SpruceRoots Magazine - May 2000


Question: How do you add value to a three-legged dog?

by Ian Lordon

A youngster from Haida Gwaii was sacrificed to debut in an off-Broadway, avant-garde, multi-media theatre performance in New York city. If this strikes anyone as farfetched it will only seem more so in light of the fact that the performerhappens to be a second-growth red cedar tree.

Port Clements sawmiller, Chris Marrs, recently crated a 14-foot cedar log, 14-inches in diameter, for delivery to New York where it will be incorporated into the set of an upcoming theatre production titled Yield Burning.

Marrs received the order for the log through an e-mail group specializing in wood and wood products. 3-Legged Dog, the production company behind the play, tracked Marrs down through the service and placed the order for a notched but otherwise perfectly undamaged log of the specified dimensions.

"I guess they searched high and low to fill this request," Marrs says. "What turned out to be difficult at this end was finding a log that wasn't marred by the scratches and damage associated with industrial forestry. Everything is torn apart by the time it reaches the sort, it all has the hand of metal on it." To obtain an unblemished log, Marrs was forced to fall and haul one made to order.

"We carefully wrapped it with three or four layers of carpet and then slowly and methodically moved it out of the bush," he says.

3-Legged Dog paid $1,000 U.S. for the cut log which cleared customs and arrived in Seattle late last week. The rest of the tree was sold to a company manufacturing log homes."The bottom of the tree was used for theatre entertainment and the top for house building," Marrs explains, before adding the episode was a pointed reminder of the opportunities presented by adding value to wood before it leaves the islands. "Value-added is out there, it's just a matter of being creative."
Reid Farrington, the play's associate designer and technical director, placed the order with Marrs after searching for someone who could both find the wood and cut it to spec.

"It was important to have a red cedar. We did find a number of suppliers who could provide us with cedar logs, but it was the milling of the log that we wanted done," Farrington says. "It was ideal to have most of the work done before it got to the theatre."

Farrington says 3-Legged Dog could have constructed a paper-maché tree, but wound up calling the west coast after the playwright insisted upon the genuine article.

"The log is definitely putting us over budget," he jokes. "It's a writer's theatre, not a director's theatre. That's why we find ourselves running around for a cedar tree."
Yield Burning, a two-act play set in southern Oregon, is the second part in the Wonton Destruction Trilogy. Like,traditional theatre, the play is performed on stage but the set places conventional props before a computer-generated backdrop projected onto huge screens behind the actors.

The first act explores the tension and interaction between four men working in a logging camp in 1893 and the video backdrop features a virtual forest of wire-frame trees. The act concludes after one of the loggers is killed in a fight with a spiritually-awakened co-worker who provokes him with religious rhetoric- a sore spot for the character in question. The killer and a friend then flee the camp and go on to establish a sawmill.

For the second act, the backdrop switches to present-day corporate office space while the sawmill has grown and developed into a large and prosperous company called Pacific Paper. The actors shed their caulk boots and hand saws in favour of suits and slick talk as they portray consultants and lawyers engaged in a battle over an injunction which shut down Pacific's logging operations.

Jill Szuchmacher, the playwright and producer of Yield Burning, says the red cedar is the one set piece which remains on stage throughout the entire production. In act one it's a tree in the forest, and in act two it transforms into a decorative detail in the offices of Pacific Paper.

Szuchmacher says she wants the tree to provide contrast against the video backdrop and continuity throughout the production. She believes the tree, and the way it's employed in the piece, will help illustrate how our perceptions of forests have changed in the last century.

"In the first act the tree is just another tree in the forest," she says. "In the second it becomes a commodified art piece taken inside a corporation that produces commodities from trees."

Szuchmacher insisted upon a red cedar tree because of its scent, and the tree will be sprayed with water in order to accentuate the smell. In a city like New York, she felt it necessary to provide the audience with something from a real forest to better set the scene.

"We are so far removed from nature here in New York I think it's important to give that to an audience- a reference point."

Although the play touches on some of the more contentious environmental issues on the Pacific coast, Szuchmacher says the play does not attempt to take sides in the debate-only to explore it while developing the story and her characters.
"I'm not interested in maligning the paper companies," she says. "It's not an environmentalist play, it's not a screaming tree-hugging kind of a thing."

Yield Burning opens May 25 at the Ontological Theatre and runs until June 13.
As for the tree, its debut marks the beginning of a promising and perhaps illustrious career in theatre. The tree already has another role lined up in a second production after Yield Burning wraps, and sources close to the tree revealed that while the young cedar is a little giddy over the sudden attention, celebrity, and relocation to New York, it hasn't let success go to its head - it's pining for its friends, and will always remember its roots. ·

SpruceRoots Magazine - May 2000