After a media push, a cryptic website that touted a “whimsical journey of theater and art through fields and forest,” and my partner’s desire to go, I decided to attend an outdoor event called The Purple Fox Conundrum. This cultural commentary was produced and performed by around 40 people in the Mancos Valley on the Sacred Song Farm to sold out audiences over the course of two days. If this were an ongoing event, I would not write this review because part of the joy of the experience was not knowing what came next. In addition, performance art or this type of theater often lends itself to individual interpretations, and I would not want to skew another’s take. But alas, it ended so I must reveal a glimpse of it to you.
We bought tickets for a 90-minute scheduled tour of the ten or so installations scattered throughout the vast cattle ranch. We first gathered with our group and were asked to introduce ourselves to each other. We were encouraged to get along and interact with the performance together. Our group of various southwest Colorado locals became a community during this time, and it was part of the message of the day: be your best self in person, not as a curated online prop.
The journey began by walking through a Stargate of sorts, made with inflated latex gloves, flags, and shade cloth. We were greeted by two pleasant and overly cheery flight attendants who told us to “leave all free thought at the door.” We were seated on chairs in a field and were given various absurd instructions for the adventure, with picture of the golden rectangle, a super nova, and a wanted poster for the Purple Fox. Several other groups’ members arrived late at this point and a woman asked me if there was anything important that they missed. All I could conjure up was, “I think we are either supposed to either avoid or follow the Purple Fox. Not sure which one.”
The next mini-show was a preacher at the Church of the Cell Phone where she said we should worship the Cloud and all forms of “best friends” we have on social media. The stained glass had an Android tablet instead of a human saint. It was at this moment some people made an audible connection from the Purple Fox to the popular web browser Firefox.
Next, we followed a giant rabbit, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, through the fields, touring various parts of the Purple Fox’s den. There were all the trappings of one who lived alone with low self-esteem: costumes, motivational post-its on the mirrors, and a diary amongst the battered furniture. At this point we saw a purple fox following us and noted it was with us for most of the remaining journey.
After some time of walking around, we were led to two very opinionated Frenchmen. These men were tasked with the show of being offended, in the stereotypical French manner, of everything stereotypically American, specifically Wonder Bread and grape Smuckers Jelly. Their humor bluntly amused all while their banter gently reminded us of how far some of our food has gotten from the land and people it came from. There was a rest station with DJ Fox (not purple!) and his dancing rabbit companion. Our group played Twister, snacked on pretzels and popcorn, drained and refilled our waters, and danced to EDM with nature sounds underneath a shade tent. It was at this point I realized they had thought of everything to make the audience comfortable and grounded.
There were several stand-alone installations that did not have an actor, and a few I would categorize as sculpture. One was a tunnel of sheep skins labeled “The Dark,” which lead to a door with a sign noting that “The Light” was behind it, to only discover it was a mirror. There was a 20-foot turquoise chair with a note underneath reminding us to “raise our eyes to the horizon where a bigger, wilder version of ourselves beckons.” A sign on a table requested the travelers to write what sets them free with a sharpie on a ribbon, then tie it to the painted tree.
The owners of Sacred Song Farm, one a sort of rancher shaman and the other a quiet rabbit (Margaret Paradise—the unparalleled creative director), had us pause with them for peppermint tea and poetry. With an additional audience of a herd of cattle, we were blessed with the simple and profound lessons of Rumi and a poem from the sacred cowboy himself. I felt even more connected to the land and the ideas at this point, but still pondering the overall conundrum.
The final scene, before walking individually through the final Andy Goldsworthy style porthole, was a blind and mute scene. There was a slow drum beat, accompanied by a cello playing behind us while we sat blindfolded. An opportunity to reflect on the experience without sensory overload. At that point I realized I was still not sure if I was supposed to catch or flee from the Purple Fox, but I did know I had completed a journey of many. We are residing in a land that has physically and spiritually fed humans for as many years as it will continue, despite our pesky technology based and contrived culture, and I am just passing through.
There is no way this could be replicated, nor could it have been produced anywhere else in the world. You might see similarities to it at Burning Man or Meow Wolf, but this was purely a Mancos event. For these wild, creative, and loving people to successfully synergize this multi-faceted performance on a working ranch, they had to have already been drawn to the artistic, agricultural region that is the Mancos-Dolores corridor. Then, the illustrious executive producer Sarah Syverson had to lead the intrepid travelers through the porthole. The end result was magical and sacred.