Yes, there are places in the world where people wear masks and celebrate the milestones of nature’s endless seasonal cycle, and other stuff that’s easy to forget when you’ve got your head stuck in a mobile device, or an election-year talk-radio loop.
The point of this brief article is that one of those places is right here in Rappahannock County – as well as that it was never just a Halloween thing, or a hippie thing, and that if you’ve missed the boat over the last 23 years, you’ll have another chance this Saturday – when the organizers are bringing an actual boat.
The loosely evolved and ever-changing mask-, music- and dance-based outdoor theatre company that founder and director Peggy Schadler calls 1000 Faces in honor of myth-master Joseph Campbell’s “Hero of a Thousand Faces,” will be performing Schadler’s latest compassion play, “Protocol for Launching a Life Boat,” at 5:45 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 27).
The play – performed as usual by at least three generations of regulars and friends in Schadler’s trademark oversized, strikingly empathetic papier mache masks and appropriately organic costumes – is the main attraction of a Halloween costume party among the standing stones and astonishing views at Stone Hill. That’s John Henry and Ann Crittenden’s place off Crest Hill Road near Flint Hill, where, starting at 4 p.m., there will also be bagpipes, sheep-herding border collies, a bonfire and an opening act by D.C.-based astrologer and stand-up comedian Caroline Casey. A $10 donation is requested.
Schadler calls the play a “Noah’s Ark tale reconstructed,” and says it is about the human community’s need for change. “At the end of the play, we plant the ‘seeds of change,’ and those are to grow the three things I feel we need to change the most – we need compassion, and economic and social justice, and sustainability.”
At 61, Schadler has been making (and teaching others how to make) her striking masks and writing for and directing the troupe – initially known as Friends of Gaia – for 23 years, since shortly after moving to Rappahannock from the tiny Loudoun County crossroads of Unison. (Her husband at the time wanted to escape encroaching suburbia in Highland County; Rappahannock County was a compromise.)
Her day job also involves nature in a big way; she’s a professional gardener, an occupation that was also a compromise between the grand back-to-the-land dreams of her early 20s – when she and her husband found themselves at one point with 300 acres of Ozark farmland and hardly any idea how to farm it – and the more practical realities that come with age.
The natural world, Schadler says, has always been a big part of her creative spirit. Her first play was a celebration of the seasons. “And that’s where Joseph Campbell really helped me know, it’s not just an event of the calendar, ‘Aren’t we glad it’s October and the leaves are pretty?’ It’s a psychological metaphor. One of my first plays was “Dark Night of the Soul,” from a quote by Campbell: ‘Out of the darkness comes the light, after despair lies hope, after winter, spring.’ And it’s a core interest that I have, the idea of the struggle it suggests and also the idea of . . . renewal.”
Hunt Harris, longtime Rappahannock tennis pro, environmentalist and nature-hike leader, says the 1000 Faces shows are “just another wonderful example of the individuals, and the creative sense of community that’s here.” On Saturday, Harris plays the Green Man, a character in Celtic mythology who represents spring and the earth spirit. Actor Howard Coon, another longtime collaborator with Schadler, narrates the play with filmmaker Lavinia Currier, while Wendi Sirat leads a band of musicians and drummers. Costumes are encouraged for all, Schadler says, since “everyone is part of the spectacle.”
Schadler’s thoughts about compassion as an essential 21st-century survival tool, and Campbell’s ideas that cultures around the globe and throughout history share the same basic myths and heroes, are a welcome counterweight to the divisiveness and polarities of Campaign 2012. And Rappahannock, where there’s apparently still enough acreage for a decent diversity crop, seems an appropriate place for a group called 1000 Faces to flourish.