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A Community Harvest

This autumn, a different sort of harvest is happening at Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden. For months, locals of all ages have been busy writing, sculpting, and composing for a homegrown production taking place Oct. 14 & 15. Tickets for the outdoor event are on sale now, but as with most community productions, the culminating performance is only half the story.

Called ‘A Wild Notion,’ the Spectacle is a play, concert and dance performance featuring twenty-foot puppets, music, elaborate costumes and more. “We’re offering this as a playful, healing balm,” said Boxerwood Executive Director Emily Kohl, “it’s been a tough couple of years. The Spectacle is our way of co-creating some fun, imagination and community to re-energize us all.”

The brainchild of Artistic Director Stephanie Hodde, ‘A Wild Notion’ is rooted in community theatrical arts. Longtime Rockbridge resident and professional educator, Hodde also led Spectacles at Boxerwood in 2008 and 2010. The visionary projects integrate local sensibility with her own experiences working with renowned community arts organizations including Chicago’s Redmoon Theatre and Vermont’s

Bread and Puppet Museum. Connecting with Boxerwood over the years has expanded her artistic and creative capabilities, Hodde said, noting love for the natural world, this place, and its people as inspiration for ‘A Wild Notion.’

“We were thrilled when Stephanie approached us for another Spectacle” said Kohl, noting a strong connection between Hodde’s place-based work and Boxerwood’s earth care mission. With the post-pandemic needs of young people in mind, Boxerwood educators and Hodde developed a vision for the project. “The storyline depicts the

journey of three isolated youth who rediscover their own vitality and a sense of community by reconnecting with the Wild,” said Hodde. “The performance celebrates how tending the Wild (both within and without) can renew us for the journey ahead – and who doesn’t need a boost of collective energy and hope these days?”

In keeping with the community-rallying theme, Boxerwood recruited as many people as possible to be a part of the Spectacle. In March, Lylburn Downing Middle School (LDMS) drama club students developed the play’s main characters alongside Boxerwood educator and Spectacle co-playwright Catherine Epstein.

In June, two more groups of local children got involved. At Programa Sol, a W&L-

sponsored camp for children who speak more than one language, 40 kids and their W&L counselors created danceable, 3-D sculptures inspired by a Mexican tradition for use in ‘A Wild Notion.’ During Enderly Heights Elementary School’s grant-funded summer camp program, Boxerwood educators worked with more than 50 Buena Vista children ages 7 – 11 at Glen Maury Park. “The younger kids used recycled materials to make drums, kazoos, and rainmakers,” explained Boxerwood Educator and Spectacle co-creator, Jess Sullivan. “The older kids built giant water striders and dragonflies out of cardboard—then shared an impromptu performance with friends and family!” Everything the children created, Sullivan said, will appear in the October performance. “All these community contributions are important,” explained Kohl, “it tells children they matter: their ideas, creativity, and vision.”

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Two more Spectacle-themed camps followed in July, led by Hodde and Sullivan. Middle schoolers created puppet characters, and with help from multimedia performing artist Sam Camp, they brought their creatures to life with cardboard, paint and youthful zest. The campers also composed music with Martha Buford, director of music at Grace Episcopal Church, and Devon Sproule, a folk singer-songwriter based in Charlottesville. Buford shared musical instruments, challenging campers to experiment and embody the sounds of nature like awakening mushrooms or swarming bugs. Sproule worked

with the campers to brainstorm words and ideas that provoked strong emotions to express the complex relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. Campers also painted bright fox masks with the help of Boxerwood volunteer artist Darin Docekal, danced and pranced with giant paper-mâché mushroom hats, and embraced the wonder and delight at the heart of the Spectacle endeavor. “It’s just what we wanted to see,” remarked Kohl, reflecting on the multi-month Spectacle outreach, “lots of youth from all kinds of backgrounds celebrating their skills and talents and

love for the Earth.” Many of the children, she notes, will also participate in October’s show, in addition to a youth chorale and Halestone dancers.

Adults throughout our community are also volunteering their time and talents. Master builders Jay Sullivan – professor of Mechanical Engineering at VMI – and Jim Stewart – artist alum from Boxerwood’s previous Spectacles – have designed and built several puppets and a 20-foot treehouse stage.

A team of makers gathers weekly at Boxerwood to sculpt and paint, and still others have roles in the theatrical side of the production.

Even before its performative roll-out next month, ‘A Wild Notion’ is already flourishing as a multi-generational community happening, inspiring creators of all ages to care for, take joy in, and reconnect with the natural world. The Spectacle’s full wonders awaken Oct. 14 & 15 at Boxerwood. Tickets are limited.


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