on August 19, 2015 at 4:24 PM
ASHFIELD — Art met activism Monday in a rural and isolated area of Ashfield.
The roving theater ensemble “Children of the Wild” led local residents on a surreal “pipeline procession,” hiking through the woods as a quartet of ghoulish musicians performed dirges and ashen-dressed actors dramatized themes of hope and despair.
The procession began at the Beldingville Road home of Jim Cutler and traveled to a powerline that would be widened and dug up to accommodate the proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline known as Northeast Energy Direct.
The event was a fundraiser for Pipeline Awareness Network of the Northeast (PLAN-NE), a regional coalition fighting the pipeline in three states.
Donations also helped the Wastelands Project, an art-theater concept that will carry Children of the Wild and its busking folk band in a sailboat across the Great Lakes from Buffalo to Duluth next fall.
The group seeks to change cultural consciousness so as to “rewild industrial spaces and the human spirit.” Attendees were asked to imagine what must be abandoned, and what must be nourished “for life to grow out of the ashes of these industrial fires.”
Jim Cutler, whose property would be crossed by the pipeline, told his life story — of living with relatives after the death of his father and attending a series of boarding schools, never really having a place to call home. Years later, after raising three boys in the Boston area, he discovered Western Massachusetts and decided to purchase a rural property and stay.
“I finally had a place. I was home. Then the pipeline came, like a stranger stepping out of the shadows,” said Cutler.
Cutler is founder of Hilltown Community Rights, a group formed in 2014 to fight the 412-mile pipeline, which would carry gas from the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania to markets in the Northeast, while cutting through 16 rural towns in Western Massachusetts.
The Wastelands Project bills itself as performing in “the detritus of this world — ruins of factories, overgrown lots, junk piles that were once industrial parks,” while costumed in “dust and dirt, ash and burlap.”
Children of the Wild is currently in residence at Ashfield’s Double Edge Theater. The group plans pipeline processions in Deerfield (Aug. 29), Montague (Sept. 5), Northfield (Sept. 13) and Winchester, New Hampshire (Sept. 20). More information can be found at the group’s website.
Kinder Morgan hopes to file an application this fall with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the final say over whether the pipeline is built. While proponents insist extra pipeline capacity is needed to boost the New England economy, opposition to the project has been fierce in Western Massachusetts.