Go Deeper

The Groundswell Players Invite You to Stomp the Barn

Posted June 21st, 2010

When was the last time you got out of the city and into the beauty of the great outdoors? The Groundswell Players invite you to do just that at their upcoming Barn Stompin’ fundraiser, a down-on-the-farm party with live bluegrass music, barbecue, and an auction with a “country” caller on June 26th at their head writer Alex Cohen’s farm in Newtown, Pennsylvania. I skyped with two of the collaborators and actors from Groundswell’s new play How to Solve a Bear, which will debut at the Fringe Festival: Jesse Paulsen, 24, a Haverford College graduate and development and outreach coordinator at Mill Creek Farm, and Scott Sheppard, 26, another Haverford graduate and 9th grade English teacher at Friends Central School. We chatted about how one does solve a bear (no spoilers) and what a Chinese post-apocalyptic survival equipment company, Waiting for Guffman, Moby Dick, and a taxidermied bear all have in common.

Live Arts: What are your roles in the show?
Jesse Paulsen: My character is named Pete. He’s a loner who lives in the woods of the Watchupee State Park, much to the chagrin of Ranger Seth. I was abandoned in the park by the band “The Happy Goats” with whom I was on tour as a roadie. Ever since, I’ve fallen in love with the park and have learned to communicate with nature.
Scott Sheppard: Connie La Pire is my name in the play.
LA: Is that a woman or a man?
SS: He’s the kind of rugged individualistic frontiersman that could take a woman’s name, and somehow it makes him even more masculine for doing so. La Pire means “the worst” in French, and Connie says this every time he is introduced to someone.
LA: I was going to have you answer my questions from the point of view of your characters, but I want to talk about your fundraiser, and what would they know about that?
JP: Nothin! Dude’s a woodsy freak!
LA: So how did the Groundswell Players form?
JP: All of the performers are friends and members of Leo Callahan [their LOL-arious improv comedy group]. A director, Matt Decker of Theatre Horizon, will be joining us in August once we’ve finished and polished our script.
LA: Where did the idea for the show come from?

JP: Well, like any collaborative process, we went through many incarnations of “our play.” It started out being about a Chinese company wanting to test equipment for a post-apocalyptic world and hiring a group of 5 random people to live in an artificial post-apocalyptic environment for a year to test the equipment. We had ideas for how all the instructions would be in Engrish, like “Secure a fort with the materials provided by no more sun time. Wolf attack tonight.”
LA: I can’t imagine how this eventually came to Groundswell.
JP: One of the original ideas we had running through all of our various scenarios was this idea of an “everything-proof suit.” You should check out these videos of the bear-proof suit. So somehow we came to actual bears and we started talking about a state park.
LA: And that’s Groundswell? Is it a real place?
JP: Well, actually as this project was just getting underway Jack Meaney [one of the five Groundswell Players] and I started a fake newspaper called The ‘Swell News, which was an imaginary paper about the imaginary town of Groundswell, Montana.

SS:: Groundswell is the kind of place that is hermetic enough that it can be an incubator for wild ideas. Their obsessions feed off of each other. We are really trying to enter that space. Bring viewers along with us.
JP: Waiting for Guffman and other Christopher Guest movies have been source material for the level of seriousness/comedy we are aiming for, the way that they find comedy in the obsessions and passions of average and unglamorous folks.

Click more to find out what the citizens of Groundswell are obsessed with and where the taxidermied bear comes in.

LA: What are your characters obsessed with?
SS: My character has an obsession with the Lewis and Clark expedition and is part of the LCNPRG, a Lewis and Clark reenactment guild that takes folks on the same trail that those great legends blazed in 1804. We’ve also talked a lot about Moby Dick. My character is really based off of Captain Ahab. He has no hope in some benevolent force in nature. He believes that nature is cold, unforgiving. Facing the bear is much like facing the white whale. The bear is the face of that uncaring, destructive side of nature, and if Connie can conquer it then he’ll be fulfilled.
LA: No spoilers, please! Let’s talk about the Barn Stompin’ fundraiser. Will there be a taste of Groundswell there?
SS: A taste of it, but not a mouthful. We just hope people have a fantastic time. The farm is a pretty magical place. That sounds silly, but especially when you live in the city.
JP: When the sun goes down, the show that the fireflies put on is INCREDIBLE. There will be a taxidermied bear, an auction with a “country” caller, live blues and bluegrass music by Bad Friends, George Urgo and others, fun lawn games like cornhole and wiffle ball . . .
LA: Wait, a taxidermied bear?!
SS: My co-worker had it. Her husband shot it many years ago. It’s shedding so much she wanted to throw it away. I heard her telling her friend over the phone and screeched my heels. “Don’t throw it away!” I saved the bear from the dumpster and now he’ll have a life in theater.
LA: Is the bear playing the eponymous bear from the title?
SS: She’s nailed to a block of wood and she’s only a torso, so no.
LA: Who is?
SS: Well, you said no spoilers . . . but I will not be playing the bear.
JP: Nor will I.

Information about and directions to the Barn Stompin’ social can be found at: It is NOT too far away, and if you take the train just RSVP and the Groundswell Players will personally pick you up at the station.

–Ellen Freeman

Photos courtesy of the Groundswell Players.