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Notes on Writing Farmer’s Quartette
By Erin Browne, playwright
There was so much that spoke to me in Denman Thompson’s Homestead that I wanted to explore further. It is an incredibly rich text-full of drama, history, and New York. Among the topics that I looked at in my second and third readings were things as small as the mention of Grace Church as a backdrop-a place that has immense and complicated meaning to me, with consideration for what that might look like and say on stage. And then there were the larger mentions-e.g., the portrayal of women in the play and how they fulfill or break out of stage and societal roles of the period.
What I decided to work on this round was a moment in the play that seemed as simple as a sigh: A brief song intro that to me felt like a whole play about the peace and joy of a life in the country. There is a point when “farmers quartette” enters that includes a brief discussion about field labor, water, and how beautiful the country is. And there is both a question and answer that intrigued me: “Why do we work so hard to live in a place this rough? Because we get to live here.” In a lot of ways, that seemed to me like the story of settling America. Why do we come here? Just look around. Things are hard now, but they may be better here. You can see the potential in a sunrise or a handful of rich soil. When writing the play, I’d just finished reading O Pioneers! and friends of mine were getting arrested at rallies about immigration. Most of the marchers in these protests were here as farm laborers or their parents came here originally as farm laborers. Farming and country life seemed alive with possibility and controversy: The repeat of a cycle that has been going on since the first settlers. I also hadn’t been home to my largely agricultural home town in a while, and was missing it. This play became a postcard of my love for that difficult desert landscape that has been scraped into rows and an acknowledgement of that struggle to tame it. And for what reason? Because of sunsets in the mountains, the clear air, and a place where my baby might have a better life.