Preview: Collective Project’s Devil Tree Gives Southern Gothic a Fresh Face

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Photo by Justin Hadley Photography.

The Collective Project‘s new show, The Devil Tree, originally began its life as a short story by ensemble member Sean Haley, but it grew through the group’s collaborative efforts to become the second full production in the inaugural season of the fledgling theater company now based at the Goat Farm Arts Center. The play, which intertwines stories from 10 different writers, will have its world premiere Saturday, October 13, 2012, with previews October 11-12.


The setting for the play is Laurel County, Georgia, a fictional county that Haley based on the area in South Georgia around Valdosta where his father grew up and where he recalls visiting as a child. “It has its own sort of feel and energy,” says Haley about the spooky atmosphere of the area at night, something he wanted to capture in a story. “I remember being a kid and walking around those woods at night with my cousins, getting kind of terrified as I let my imagination run wild. I really wanted to use that, and it ended up playing a big role in creating the atmosphere.”

You can view the trailer for Devil Tree above, or watch it on YouTube.

But Haley realized that his original story, featuring a tree in southern Georgia that creates a sinister and dangerous atmosphere for two children who happen upon it one afternoon, could be expanded to include an entire community, both as its subject and as its means of production. Ten different writers took on the task of writing about “the devil tree” and its relationship with the residents of Laurel County, creating short stories that Haley and cowriter James McDouglad then adapted into a play. Set in the 1920s and 1940s, the play presents a tapestry of several Southern gothic tales that are all connected by the tree. Director Corey Bradberry describes it as a sort of  “Big Fish meets Twilight Zone.”

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The style of production matches the purpose of the Collective Project, which was originally founded by a group of theatre students at Kennesaw State to create collaborative, all-Atlanta productions with original writing, music, sets, and other elements by Atlanta-based artists.

Photo by Justin Hadley Photography.
Photo by Justin Hadley Photography.

The tree itself is the biggest element of the set, a recreation of an oak tree in the Goat Farm’s Rodriguez Room that uses found objects suggesting elements from the imagined community: old tires, newspaper, wiring, real tree branches, pieces of bicycles, an old car grill.

“I wanted to create more of an environment than a typical set,” says designer Elizabeth Jarrett about the immersive sculpture that looms over the room. “It’s almost as if all the people in this county have left pieces around, and the tree sucked them up and grew out of what was left behind.” For the show, the audience will sit around the massive tree on three sides. “I’ve had a lot of other artists collaborating with me,” says Jarrett. “You kind of need to with a tree this large.”

“The Goat Farm’s been wonderful for us to be a part of,” says director Corey Bradberry.  The Collective Project is one of the resident theater companies at the blossoming Goat Farm Arts Center. As a Goat Farm awardee, the company receives center’s Arts Investment Package that includes financial assistance, production and marketing assistance, and rehearsal and performance space.

The Goat Farm is an environment that suits the company artistically, Bradberry says, and the evocative Victorian architecture of the site suits the show, too. “We’re able to create pieces that work within the aesthetic of the Goat Farm,” he says. “The show uses the antiquated nature of the space rather than working against it …. We couldn’t be happier.”

The Collective Project’s production of Devil Tree opens Saturday, October 13, and runs through Sunday, October 28. Check their ticket page for performance times.

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