Old Town Playhouse, Traverse City, MI

Cast Members, Old Town Playhouse
  • "It engages emotion and intellect in a very effective manner through universal concepts such as friendship, family, security and loss." - Audience member

A collaboration with the Old Town Playhouse (OTP), brought What Will be in the Fields Tomorrow? into the public arena the first time, as opposed to a gathering of sustainable agriculture practitioners. A seasoned OTP volunteer joined us as liaison and producer and the Voices Project became a part of the Playhouse’s season.

A public call for auditions “. . . if you ever thought you might want to act now is the time! In reader’s theatre there is no memorization, we read from the script!”. . . . resulted in 21 people from three surrounding counties and all walks of life coming to participate! Several have continued their involvement as volunteers at OTP. Community partners grew as Grand Traverse County MSU Extension and the Traverse Area Arts Council joined in to spread the word. Everyone brought a different expertise and credibility to the table and the community connected groups drew attention and public to the project.

Rehearsal time was minimal. Playwright Barbara Carlisle was on hand to rehearse. Each individual choral voice worked with her for an hour; each of the three pairs for two hours. On Sunday morning of the afternoon performance the entire cast met and rehearsed the piece through once. We ate, and had a second rehearsal, just focusing on transitions between segments so the cast would be prepared to come in immediately when it was their time.

One hundred nine people attended the performance—occupying all available seats. The entire audience stayed for the “talk back” and discussion that followed. Regional press, community partners and word-of-mouth drew a diverse audience that included 1/3 farmers (both conventional, commercial farmers and small diversified and organic growers). 


As our first public audience and the first inclusion of conventional agriculture/farmers, the talk-back and survey results were very significant. 65% of the audience completed our questionnaire and no one mentioned the length of the piece – we had brought it to an effective length!

Most significant, and helpful in this set of questionnaires were the comments from farmers which helped us to bring in more of a presence of conventional agriculture. These same farmer respondents, however, replied 13 to 2 that it would be a good tool for public education.

            Other comments included:
“This presents it from the human perspective with circumstances that we can all relate to.”
“It succeeds in showing the many facets of farming.”

“Conventional agriculture must be sustainable or we won’t be here in the future as we have been the last 50 years.”

“Actually, I’m familiar with most of the information presented – but I especially appreciated the editing and combining of voices.”

“Few people have any idea about their food supply or the different kinds of agriculture we  have today!”


. . . particularly held my attention. . .
“Personal stories of real people tied to the land.   “. . . common ground between farmers and empathy of the two women, one a sustainable farmer and the other a commercial farmer. . .

“The youth perspectives.”  “The kids – juxtaposition of old and young; young people are unable to continue or get into farming.”

“The use of humor in this performance is important ingredient when presenting conflicting views and helps to humanize it. “

The next day, Monday morning Extension hosted a group of 27 –Grand Traverse regional farmers of all types, Extension educators and Old Town Playhouse and Voices Project staff to continue the discussion about authenticity, content and  a public education use for the piece.

Since then the Old Town Playhouse Traverse area cast has come back together to present excerpts of Fields at regional and national conference workshop presentations: W. K. Kellogg annual Food and Society Conference, and upcoming, the National Association of County Agriculture Agents Conference, and National Small Farms Conference – all held in Michigan in 2007 and 2008.


The Old Town Playhouse,