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 and film 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. Their 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 will begin work on The Garden (part two of the triptych, inspired by Dante’s Inferno). The Garden is set to premiere at Philadelphia Community Farm in Spring 2020.
Schweigert was also recently awarded a commission from the Jerome Foundation via American Composer’s Forum for the composition of his second opera, The Garden, to be produced by Open Flame Theatre and Philadelphia Community Farm.