For those of you who are uninitiated, the Butcher Shop is one of those uniquely Chico events—unique, even, among all the other uniquely Chico events. It’s an alchemical combination of several things you may be familiar with: biking in the fading golden light of a late summer evening, sitting out on the grass under the emerging stars, shifting uncomfortably while you watch inappropriately young children running unsupervised through a crowd of half drunk adults while an actor shouts FUCK into a microphone several times… In essence, it’s a festival of locally written and produced theatre, music, and dance, and it’s a gathering place for lovers of the incredibly weird. It happens annually over Labor Day weekend out on Estes Road off the end of Normal Avenue.
For those of you who are familiar with the Butcher Shop but couldn’t make it out this year, allow me to offer you my experience and opinions, which you are free to adopt as your own for future conversations:
This year was a little different, presumably because it was “Presented by Slow Theatre,” Denver Latimer’s (prominent member of the founding family of both this festival and the Blue Room Theatre) latest project. The theory behind “Slow Theatre” involves a lot of workshopping and research and discussion of scripts from concept to stage, among “ever widening circles of our community to promote critical dialogue.” Maybe that had nothing to do with the firmer emphasis on political commentary and the occasional drift toward, well…
This year’s theme was “A Crack in the Climate.” Our rapidly-approaching-desperate drought played a major role, as did fracking, endangered species, activism, splitting the state, and Faustian bargains with the Prince of Darkness who will offer you all indulgence while robbing you of your very soul.
There were some segments that basically went with a rhetoric-pageant to stroke the ideology of the crowd (Yay, you TELL that Oil Man you care more about future generations than you do about money!) rather than having fun with theatre, during which my attention started drifting more toward the drunken conversations of the people around me (I get bored easily). For the most part, however, the serious themes didn’t overshadow the character that made me fall in love with this event in the first place.
What is that, you ask? I love the silliness. I love seeing top notch actors who’ve captivated me with their words and their presence—who’ve made me think or cry or hold my breath in anticipation—getting together and playing caricatures in bizarre plotlines, making bawdy jokes, shamelessly enjoying themselves. I love the unpredictability of the collaborations between artistic thinkers. I love the massive community that comes out to enjoy it, the feeling of having this special experience in common. I love the music, the perfectly ironic songs that the band, Dave the Butcher, uses to stitch all the plays together. I love the whole scene of it.
A final word of advice for those of you who plan to go next year: arrive early enough to get a good spot if you want to really experience the theatre, bring something to sit on, and pack your own ice cream sandwiches because nobody told me they wouldn’t have them this year and I was really bummed.