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 hyperlanguage-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?