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American Repertory Theater brings sound and movement experience to Arboretum

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
American Repertory Theater brings sound and movement experience to Arboretum
Nature is the stage for “The Arboretum Experience,” by American Repertory Theater and the Arnold Arboretum. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

On Saturday, Aug. 21, the Arnold Arboretum welcomed a new sound into its natural symphony — the sound of storytelling. “The Arboretum Experience,” created by American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, offers a series of audio plays, movement maps, meditations and live art experiences on the 265-acre property.

The project brings together storytelling, music and movement, using the lush Arboretum as the stage. The creative team behind the project includes playwright Kirsten Greenidge, musician Tim Hall, choreographer Jill Johnson and director Summer L. Williams, along with Daniel Callahan, user experience creative director, Jerron Herman, access advisor, and Riot Diaz, accessibility assistant.

Each facet of the project can be experienced independently through audio found on a QR code at Arboretum entrances. On Saturdays in September, artists will make pop-up appearances throughout the Arboretum for additional performances.

Four audio plays were jointly written in a room of local writers led by Kirsten Greenidge. Playwrights MJ Kaufman, Melinda Lopez, Sam Marks, Mwalim *7) and Eliana Pipes collectively crafted the narratives, which tell stories of hope in a range of genres. One might stroll through a wooded stretch hearing about Ramona, a 10-year-old who ventures to the Arboretum in search of lilacs, or hear a narrative from a tree that’s stood in the park for more than a century.

Summer Williams, director, part of the creative team behind “The Arboretum Experience.” COURTESY PHOTO

“It really is about an experience,” says Williams. “Folks can walk in and stumble into the magic of the Arboretum, coupled with the magic of these characters coming to life in your ears.” Williams found the sound work particularly interesting, she says. Each play includes the sound of the actors speaking as well as sound effects to place listeners at the scene. Those artificial natural sound effects blend with the forever-changing noises of the Arboretum to create a beautiful and fascinating soundtrack.

The Arboretum Experience isn’t just about listening. With the movement maps, visitors also can engage in a series of movement and breath exercises — something like a guided meditation but rooted in different facets and areas of the Arboretum. Visitors might find themselves moving in restful and recharging poses while listening to a movement meditation about pollination.

The goal of each of these experiences is to bring hope, peace and healing to those who participate. “It doesn’t all have to be done in one day,” says Williams. “It’s intentionally about taking your time with all of the experiences and coming back, making the Arboretum a frequently visited destination for Bostonians.”