Ely—Ellie Emerson was intrigued by her father’s friend Henry. The two men talked long into the night as Ellie eavesdropped from a secluded corner of the parlor. She wondered about the questions they raised: How will the wild places fare with increasing industrialization? How can the exciting new scientific discoveries of the day be reconciled with people’s religious beliefs? Why do the forests and rivers offer solace to a troubled soul? What will the world be like when today’s children grow up? This was in 1846, and the men were Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Yet the questions reverberate through modern Minnesota life just as strongly as they did in 19th century Massachusetts.
The play Nature animates these questions while entertaining audiences of all ages in a rollicking outdoor theatrical production. On August 22-25, 16 professional actors and musicians from Tiger Lion Arts, a Twin Cities based theater company, will join a local chorus of about 20 singers to present the play in Ely. The play is staged on the trails and rolling hills of the Hidden Valley ski area east of Ely. As the story unfolds, both actors and audience make their way through the landscape. Dubbed “Guthrie-quality theater in a wild setting,” the song, dance and drama create a spirited telling of Thoreau’s and Emerson’s friendship and a poignant look at our relationship to the natural world. Children of all ages will love this show. The music, dance, and the outdoors, mixed with the adventure of moving throughout the landscape, will keep them engaged and entertained.
The character of Ellie Emerson offers an especially exciting opportunity for a young would-be actress. The part will be played by a fourth-grade girl from Ely. Imagine having the chance to rehearse and perform with a professional cast at the age of nine! She will also rehearse with the local chorus members who are learning their parts under the direction of Mike Rouse, Ely vocal music teacher and founder of the Boundary Waters Choral Festival, held each March in Ely.
Three Ely non-profits are collaborating to bring this award-winning play to the Arrowhead. Ely Folk School, Northern Lakes Arts Association, and the Ely Arts & Heritage Center have been working together since April to cover all the details required to ensure a memorable event. These organizations are committed to keeping the ticket prices affordable for families so that everyone can attend. A Culture and Tourism grant from IRRR has provided some funding, and the rest will be provided through ticket sales and donations available at: elyfolkschool.org.
Tiger Lion Arts has performed Nature at more than 20 parks and arboretums nationwide and has received glowing reviews for both the content and the performance quality. Following the Ely show, they will be taking it to the Emerson estate in Concord, Mass. There are also Minnesota performances in Bemidji, Oronoco, and Northfield this summer, with the outstate productions supported by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
The Nature experience is more than just the play. There will be a half-hour pre-show with bagpipe music, choral singing and refreshments. Guests are welcome to come even earlier to picnic at Hidden Valley. On Friday, August 23, actors from Tiger Lion Arts will present a workshop entitled “I Went for a Walk Today” that includes theater games, walking along the Trezona Trail in Ely, and journaling. Adults and families with children ages six and older are welcome to this free event that starts at 1 p.m. at the Ely Arts & Heritage Center. Between the Saturday afternoon and evening shows, a question and answer session will be held with the cast to discuss their perspectives on the production and the play itself.
There is more information at the supporting organizations’ websites and tigerlion.org, including their Emmy-award winning video about the production. Tickets are available online (elyfolkschool.org/nature), or in person at Art & Soul Gallery in Ely. Shows are August 22-25, Thursday through Saturday at 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. A golf cart will be available to assist anyone with limited mobility move from scene to scene. Guests may bring their own portable chairs or blankets for this 90-minute performance.
The play is performed in any weather that is not life-threatening, so guests should dress appropriately. Like most kids, Ellie Emerson is delighted to splash through a puddle or two, and it will be especially fun to lead an audience through rain or shine as they move from cabin to chapel to farm field, witnessing tender moments, dramatic confrontations, and rowdy crowds.