The premiere of the Garden has been postponed until October, 2021 due to health concerns regarding the spread of Covid-19.
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Open Flame Theatre creates original, multi-disciplinary performances rooted in the queer/Trans experience. Through exploring the surreal and fantastic, we seek to liberate the imagination which we recognize as a vital part of the larger struggle for justice and freedom.
Open Flame Theatre began as the Unseen Ghost Brigade, a Minnesota-based traveling theatre troupe founded by Walken Schweigert in 2008. In 2010 the Unseen Ghost Brigade created a circus-influenced tragicomedy called Death on the Mississippi that they toured down the Mississippi River on a homemade raft. The mission was to provide free theatre to communities along the Mississippi and explore the historical impacts of industry along the River. In six months they made it from Minneapolis, MN to Caruthersville, MO. This same year, Schweigert and Katie Burgess created Gut Wrenched and Rising (GWaR), a surrealist and autobiographical performance about lived trans experiences. From these two performances (Death on the Mississippi and GWaR) was birthed the “Rewilding Cycle”—a fantastical operatic triptych about uprooting oppression and imagining liberated futures.
In 2012 Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA—an internationally-renowned theatre ensemble, founded by Stacy Klein—offered Schweigert a mentorship in the development of The Wastelands, a traveling folk opera inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio and first performance of the “Rewilding Cycle”. In 2013 Schweigert founded Children of the Wild to create The Wastelands using the process and training practices developed by the Double Edge Ensemble, inspired by the work of Rena Mirecka and others from Eastern Europe and South America. Children of the Wild was the first-ever company-in-residence at Double Edge Theatre’s Farm Center from 2012-2016. It was there during those four years that The Wastelands was developed with Katie Burgess and other artists under Schweigert’s artistic direction, as part of his and Katie’s mentorship by Stacy Klein and Carlos Uriona.
The Wastelands premiered in the spring of 2016 and then toured for six months across the Great Lakes region, shared for free in public everywhere it went. As part of this journey The Wastelands was performed in Holyoke, MA; Buffalo, NY; Cleveland, OH; Lorain, OH; Mackinaw City, MI; Detroit, MI; Duluth, MN; and Minneapolis, MN, in collaboration Great Lakes Commons and a wide-range of social and environmental justice organizations.
In 2017 Children of the Wild was renamed Open Flame Theatre and returned to the midwest. Open Flame Theatre is now in residence indefinitely at Philadelphia Community Farm in Osceola, WI, and in November 2017 began work on The Garden (part two of the triptych, inspired by Dante’s Inferno) for which Schweigert received a JFund Award (now ACF Creates) from the American Composer’s Forum to create.
The Wastelands is an original experimental folk opera exploring ecological grief and first in Open Flame’s “Rewilding Cycle.” Guided by a queer, skeletal guide, the audience travels through a post-industrial landscape, a tragicomic journey through the seven stages of grief. The Wastelands toured from June-October, 2016, in mostly urban areas along the Great Lakes basin. Open Flame Theatre (fka Children of the Wild) performed The Wastelands along industrial shorelines, in sacrifice zones, and in at-risk environments to bring audiences to places directly impacted by industrial expansion.
The Garden (part two) is an experimental opera about the roots of systemic oppression in all its forms. Western civilization attempts to control nature in order to utilize it. The Garden investigates white-supremacist/colonizer culture’s desire to beautify/manage/control nature (including people) and reveals the horror that ensues when it does.
The premise of the operatic triptych “The Rewilding Cycle”, is that our efforts to control the natural world is what destroys it, and us. Part One, The Wastelands, asks the question: how do you find hope when faced with the despair of social oppression and environmental devastation? Part two, The Garden asks the question: With hope in hand, what is it that we must confront in order to liberate our world and our hearts? Part three, The Wild, will explore what is possible with liberated, diversified, autonomous, and self-willed inner and outer landscapes.