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?