The Spirit of Summerland

I’ve always been into weird paranormal stuff like ghosts, poltergeists, mediums, Ouija boards, the whole kit and caboodle; so when I heard that two grad students had devised a play about Spiritualism, obviously I was stoked. Summerland was created and directed by Jamie Agnello and Juliana Rusakiewicz and I witnessed an incredible performance this past Saturday. For those of you who are skeptics out there (or just don’t have any idea what I’m talking about), Spiritualism is a Christian sect belief system where communicating with the dead is more than just a possibility- it’s a common occurrence. Spirits residing in their respective world have the capability to reach anyone on earth at anytime and anywhere and the responsibility lies on the receiver (mediums) to interpret their message.

The script draws quite a bit from the documentary No One Dies in Lily Dale, which explores the largest community of Spiritualists and Mediums in the country, Lily Dale, New York. Let me tell you, this town is one-of-a-kind. There are around 40 mediums living in Lily Dale, so seeing one’s passed relatives wander around is a normal everyday thing. What makes these mediums so intriguing is that they don’t make a big performance out of readings; in fact, at open services when they are relaying a message, it is discouraged to clap. The reason for this is that in the early 20th century, there were many fakes out there, utilizing their skills of illusion and photo editing to trick people into believing they were talking to the dead. It’s a constant struggle for these people, with “Christian” protesters often screaming outside their gate, but the residents of Lily Dale keep going because they believe their abilities are a way to help people heal and get closure.

However positive spiritualism may be now, one of the through-lines in Summerland is the story of Kate and Margaret Fox, two sisters from Hydesville, New York thought to be the founders of Spiritualism, whose validity was constantly under investigation. Lila Mensing (’14) and Jessica Adler (’14) portrayed these ladies wonderfully with a heart-wrenching performance. It should be noted however that there were no stars in this show, which is what made it so great. It was truly an ensemble effort and each cast member had their moment to shine. There was a fantastic energy that kept me captivated with every monologue and movement piece, sending me into a state of paranormal hypnosis. It was one of those performances where it didn’t matter where your eyes went because there was always something interesting happening onstage. Of course, I must also rave about the music. The music was incredible. It was eerie, creepy, beautiful, uplifting, and tragic all at the same time. It tied everything together, suspending reality and transporting us into a parallel universe.

According to Spiritualists, everyone possesses the capacity to talk to the dead, it’s just a matter of turning it on. Although there was a morose tone to the piece, Summerland was also incredibly hopeful, assuring the audience that death is not an ending, only a transition into the spirit world: summerland.

Ellen Winter hails from Washington, D.C. where she indulged in frequenting various clubs, house shows, theaters, field concerts, and spy museums. She is super stoked to be a part of the SLCspeaks team and looks forward to exploring the arts and music in New York with a new lens. Through years of in-depth research, she has concluded that black coffee, an everything bagel with cream-cheese and a side of bacon is the most delicious breakfast ever to be invented- there is no counter argument.

Be first to comment