Monday, October 14, 2019

"Nature" by TigerLion Arts at Lebanon Hills Regional Park

I went for a walk today. But not just any walk, although any walk through Nature is special. It was a walk with my favorite theater experience - TigerLion Arts' outdoor walking play Nature. Seeing it for the fifth time was as moving as seeing it for the first. There are many reasons why Nature is my favorite: it's outdoors in a beautiful natural setting; you get to walk around instead of sitting in an uncomfortable theater seat; it's about as site-specific as theater can get; it combines history, philosophy, spirituality, and ecology; it has elements of physical theater and music; and it's totally immersive in the best way. One of the most wonderful and the most challenging things about theater is that you really have to stay present in the moment. Who hasn't felt their mind wander in the theater? Our lives are so busy and jam-packed that it's difficult to put all of that aside for any length of time. But when you feel the sun warm on your back, or frozen raindrops pelt your face, it very effectively brings you right back to the present and to the experience that we're all having together, right here, right now. Such is Nature, which more than just theater, is an invitation to contemplate one's own relationship with Nature by taking a journey (literally) with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as they contemplate their relationships to Nature and each other.

Nature premiered in 2010, created by TigerLion Arts co-founders Markell Kiefer and Tyson Forbes, along with Samuel Elmore. It returned again in 2014, when I first saw it, and has continued to evolve with annual tours. They took 2018 off, but returned in 2019 with several stops in the Midwest (see map above) and three weeks in Emerson and Thoreau's hometown of Concord Mass. Their final stop of the 2019 tour was Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, where I saw the show on a cold and rainy/snowy/icey day. But that's the thing about Nature - it's not always mild and pleasant, which this show celebrates. Although I was shivering by the end of the show, it was truly a perfectly beautiful day with Nature in Nature.

find someone who looks at you the way that Thoreau (Jason Rojas)
looks at Emerson (Tyson Forbes, photo courtesy of TigerLion Arts)
This year's wonderfully talented ensemble included some Nature veterans and some newbies. Tyson Forbes was once again the living embodiment of his ancestor Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Norah Long again presides over the whole event as the warm and loving, yet sometimes stern, Nature herself. New to the show this year was Jason Rojas, a perfect choice for Thoreau based on hair and beard alone, but who also brought a playful spirit to the role. Everyone in the ensemble (also including Alex Barreto Hathaway, Chelsie Newhard, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil, Markell Kiefer, Nathan Gebhard, Paul de Cordova, musician Ryan Behnke, and Thallis Santesteban) brought their own beautiful and unique spirits to the piece, and not only persevered through the challenging weather, but played off of it and reveled in it.

I've written many words about Nature and why I love it (click here to read them all), so I won't repeat myself here. Nature will continue to evolve and return to this Nation that now more than ever needs to be reminded that we need to return to Nature. Every couple of years I need to recharge my soul by going on a hiking trip where I'm totally immersed in Nature without the distractions of civilization, and this piece allows me to do that for an all too brief, but incredibly moving and meaningful, 90 minutes. Follow TigerLion Arts on Facebook for more on the future of Nature.
I went for a walk today
I felt my heart
I talked to a friend
I was held by the earth
I touched the sky

the cast of Nature (photo courtesy of TigerLion Arts)