Miami doesn't even know it, but it desperately needs a Baba Yaga. Luckily, Miami has a Baba Yaga Mama.
We know this is a lot to process, but don't worry — we'll explain.
Local artist and Knight Arts grant winner Shira Lee Abergel is looking for the community's support in her effort to raise $25,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to bring a eco-friendly Baba Yaga Arts Wagon to Miami. Abergel named her art wagon "Baba Yaga" for a character from Eastern European folklore who represents the equivalent of Mother Nature: powerful, all-knowing, intuitive, lovely, ugly, fearless, calculated, and nurturing yet destructive. Abergel found inspiration for this name from the book Women Who Run With the Wolves.
The traveling-wagon concept is inspired by old-time medicine shows, a form of entertainment made popular in the 19th Century to sell “cure-all” products from town to town. The goal of the Baba Yaga wagon is to make performance arts of all kinds accessible to those who have yet to connect with the various forms of art culture.
Abergel is a multidisciplinary performing artist whose acting work on film has been featured at the Borscht, Miami, Sundance, and SXSW film festivals. Her passion for writing, acting, and directing, and her affinity for music — she plays the guitar, dulcimer, ukelele, and banjo — came together, resulting in this Knight Foundation grant-winning idea.
"I always wanted to live a life on the road — the old vagabond/traveling artist idea. It always sounded fun. I’d constantly be meeting new people, seeing new places, and I just enjoy being on the move," Abergel tells New Times. "It makes me feel alive. Since I am a performer, I thought, What better than to have traveling and performing wrapped up into one?"
Any funds raised by Lee's Kickstarter campaign will help complete her matching grant from the John S. & James L. Foundation and get the wagon on the streets of Miami this year.
Abergel's goal is to make Miami's Baba Yaga Arts Wagon an all-encompassing traveling wooden wagon that transforms into a theatrical playing space able to present original performances, free of charge. The arts-wagon concept is a fully functioning mobile performance arts stage that depends on the community every step of its journey. Construction of the wagon is scheduled to be complete sometime in August, with the Baba Yaga Tour beginning in Miami in October and then eventually traveling nationwide once the concept is off the ground locally.
The Baba Yaga performance wagon will be towed by a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle, stopping in parks, alleys, streets, neighborhood, workplaces — anywhere, really. The wagon will belong to the community, so wherever the community is, the wagon will go.
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Abergel grew up in the Miami area, so giving back to a place she loves is natural. She grew up experiencing the South Florida outdoors, so bringing a wagon that will get the community outside makes perfect sense.
"I’m a local Miamian, born and raised. I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors. My parents would take my sister, brother, and me on tons of trips: hiking, camping, kayaking, and canoeing in parks like Oleta and Greynolds. We’d go to the Everglades and ride bikes in Shark Valley and see alligators. And my grandparents would take us to the Renaissance fairs. I always loved the beaches and find it to be a place of solace and spirituality."
Though construction and planning of the Baba Yaga project are underway, Abergel says it still needs the community's help. There are a variety of things the public can do to ensure that Baba Yaga not only survives but also thrives.
"The most pressing things are to find a home for the wagon, hopefully one with an indoor rehearsal space and outdoor slab of land for the wagon and permaculture — community living; to have a consistent fundraising and grant-writing plan; to create a business plan in order to generate funds (since we are a nonprofit and all shows are free); to acquire a driving tow vehicle (hybrid or biodiesel heavy-duty truck/bus/van); to acquire sound and lighting equipment; and to get sustainable energy to install into the wagon.
"Since we are still in the very early stages — pun intended — of Baba Yaga," Abergel explains, "and are still learning and working at generating funds and support, it would be stupendous to have a team onboard who could help us create a fully developed, well-run organization."
To learn more about the Baba Yaga Arts Wagon project, visit babawagon.org. To donate to help keep the wagon performing throughout the streets of Miami, visit the Baba Yaga Kickstarter page.