The threat of another century of fossil fuel extraction in Appalachia arrived directly on our doorstep when a company “land man” came to Clear Creek offering a lease for mineral rights to the lands that we and many others call home. The character and story of Ezell was born from that moment. Join us for our next step along the path of resistance & resilience:
ezell: Ballad of a Land man
Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man is an environmental, cultural and spiritual parable derived from living in the foothills of Appalachia, one man among many seeking to make sense of the time, place and condition in which we live. In the story, Ezell’s choices, traumas, ancestors and more intersect with themes of domination and resilience as he seeks to take advantage of an anticipated fracking boom and the opportunity to reconnect with the people and land of his raising.
Ezell is in part a study of domination in the wide range of its prominent and more subtle forms — domination between a man and the land, between a man and other people, between a man and himself. It is in part a story about how climate change, the extractive resource industry and intergenerational trauma impact the choices and decisions of a man and the land he would like to call home. It is in part a ceremony that calls to our desire for connection and belonging, that reveres nature and binds us intimately within her, that invokes the resilience, love and lessons of our ancestors and generations yet to come.
In 2014, the threat of another century of fossil fuel extraction in Appalachia arrived literally on our doorstep when a company “land man” showed up to offer a lease for the mineral rights to the lands that we and many others call home. Land men—essentially hired speculators for the oil & gas industry—were making a hard push to get in early on the anticipated expansion of oil & gas fracking into the Rogersville Shale, a geologic formation that crosses from West Virginia into East Kentucky through what has long been understood as “coal country.”
Within days of the land man’s arrival, our small rural community gathered together to educate and organize. We shared the leases we had been offered with one another, we contacted others in neighboring places to alert them, we called in the expertise of key local organizations, we organized a town hall meeting attended by 400 people. We learned from leaders in West Virginia and other communities about their experience of fracking and joined efforts with other communities in Kentucky and afar who had worked to resist the expansion of pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure throughout the U.S.
As we contributed to these organizing efforts, we also turned to our art as a means to access our collective resilience in the face of the fracking threat and to inspire action toward the vision of a renewable energy future in harmony with nature and one another.
We were further motivated in this cultural organizing work by our experience of hosting the national premier of Cry You One which involved an extensive cross-regional residency & presentation of 16 New Orleans artists grappling in parallel with the trauma of oil extraction, climate change, land & culture disappearance on the Gulf Coast. That cross-regional exchange with Mondo Bizarro and other Gulf artists and the threat of fossil fuel extraction in our region has fueled our original artistic work here at Clear Creek in recent years and gave birth to the current Ezell project.
The Ezell project is a slow-developing story that evolves in response to the land, people and context from which it arose. Here’s what we’ve witnessed so far:
2014-15: The character of Ezell emerges through devising work with a local ensemble as we prepare for the production of Land, Water, Food Story, a community-devised performance shared alongside Cry You One at Clear Creek. Ezell returns in a second iteration of Land, Water, Food Story as a more fully developed character based upon our interactions with the oil & gas company’s Land Man. Our work in this time is supported by a Partners in Action grant from Alternate ROOTS.
2016-17: A Clear Creek ensemble of 8 people develops Where’s That Power Gonna Come From?, a short musical & theatrical touring performance intended to support community organizing in relation to the fracking threat and the vision for renewable energy alternatives. In the performance, a reading of the actual encounter with the land man is shared by Carrie Brunk and the original “generator scene” of Ezell is performed by Bob Martin amidst numerous original songs written and performed by the ensemble (Mitch Barrett, Nicole Garneau, Jacob Graber, Kayla Preston, Robert Rorrer, Mirra Shapiro & Melody Youngblood). Where’s That Power Gonna Come From? was presented throughout Kentucky by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in Lexington, Hindman and Covington, by Frack Free Foothills and West Sixth Brewery again in Lexington, by New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future in Springfield, by First Friday Berea in Berea, by Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe in Frankfort, by Kentucky Beyond Fossil Fuels at a regional conference in Lexington, and by Alternate ROOTS in Arden, North Carolina.
2018: Bob spends 4 weeks at the Double Edge Creation Lab in Ashfield, MA to further develop the Ezell character and story. He’s awarded the Al Smith Fellowship by the Kentucky Arts Council, the state’s highest award in recognition of artistic excellence, for his community story and theatrical work. The award plus an Artistic Assistance grant from Alternate ROOTS supports three work-in- progress sharings including a performance during the Solstice Spectacle at Clear Creek alongside The Wastelands, The Way at Midnight and Performing Revolutionary; a performance and dialogue at ROOTS Week; and a performance and pilot of the Dismantling Domination | Cultivating Resilience post-performance engagement session during the Hurricane Gap Community Performance Institute at Pine Mountain Settlement School.
2019: We deepen our collaboration with New Orleans artists and invite our community into design residencies to develop the Ezell set as well as a series of Climate Capsule installations in the woods along the journey to and from the performance site. Creation and development work continues throughout the summer to bring the full Ballad of a Land Man story to fruition. A full-scale presentation of the Ezell experience in five acts — Welcome, Journey, Performance, Return & Feast — is hosted at Clear Creek September 21-22 and October 5-6, 2019 for sold-out audiences.
the ezell experience @ Clear creek
We hosted an opening run of Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man at Clear Creek between September 21 and October 6, 2019. The experience included five acts:
Welcome: An opportunity to connect with group & guide, orient to the site and enjoy a homemade sweet-potato handcake & drink before embarking on the journey.
The Journey: A quiet, contemplative walk through woods to the performance site led by a guide and accompanied by musicians. The moderate 1-mile walk has two brief uphill climbs on the way to the site. Accessibility accommodation for the entire journey is possible with advance notice (see reservation form).
The Performance of Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man: The one-hour performance is set in the woodlands on the ridge above Clear Creek.
The Return: On the way back from the performance site, guides invite small groups to interact with Ezell’s “Climate Capsules.” These sculptural installations offer an opportunity to reflect on and embody the themes of Ezell along the return journey.
Feast: The culinary arts team closes out the evening with an abundance of fresh local food, water from the spring and other treats prepared and served with love. The meal is primarily vegetarian with dairy-free and gluten-free options, accompanied by a rotating cast of musicians.
We encourage all of our guests to be prepared for the site and the season with comfortable close-toed shoes, long pants, layers for rain & warmth and bug spray. Bring cash if you’d like special refreshments and a water bottle if you’d like to carry water with you to the performance site. We will finish by dark, though it’s a good idea to have a light available for the walk back to the parking field.
SOURCING & TOURING Ezell
We understand the presentation of this project as a means to continue and extend efforts that support our collective work of disrupting domination, dismantling oppression and learning how to live in greater harmony with nature and with one another.
While the fracking threat is significant, we are simultaneously deeply inspired by living on Clear Creek, an incredibly bio-diverse forest fed by natural spring water, solar-powered energy and a surrounding community of people who live in close relationship with the land. We have become stewards of this place and have learned its story through walking and working the land, learning its plants and animals, uncovering little by little the lineage and ways of life of the indigenous and settler peoples who lived here before. Our intent with Ezell is to present the threat we face and the resilience we are capable of in equal measure such that people near and far are inspired to dismantle domination and cultivate liberation in their own lives & communities.
We plan to tour Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man throughout Appalachia and across the U.S in 2020-2021. Our primary focus is to share this work with other front-line fossil fuel extraction communities, post-industrial communities and indigenous communities who we believe will relate intrinsically to the content, trauma and resilience of this experience and with whom we are eager to learn and exchange. We are partnering primarily with other artists and community organizers to tour this work and welcome inquiries and invitations.
Contact us if you’re interested in hosting Ezell in your community.
collaborators & supporters
Ezell is a collaborative ensemble project born of its place and people with the support of many collaborators from near and far.
Devised and Performed by Bob Martin (Clear Creek Creative | Disputanta, KY)
Directed by Nick Slie (Mondo Bizarro | New Orleans, LA)
Produced by Carrie Brunk (Clear Creek Creative | Disputanta, KY)
Associate Directed by Nicole Garneau (Perennial Artist-in Residence of Clear Creek Creative | Disputanta, KY)
Designed by Jeff Becker (Catapult Studios | New Orleans, LA)
Artistic, Technical & Production Support provided by Nicole Garneau, Clare Hagan, Debra Hille, Inan McFarland, Steve (Snoop) Moberly, Jo Nazro, Kayla Preston, Timi Reedy, Yamil Rodriguez, Robert Rorrer & Cory Shenk.
Set Construction & Woodland Installations by Jeff Becker, Carrie Brunk, Nicole Garneau, Clare Hagan, Bob Henshaw, Debra Hille, Peter Hille, Bob Martin, Jo Nazro, Steve (Snoop) Moberly, Yamil Rodriguez, Robert Rorrer, Cory Shenk, Nick Slie & Connor Zaft.
Guides & Musicians led by Nicole Garneau including Faye Adams-Eaton, Xyara Asplen, Clare Hagan, Robert Rorrer, Cory Shenk & Laney West with the support & donations of Cheyenne Mize.
Culinary Artistry & Hospitality led by Carrie Brunk, Phil Feger and Ben Johansen with Brent Adam, Joana Amorim, Michael Beck, Ali Blair, Bugz, Adam Burke, Jamie Hart, Loren Heacock, Nick Kondziolka, Kayla Preston, Sacha Runa, Terra Luna & Laurie White.
Farming, Foraging, Harvesting & Sourcing provided primarily by Bryce Baumann of Lazy Eight Stock Farm, Carrie Brunk, Tim Hensley & Jane Post, Susana Lien of Salamander Springs Farm as well as Joana Amorim & Michael Beck, Fred Asplen, Bill Lenox, Matt Wegner and Amy Weinfurtner & Christian McFarland.
Promotional Art by Robert Gipe & Nicole Garneau with photography by Erica Fladeland
Documentation by Tommy Johns & Will Hartsock of 750Four Productions, Erica Chambers and Yamil Rodriguez.
Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man is made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts' National Theater Project, with lead funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and additional funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Ezell is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation & Development Fund Project co-commissioned by Carpetbag Theater in partnership with Mondo Bizarro and NPN. Ezell is made possible, in part, through a Continuation grant for our partnership with Mondo Bizarro from the Network of Ensemble Theaters' Travel & Exchange Network (NET/TEN), supported by lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Ezell has also been supported through an Al Smith Fellowship Award granted to Bob Martin for artistic excellence from the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, which is supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Ezell was seeded and evolved over many years with the support of Alternate ROOTS through the Partners in Action program, an Artistic Assistance grant, fiscal sponsorship and the ongoing learning & support of an amazing network of artists.
Banner photo at page header by Erica Fladeland.