On October 12, over 100 visitors to the Medfield State Hospital (MSH) got a glimpse of its past. The entire campus acted as a stage for the Medfield Anthology, a performance written by Hortense Gerardo through her Artist Residency at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
The Medfield Anthology is a site-informed walking play based on archival research and original interviews with people affiliated with the former Medfield State Hospital. Creating the program provided the space for Gerardo to combine her skills as an ethnographer, dancer, and playwright, and experiment with a socially-engaged process.
The performance showed that the site could be a venue for creative uses as the town gears up for a vote at an upcoming Special Town Meeting on whether to rezone the area into a new, mixed-use community.
This project is part of a larger creative placemaking initiative lead by the MAPC Arts and Culture Department, providing technical assistance to the Town of Medfield and the Cultural Alliance of Medfield (CAM). By uniting people around events that reimagine the meaning of the property and grounds of the former Medfield State Hospital (MSH), and attracting a regional audience to come see the shows, the partners are proving that the Medfield State Hospital can provide fertile ground for a cultural center to be created inside the renovated Chapel building.
This past summer, the Town voted to lease the chapel and infirmary to CAM to convert into a performing arts center. This play and other placemaking activities organized by CAM are intended to become the creative foundation from which CAM can grow into their home for the next 99 years.
Despite the October 12 performance being a staged reading, audience members shed tears. A full-length, fully-staged performance is planned for May 2, 2020. In addition to an evening play, musical acts and other events will take place during the day for Porchfest.
On the day of the performance, no one quite knew what to expect. A bomb cyclone had just barreled across the coast, and its tentacles still loomed overhead, but luckily stayed at bay. Throughout the day dog walkers, bikers, and runners were constantly traversing the site and running into the actors as they prepared for their performance, which took place on several locations throughout the hospital grounds. But all involved persevered and delivered a successful performance to over 100 audience members.
The Medfield Anthology drops the audience into seven scenes taking place throughout the hospital’s history, highlighting MSH’s important role in the community and painting it as a hub of activity. The performance incorporates live music, dancing, and singing in several scenes to bring emotional resonance, ending as the audience is escorted onto the lawn to watch the sunset.
Only in its early stages, the Medfield Anthology is living up to its potential. It has shown that the performance can be a moving piece as a staged reading. And the people who came to see it represented a regional audience. There is an appetite for meaningful and experimental performance art in Medfield - so now MAPC and our partners move forward to May 2 with wind in our sails.
The Medfield State Hospital was built to be a place of healing, and this project is creating a conduit to convert introspection into a source of creativity. This is just the beginning of the life of the Medfield Anthology, and hopefully, just the start of many more artistic uses to come on campus.
Photos by Sarah Raposa and Jennifer Erickson
Learn more about the project: https://www.mapc.org/resource-library/medfield-creative-placemaking/
Learn more about the Cultural Alliance of Medfield: https://medfieldculture.org/
Learn more about the grounds of the former Medfield State Hospital and recent efforts to conver the campus into a new, mixed-use community: https://ma-medfield.civicplus.com/556/Medfield-State-Hospital