By Breana Burggraff
Between the borders of Minnesota and Wisconsin, when the air is just warm enough to keep it from freezing, a river courses along a steady path. It trickles throughout the region, passing by the people who give it meaning, swallowing up their stories. This is the St. Louis River, the source of inspiration for the University of Minnesota Duluth’s original production of “One River.”
Adapted from the One River, Many Stories journalism project, “One River” spotlights the relationship between a community and its water source. From the viewpoints of many, including the Ojibwe elder, the blogger, the environmentalist, the bird watcher, and various others, “One River” exudes the idea that personal stories can take public resonance.
After being introduced to the One River, Many Stories initiative in November 2015, playwright and director Tom Isbell hoped to include its dramatization in the university's 2016-2017 main stage season. “I have a long history of creating/acting in documentary theatre, and when I heard about this project - and how it had the potential to involve this entire community - I realized theatre had to be a part of it,” Isbell wrote in a recent email interview.
With the help of personal interviews, website articles, songs, presentations, community events, and blog posts, Isbell references a world drowning in information to resurface the parts of society that are often overlooked or taken for granted. He wrote, “I wanted the play to cover everything from the geology of the St. Louis River to how a poet perceives rivers. I wanted history, I wanted current controversial topics.”
This varied request list is transposed into a work that is as diverse in its content as it is in its form. The innovation of the production crew and cast enables a composite of choreographed movement, monologues, and even a rap number, to be creatively executed within the course of ninety minutes.
These are the stories taken from someone’s backyard. Each ensemble member is internalizing a person in a community with whom they share a common place. There are elements that are richly personalized, but the mere humanity and emotional investments of this community can be relative to a varied audience. “One River” presents not only a river; it presents life.
Isbell said that “One River” is only “a fraction of a fraction of the stories that could be/should be told.” There are tales yet to be discovered, but to find them, there must first be a place to look. “One River” provides a beginning, and all are invited to dip their toes into the experience.
Performances: January 26 at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM and January 27 at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM at the Kum & Go Theater.
Director/Playwright: Tom Isbell
Cast: Wes Anderson, Alyson Enderle, Ryan Haff, Luke Harger, Phil Hoelscher, Lauren Hugh, Rebekah Meyer, Kayla Peters, Ryan Richardson, Kyliah Thompson, and Erica VonBank
Design Team and Crew:
Scenic Designer: Kia Lor
Costume Designer: Brandin Stagg
Lighting Designer: Mark Harvey
Sound Designer: Ben Harvey
Choreographer: Andy Frye
Music: Andy Kust
Stage Manager: Cole Mercier, Q’ori Goerdt
Dramaturg: Jenna Soleo-Shanks