of any limitations or expectations. Here we were, on our own, on this beautiful farm. There was no pressure of “what will the audience think?” because WE were the audience; Ben Brantley would not be in attendance. We were creating for the pure sake of our own enjoyment, and nothing else mattered. In this spirit, I encouraged everyone to pursue any form they wanted, from their favorite artistic discipline, to one they had never tried but were curious about.
After some instruction and discussion, everyone filled out a pile of index cards, anonymously, and gave them to me. The cards contained beautiful poetry, secret hopes, nagging thoughts, wild dreams, song lyrics, silly jokes, dark memories, musings, quotes, stories and confessions.
I pored over the cards, categorizing them roughly into realms of inspirational fuel. After a second round of discussion with the group, I sent them off to create for two hours. Some had piles of index cards, some had source material pulled from The Sycamores, and some had nothing but an inspiration of their own bubbling within. Everyone was part of at least one creative group. Some worked alone, while others were part of two groups or more. For my part, I ran around like a mad man from group to group, sometimes checking in briefly and moving on, sometimes offering extensive feedback, but perpetually amazed by the commitment and caliber of the creativity in motion.
As the sun began to set on Ryder Farm, we reconvened in a field, and performed for each other. We cried and laughed and gasped and danced and sang and felt free. When our performance was over, we celebrated, and let it go. We felt very gratified, and very close.
We’d all shared something we had made by ourselves, with ourselves, and for ourselves. The experience was fully ephemeral, but will live on within us, like so many of the wondrous moments we shared in this first Summer of the Artists on the Farm Collective.