Tag Archives: Doug

Woolly Goes Hog-Wild

Rescued pigs at Poplar Springs, from the Woolly visit this fall

It’s a misty day in October, and after an early-morning bike ride across town, a subway trip to the ‘burbs, and a cramped hour-long car trip through the surprisingly lush woods of Maryland, I – bulky boots, light jacket, notepad – have finally arrived at the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary. Standing next to me are five other Woolly Mammoth associates, many with notebooks, phone-cameras, phone-video-cameras, or expensive-looking microphones that look like they came out of Ghostbusters. In front of us: an entire barn full of 50 impossibly large sleeping pigs.

As we hope everyone knows by now – ‘cause it’s fantastic – the current Woolly show, Jason Grote’s Civilization (all you can eat) centers around a pig. A talking pig. A whole pig chorus, actually, in Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz’s production. So, we had our research cut out for us: the cast, especially the rigorous Sarah Marshall, needed to know a whole lot about these characters. So, we took a morning to get out to Poplar Springs and observe these animals – most of them rescues from farms, including the sort of massive industrial farm Sarah Marshall’s character lives his life. I walked away in a bit of a daze. I like animals well enough – dogs are the best, the zoo is a solid cheap date, I have a working relationship with my housemate’s cat – but had never felt so fascinated by an animal.

To explain: Pigs are amazing.

Pigs are smart. Smarter than dogs. Smarter than three-year-old humans. About as smart as chimpanzees. They are legendary for opening latches of their pens – which might not seem like such a big deal. But consider this: they will often discover that it’s easier to manipulate latches as pairs, and will undo the latches of fellow pigs. In 1789, a farmer documented a female pig who undid a series of gates so that she could visit a certain male pig every night — and then re-latched the latches as she returned to her own pen before dawn. (Foer, Eating Animals, 64)

Unlike most animals, pigs can quickly work out how mirrors work and use them to find food. Not only can they keep track of many different, well-buried food stores, if one pig spies another pig going towards her own food store, the first pig will manage to throw the second pig off her trail while the first pig tries to steal the food. Farmers have learned that a pig cannot be killed anywhere close to where the other pigs are kept, since a pig will scream and become impossibly uncooperative if it feels nearby pigs are in danger. They have been taught to “jump hoops, bow and stand, spin and make wordlike sounds on command, roll out rugs, herd sheep, and play video games with joysticks modified for pig snouts,”  lists a New York Times article on the subject.

They are also known for their excellent memories. It can be very difficult to make a pig forget a traumatic incident – or simply information you don’t want the pig to have. Terry Cummings, the director of Poplar Springs, told us about a period after they had received a surprise shipment of 180 young pigs (they normally have around 50.) Terry discovered that when she brought food to the pigs, the same pigs kept getting to her first and crowding out the others, so that some pigs couldn’t eat. The next day, she fed the pigs from the other side of the barn, but a day after that, the greedy pigs were waiting for her. She kept trying to find new places to arrive with the food, but in response, pigs would keep waking up before her and keeping eyes out all windows, squealing when they saw her coming from a certain direction.

They are clean: the idea that pigs are dirty animals is a myth. Pigs do like to get muddy. They can’t sweat, so it’s a way for them to cool down in hot weather. But the expression “happy as a pig in shit” is enormously misleading — pigs are excellent at keeping their excrement away from where they bathe, eat, and sleep.

They can go wild. Pigs can go feral with remarkable speed. If you are hunting a 300 lb. boar, with enormous tusks and thick black hair, that boar could well be an escaped industrial-born pig. Because of hybridization, the question of whether domesticated pigs count as a separate species than wild boar is quite complicated. When a pig escapes a factory farm, it typically loses weight, since its fat gets transferred into muscle.

More amazing stuff about pigs:

-They can grow up to 750 lbs (or 1000 lbs, if you believe this guy.)

-They are omnivores, though in the wild, they are foragers and chiefly eat plants (animal matter makes up no more than 10% of their diet.) This means they move around a lot, and in their natural state are very lean and muscular. Domesticated pigs are usually fat because they don’t get to move when they’re farmed.

-Their snout is remarkably sensitive and flexible. Remember, they are used to hunt for truffles!

-A boar can sprint up to 15 miles per hour.

-In social groups, pigs can display aggression or submission in a way similar to wolves/dogs. As a website for pet-pig owners explains, “You’ll need to set yourself up as Alpha Pig early on in the relationship.”

Which brings me to the most intriguing fact about pigs:

They make fantastic pets. Though there are a couple unusual problems to deal with (i.e. their need to roll in mud on a regular basis), they are loyal, do tricks, easily pick up commands, and can be litter-box-trained. Hmmmmmmmmmm……

~ Doug Eacho, Assistant to the Artistic Director and Assistant Dramaturg of Civilization (all you can eat)



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Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Life

“You work at a Hobby Lobby, Anna,” Will states harshly during the climactic events of A Bright New Boise. Will, the fundamentalist protagonist of Boise—who works with Anna at that same Hobby Lobby—attempts to explain the importance of his Rapture-obsessed beliefs, and continues, “Before that, you worked at Walmart, JC Penney, McDonald’s, Barnes and Noble, and now we both work here.”

Will continues: “Your life is meaningless, my life is meaningless, and the only thing that gives any meaning, that brings any hope to this life is my unshakeable belief that God will come again to replace this disgusting life with something new, and pure, and meaningful.”

My own credentials could not separate me more from Will’s social and intellectual world: I am a far-left theatre artist, East-Coast-raised (with a stint in Europe,) with a degree in Philosophy from Brown University. Naturally, my intellectual combative mind wants to greet such a statement with gleeful opportunism, mentally marshaling History, Literature, and Metaphysics to the defense of my (let’s be honest) smug atheism.

But A Bright New Boise quietly brushes aside such a discussion. The factuality and value of various belief systems seems irrelevant, even crude. The real topic at hand is Belief- any belief. Meaning-any meaning.

Can we fault Will for finding his life meaningless? So utterly meaningless that the only change he can imagine is total, apocalyptic reversal? After all, I personally find beauty and meaning in the smallest corners of my life: a rambling row house I walk by, a perfectly ripe vegetable, a work of theater.

But the lives of Will and Anna make such moments rare. It has been often observed that poverty provokes religious belief; perhaps the 21st century American exurbian brand of poverty encourages even more extreme modes of worship. Car-centric sprawl means that for Will and Anna, there are no row houses, only bland supermarket vegetables, and (gasp!) no theater. Corporatized, globalized systems mean that low-income jobs can only be found for gigantic conglomerates which encourage impersonality. Your face becomes one of thousands, all inseparable. Finding meaning in such a job is practically discouraged; what matters is a base execution of functions, all feeding the broader function of serving shareholders. Big-box retailers, and the paved environments around them, seem directly opposed to human individuality.

As someone who disagrees quite vehemently with Will’s beliefs, I want to greet them with argument. Boise makes me realize: there is a context for Will’s worldview, and a context for my own. I want Will to find the same joy in his day-to-day life that I find in mine; for me, this quotidian transcendence makes religious belief seem entirely unnecessary. But that joy is made possible by certain privileges of upbringing, education, and economics. If, as a society, we want to discourage our citizens from holding fanatic belief systems, we have to give them something in return. If we want Will to find meaning in his life –rather than finding meaning in the possibility of mass death—we have to give him, well, a meaningful life. Urban planning, welfare programs, support for the arts, restrictions on corporate size: we can create a better life for ourselves. God does not need to replace Will’s “disgusting” life. We can replace it ourselves.

~ Doug Eacho, Assistant to the Artistic Director

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Working to the Future

As the assistant to Howard Shalwitz, Woolly Mammoth’s Artistic Director, I spend a lot of time talking with Howard about his work, theatre, politics… you name it! Howard directed Clybourne Park, so as the show’s run is finishing up, I thought I’d talk to him about the play, his process… and what comes next. Thanks to my trusty cell phone ‘Voice Memo’ feature, here are some of the highlights of the conversation:

Clybourne Park’s two acts take place in the past (the late 50’s) and then the present day. Where do we go next? What is Clybourne’s view of the future?

Clybourne Park looks back over the last 50 years and raises the question: has the actual situation with respect to race changed in America, or have just the terms of the conversation changed? And it certainly is a pessimistic play. It suggests a territorial worldview, suggesting that the terms have changed, but the underlying issues are a fundamental part of human nature. So the question for the future is… will it change?

Personally, I think there’s lots of reason for optimism. There is a generational shift happening: as more and more Americans grow up in diverse communities, then some of the impulse to go, ‘I have to live with people like me – and nobody else!’ is actually dropping away.

You often talk about Clybourne as a challenge: it demands that we have a better dialogue than the play’s characters do. How did that influence the production’s design?

I wanted to position the play as a public conversation where we, the audience, were voyeuristically looking into this home – where a private conversation was taking place, but we would be invited to interpret it as a conversation happening right here, in the theater where we are today. And that’s what led to the seats on stage, the reorganization of our auditorium, the thrust shape of the stage, and sinking our stage so that the characters would right on top of the audience – almost in our laps!

Did the countless difficult topics of Clybourne – race, class, urban transformation, war – come up in your rehearsals?

That was so exciting. You couldn’t help but have the conversation the play wants you to have while working on the play. In rehearsals, we would have debates about the honest representation of our characters like, ‘A black woman in the 1950’s wouldn’t do x – or would she?’ ‘How can each character have both positive and negative elements in their portrayal?’ ‘How can we give each character their due?’

By the time we opened, we almost felt like citizen artists. In trying to do their roles as skillfully and honestly as possible, and in the post-show exchanges, the actors were able to share the conversation that they had developed over the four weeks of rehearsal.

Clybourne was, of course, a remount. Does it have any relationship with the upcoming apocalyptic-flavored season?

Last season, we really started to ask: how can we let a play serve as a platform for conversation? And I think that Clybourne Park is one of the plays that made us bolder in plunging into that conversation with our community. This season we’ve decided to get even more direct, asking our audience at the outset, “Does our civilization have an expiration date? And if so… what comes next?” All of our plays reflect on that question in a huge variety of ways.

Now that I’m thinking about it, even Clybourne Park ties into that question. The play underscores one of the disturbing aspects of human nature: the tendency to draw boundaries that keep people like us in and people not like us out. It suggests that no matter how we pretend to get beyond that in our language, there’s something in our nature that tends to draw those boundaries. That’s true in our neighborhoods, and in the wars we fight overseas. In that respect, it leads right into the question of “Does our civilization have an expiration date?” Clybourne also starts to form a response, even, asking: Do we have other things in us that we can celebrate? That might help us move forward, towards a more positive and surviving vision of our future – rather than one that grinds to a halt? So I think it will be fun to keep Clybourne Park in the back of our minds as we move into our new season.

~ Doug Eacho, Assistant to the Artistic Director

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