1/8/2009 11:02:10 AM
A Look at the Farmscape Farm Journal magazine
by Charles Johnson
All too often, writers attempting to capture the essence of rural America miss
the mark, causing real rural folks to either shudder or howl with derisive
That’s what makes the Farmscape drama written by an Iowa State University
English creative writing class so intriguing. It presents 10 wide-ranging
viewpoints of rural life. The result: something that approaches the real
diversity found in rural America, with impact far beyond the student
playwrights’ wildest dreams.
Mary Swander, a rural resident herself, directed the students to fan out across
central Iowa and interview real rural people. Their comments were used in Iowa State University
the one-act play the students wrote after quite a bit of research. professor Mary Swander
directed students to write a
The interview subjects included an independent hog operator, the owners of a docudrama on the diversity
small organic vegetable farm, a corn/soybean farm couple, a winery owner, a of rural life.
failed farmer, a Monsanto employee, a retired couple, a hog slaughterhouse
worker, bed-and-breakfast owners and an older farmer who failed in the
business and reminisces about farming with horses.
The objective was to write a docudrama, Swander says.
“The students shaped it. I sent them back two or three times to reinterview
some people. Interestingly, even though we’re at a college in Ames, Iowa,
none of the students had an agricultural background, so they had to study
agriculture some. We stopped everything for a couple of weeks and just read
about agriculture. I filled in some background. They came back then and
developed a lot more awareness of rural life,” Swander says. The student-written play
gives a realistic view of
The play opened in February 2007, with the student playwrights playing the rural Iowa, says Mike
parts. Large photos of the people they interviewed were placed on stage, Hansen, a Bouton, Iowa,
however. After that first performance, the Leopold Center, also located in farmer portrayed in it.
Ames, awarded a grant to the play. Since then, it has been performed around
Iowa, as well as Chicago and Omaha and is beginning to tour nationally. A show is scheduled in Charleston,
S.C., with others pending.
Rural’s long reach. Swander now uses local actors and a minimal stage set for the performances.
“It’s a dramatic reading, and actors read from the script. The set is just three benches. Projections flash up on
the screen, some of them pictures of the interviewees themselves. We have shots of hogs, chickens, a lot of
rural things,” Swander says.
“This has been a really fun project. The students were as much editors as I was, and that allowed them to see
the process of creation all the way along.