Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

What Festival Are You?


Brecht’s Galileo at the National

Every autumn a great thing hap­pens in Brattleboro Vermont: just as the leaves change, as if on cue, there is the Brattleboro Literary Festival. Through the com­mit­ted and and ardent work of a small group of devot­ed local literati,writers, and book fanat­ics, world class authors of every stripe descend on our small south­ern Vermont town for a week of read­ings, dis­cus­sions, work­shops, and ink stained elbow rub­bing.

I have lived here 5 autumns and final­ly (if some­what inad­ver­tent­ly) attend­ed my first Lit Fest event this week­end.

If you know me, you know I’m a book guy. I read lit­er­ary fic­tion, a smat­ter­ing of poet­ry, and some pop crime and sci­fi, but lit books fill most of my book­shelf square footage and my head space. Sure, I’m par­tial to long wind­ed 19th cen­tu­ry ego­ists, 20th & 21st cen­tu­ry hyper-lan­guage-acro­bats, and tough guy Americana (to give the whole mix the kick to keep me fight­ing), but all of that is to be found in the Lit sec­tion of your library/lit anthol­o­gy/­book­store/web-shop/what-have-you as much as Maeve Binchy, Wally Lamb, and E. L. Doctorow.

Why have I skipped the Lit Fest? Why did you, if you did? Or why didn’t you make it to the Montreal Jazz Fest this year? Why did you skip your local street fair or that small town [insert agri­cul­tur­al item here] fest your friend invit­ed you to? What about that Ukulele fes­ti­val? Or how about that beer fes­ti­val?

Some peo­ple hate crowds. That’s not it for me and I think it’s just an excuse for most of us. We all have some­thing we like, but not so well as to go out of our way to cel­e­brate it. Maybe we just get burned out on stuff or are afraid we will get burned out?

For a time, while I lived in New York, the whole city was one con­tin­u­ous lit fest. Staged read­ings. Poetry read­ings. Readings of new work by nov­el­ists and non-fic­tion prose styl­ists. Near con­stant per­son­al dis­cus­sions of lit-stuff. An MFA in Playwriting. After a time though, I stopped going to lit­er­ary events and devot­ed myself to see­ing movies and actu­al­ly, well, er, read­ing and writ­ing.

No mat­ter how great, I don’t think I can get quite drunk on a lit fest in the way I feel one ought to and the way our Belle of the Brattleboro Lit Fest Ball Suzanne Kingsbury does each and every year. I admit that I am envi­ous of the sense of joy and plea­sure she gets from the whole thing. May Buddha (and all the rest) bless her.

After my chance atten­dance this week­end, I began won­der­ing what kind of fes­ti­val I could get jacked up about.

Music? Some.

Film? Definitely, but just to a point.

Theatre? Well, yeah, actu­al­ly. Now.

I was the defin­i­tive dra­ma geek in col­lege. Grad school was total the­atre for me. Eventually I did burn out, but I nev­er real­ly tired from see­ing good or great the­atre, it just seemed impos­si­ble to find and I was utter­ly heart­bro­ken at how hard it seemed to get my way into the­atre solid­ly enough to make a liv­ing at cre­at­ing (read: writ­ing) it. I stepped away into non-the­atri­cal life and thought I might just be done with the whole thing for good.

But then some­thing hap­pened (as it always does) and I found myself sit­ting in the National Theatre in London watch­ing Brecht’s Galileo and abso-freak­ing-lute­ly lov­ing it. Wondering why I wasn’t doing this all the time. Wondering why I ever left it. Despairing that I had thrown a promis­ing begin­ning to a the­atri­cal career out with the bath water of mediocre under­fund­ed ama­teur-infest­ed after-school-pro­gram qual­i­ty dreck that has become the unavoid­able thing that most peo­ple expect from an evening in the the­atre.

That said, after see­ing Galileo, I would attend a the­atre fes­ti­val. Edinburgh sounds inter­est­ing. Ashland is always a treat. Stratford seems a bit much, but prob­a­bly worth the effort. Williamstown is an old haunt of mine. And New England is lit­tered with oth­er sum­mer the­atre fests cer­tain­ly worth the effort I neglect­ed to make this sum­mer.

Next year…

Hope to see you there or here, unless you hap­pen to know some­thing bet­ter?