Nature explored in walking play at CERA

Michael Cummings

Environmentalists and theatre fans alike will enjoy Minneapolis-based theatre company TigerLion Arts’ production of “Nature” at Grinnell’s Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA).

“Nature” tells the story of the friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, two pioneers of the modern environmentalist movement.

“The show is such an experience,” said star actor and co-writer Tyson Forbes, who portrays his great-great-grandfather Ralph Waldo Emerson in the play. “It’s this incredible feeling of stepping into my great-great-grandfather’s shoes and being able to express his views and his ideologies and to give people this experience of it. It’s like crossing generations and bringing his spirit to life.”

The play focuses on the friendship between Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson based on their environmentalist actions. Contributed photo

The play focuses on the friendship between Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson based on their environmentalist actions. Contributed photo

“The intention of the play is to reconnect audiences to the natural world,” said actor John Catron ’02, who co-stars in the play as Thoreau.

The play is also notable for its distinctive style. Rather than taking place in a traditional theater, “Nature” is a walking play. This means that the actors – and the audience – move throughout CERA to four distinct settings over the course of the play.

While this concept may seem intimidating to some, Catron assures potential viewers it isn’t as daunting as it sounds.

“All it means is we move between sites for site-specific work,” Catron said. “We’ll do one scene, then the audience will move with the company a little ways down the path to the next scene.”

Markell Kiefer, the director, producer and co-writer of the play said that while the play has many components, the outdoor space dominates the experience.

“A big part of the direction [of the play] is the set-design component … because you’re really choosing your set in the natural environment,” Kiefer continued.

Forbes and Kiefer had been experimenting with the walking play styles for years, and chose the style specifically for this play.

“We really thought about it and … finally we [decided] this is about bringing these metaphors and these ideas [of the natural world] to life on a level that the audience doesn’t have to bend their minds to understand,” Forbes said. “So, we were absolutely like, ‘This has to be outdoors.’ We really think of the outdoors as one of the main characters of the play.”

“It’s a play about nature. At a certain point when we were developing the play it just became pretty clear,” Kiefer added. “If we’re going to do a play about nature, then we should be in nature! We should bring people to nature, connect people directly to nature, instead of just talking about it and showing pictures of it and making a make-believe nature inside.”

The play will be at CERA on Friday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 12 and 13 at 2 p.m. Students interested in attending the play should visit the Bucksbaum Box Office for transportation information.

In addition to Catron, Sara Shives ’97 is the stage manager, and she and Catron will talk with students interested in careers in theatre on Friday, Sept. 11 at noon in Bucksbaum 269.