Nature: Walking With Emerson & Thoreau
An outdoor play that moves with the audience, for each scene captures the complex friendship between Emerson & Thoreau, and their shared love of nature. Produced with TigerLion Arts.
- Do you feel that?
- Yes, what is that?
- It's a feeling of.
(inhales and exhales)
- I think at the very heart of what we wanted
to create was an experience of interconnectedness.
We hope that audiences that come and see the show,
are reawakened to their connection to nature.
- I've never seen a play outside before
where you had to walk with them.
- People find purpose, experience awe
and mystery, and healing in nature.
- [Narrator] Nature: Walking with Emerson and Thoreau
is a partnership co-production
of Twin Cities PBS and TigerLion Arts,
celebrating spirit and nature through the arts.
- History can be remarkable, and history can
make you see the world differently.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaking in unison)
- born May 25th, 1803,
- Boston, Massachusets.
- Henry David Thoreau (speaking in unison)
- Born July 12th, 1817,
- Concord, Massachusetts.
- Everywhere we go, the show changes,
based on the location and the environment.
- Here we go,
- At every location we recruit volunteer singers
from the community, and this chorus becomes
integrated into our show.
- So, months and months in advance, we're starting
to incorporate local community members into the piece.
- The girl who plays the role of Ellie Emerson,
Ralph Waldo Emerson's daughter, is a different actor
in every location that we go to.
- Ellie! (bell clangs)
- [All Actors] What?
- Come back!
- [All Actors] What?
- Ellen Emerson, come back right now!
- [All Actors] Can't hear you!
- There's a way to really engage
directly with the community.
- Once we get 'em in, we got 'em.
There's also a wonderful sort of gravitational pull
that a audience has within a public park,
where people start seeing the crowd,
and they start going to it, and they start drawing,
and it grows and it grows and it grows.
Sometimes we have three, four hundred people
come from, just, the woods and the paths
and just join the production.
- There's a quote, and I don't remember who said it.
"Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the great.
"Seek what they sought."
- I think the Thoreau Emerson friendship was one
of the greatest literary friendships in history.
We tend to look at iconic figures,
whether it's Thoreau or Emerson, as these statues in stone,
and when we say the words of someone like Thoreau or Emerson
we lower our voice and give it gravitas and be very serious,
and we forget that both men had a sense of humor.
(actors singing in unison)
- I created this piece with my wife Markell Kiefer
and our close friend, Sam Elmore.
- The genesis of this piece is friendship.
The friendship between Tyson and myself and our
shared curiosity about the friendship between
Emerson and Thoreau and their shared love of nature
and of being outside and taking walks.
- We also spoke at length about Tyson's connection
to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He is the great great great grandson of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And his desire to create a piece that really honored
The closer I became to him and to his family
their focus on the importance of nature:
it is in their every move.
Spending time out at nature as really
It is their spiritual practice.
- Every spirit builds itself a house.
And beyond its house: a world.
And beyond its world: a heaven.
- They went so deep into their explorations of nature
and how it related to humanity.
While they are beautiful ideas
philosophies, notions, this is a living system
and it's not just an intellectual system
it's an actual--
There are smells and tastes and feelings and
emotions and they're out there for us to experience.
That is why these two characters matter.
We're asking you in the play, and Emerson and Thoreau
are asking you to go out and experience this for yourself.
- Build therefore your own world.
Build your own world.
(play audience applauds)
- For Emerson, who was the great intellectual of his day
and the great orator and the great lecturer,
his first book was called Nature.
It was very inspirational to a lot of people
including Thoreau who read it when he was
- I believe that Emerson and Thoreau are
our early environmentalists and essentially they were
talking in different ways about sustainability.
- They were great minds who were thinking very daring
and revolutionary and kind of rebellious thoughts
in their time.
- [Actors In Unison] This one thing I do know for sure:
we must all return to nature.
Within my deepest refection, this thought of
interconnection, yes, we are all interconnected.
- We imagine them, they've just met, they've
just become friends, and we imagine the walk being
sort of the evolution of their friendship
as their friendship goes from first meeting
into sort of a budding friendship.
- Join us.
- On your toes, off we go!
- We kinda got to walk alongside them
and experience that closeness with the people
that we were walking with.
We were all walking in nature, just like they did.
- Most people, once they step outside, they remember
how much they love nature, so then nature allows
them to open.
The walking allows the audience to open.
When we move our bodies, our minds and our hearts
and everything just starts feeling synchronized
and harmonious again.
- As we move you start to notice the stones in the ground,
you start to notice the roots of the trees,
you start to notice the canopies of the trees
and how they change with the light.
You hear all of these noises all around us
that are all part of that orchestra.
- To experience something that transports us
that really is experienced almost exclusively
in natural areas, is something that adds
great richness and depth to our lives
and spurs deeper and broader thinking about
our place in the world.
The idea of protecting areas of nature,
large areas of the country that we set aside,
both for human recreation and also for natural benefit:
that is an uniquely American idea that's been
exported all across the world.
And it's rooted very much in the values
that Emerson and Thoreau were communicating
back at that time.
- You have sort of the teacher and student dynamic.
In the beginning, Thoreau being 14 years younger
than Emerson, Emerson already being an established
intellectual at the time.
- I liked Henry, I liked Henry Thoreau.
I think he seemed like the kinda person
you would wanna hang out with.
- Young David sits on the shores of Walden Pond.
- [All Actors] He had left quite an impression.
- I often introduce Thoreau to student groups
as the hermit who loves society and the vegetarian
who ate meat and the teetotaler who sometimes
drank tea or a glass of wine.
There's no Thoreauvian idea which you can't
find the opposite in Thoreau and that's
the part of Thoreau that I love, that constantly
re-questioning and re-evaluating who he is.
- The modern interpretation of Thoreau is outcast
out into the far-distant wilderness all on his own
is really a total mis-interpretation of what
his actual experience was.
He was not far from town.
He went back into town often
to have dinner with his mother
and to spend time with friends and neighbors.
Thoreau's experience in nature was not about
being apart, it was really about being together
both with people and with the natural environment.
- A letter. - A letter.
- A letter! - A letter!
- A letter, all aboard! (train whistle blowing)
All aboard! (train whistle blowing)
All aboard! (train whistle blowing)
- The Trancendentalist movement was a joyful movement.
- A letter!
- A letter!
- It had that creativity that comes outta childhood
that sort of a re-imagination of all of these
old ideas and finding sort of new fruit
out of them.
- [All Actors] Water?
(fiddle string plucked)
- We want the show to resonate on multiple levels.
We want it to speak to children, that's always
kind of a baseline for us.
We feel like if we can't keep them onboard
we stand a good chance of losing all the adults, too.
- Just hang out with Tyson and Markell for
a couple hours and you can't not have
that physicality and that humor.
- And I've got a little spider right here.
He's just comin' to the piece,
"hello, welcome to the show!"
- [All Actors] Huh, huh, come, sit, huh--
- We also wanna create a storyline that people can keep
diving into and that has the extremes of
human relationship in it.
- Every location is completely different and it
informs how the play lives in its place.
The trees, the landscape, the weather,
literally change how the pieces,
certainly how it's performed and I think
how it's experienced.
- Caesar call his house, "Rome"--
- Think especially in Washburn Fair Oaks park
there is that contrast of civilization and industry
all around us, and us having to compete with that
and bring and call upon the sort of spirit of nature
to speak as loudly as all those forces around us
as the planes, as the ambulances, as I35 racing by.
â™ª have it this bleak world â™ª
â™ª Alone â™ª
- We had Nora Long come into the piece,
who's an incredible vocalist in Minneapolis.
And she's in this presence of Mother Nature.
A presence that hardly ever speaks, so
it really is a presence.
(fiddle playing with man and woman singing)
It's beautiful to have a human embodiment of that
to take it out of the abstract.
- The location informs the experience of the audience
because they get to experience maybe a place
that they love, through a completely different lens.
(actors singing together)
- To the fields!
- We make use of depth, of space.
Natural landscape in a way that you never could
inside in a theater.
So we spend a lot of time really finding
those most sacred spots and integrating them
into the show.
(actors singing together)
â™ª Ho â™ª
- To perform here in Concord has been
on our bucket list from the beginning.
- This really is the epicenter of
the Nature Movement and the Conservation Movement.
It really did start here in Concord.
- The first time I met Tyson I felt like
"I am sitting in a room with Emerson."
It was freaky.
You can see the Emerson family the Emerson traits
the stature, right there in this man.
- There is a strong Emerson Family resemblance.
You can see it in all the generations and
in some individuals, it pops up even more.
You grow out the chops, you part the hair
you throw on the top and tails
and it certainly it draws out that resemblance.
(soft ethereal choral music)
Doing it on the property of the Old Manse, it feels like
the gap between, in history, in generations is just
(whooshes) totally taken away and that there's just this
direct flow of information and energy from
five, six, seven generations back right into the present.
The house that was build for my
great great great great great grandfather, William Emerson
where Nature was written, Mosses From An Old Manse,
Nathaniel Hawthorn's was written.
This incredible history of the Transcendentalists
was flourishing at the old Manse.
So, to walk on that property, to feel
the energy of the place: this is a
A number of times I was just brought to tears
just sort of feeling the resonance of
the generations of my family of Transcendentalism
of Environmentalism that had come from that area.
- Now is a time when we are more estranged from
nature than ever.
- I came here seeking solitude and then
the steam engine moves next door!
- [Emerson] (laughs) Progress.
- Progress, no!
No, it is profit, profit and greed.
- And essentially, they were talking in different ways
about sustainability and I think their big conflict happened
ideologically in thinking is between the intellect
and the heart.
- Henry, while I regret they have routed the tracks
through your backyard, there are numerous advantages
to the railroad.
- [Henry] At what cost?
- [David] Well, that depends on how we lay the track.
- [Henry] And are you so certain that we should
be laying track at all?
- Emerson thought progress was a part of nature
and Thoreau thought that progress, at least the way
he saw progress, was against nature.
And those two ideas really drove them apart
and disrupted their relationship for many years.
- The world will not go back to the old ways, Henry,
but progress into an unknown future of which
I hope to shape.
Your voice will not be heard from the shores of Walden.
- [Henry] It is not I that wishes to be heard
but the shores of Walden!
I want to hear the shores of Walden!
- The world needs you.
It doesn't need me, it needs less of all of us.
- Selfish! - Simplify, simplify!
(steam engine chugging)
- I speak, of course, of the volcanic repeating rifle
where a single man can do the work of a hundred!
- You'll see that the actors
are really intentionally engaging.
They are intentionally creating direct moments of
connection with audience, through the eyes
and by the end of the show, we hope that
the audience feels like a community.
Like a group of individuals in community that have
gone through an experience together.
(audience laughing and fiddle playing)
- Emerson being sort of more in this worldly
expansive universe, going through a lecture circuit
throughout Europe, throughout the United States,
Thoreau much more kind of, sort of a micro-focus
in the conquored ecosystem and that community
sort of one person focusing in on the atom
and the other person focusing on the Universe.
And then you have just the very human relationship
between the two of them.
The closeness that Thoreau shared with the Emerson family.
Living with the family over the years.
The very close relationship that he had with
their children, with Emerson's wife, Lidyan.
It was very surprising for us to delve in
deeper and deeper into the story and realized,
wow, this was a real intense coming-together
and a really intense breaking-apart.
(fiddle and drums playing)
- Have I been an influence on Henry Thoreau?
- Have I been influenced by Waldo Emerson?
- At one point he showed much potential, but
lately his verses are often rude and defective.
- Emerson is a critic, poet philosopher with talent
not so conspicuous, not so adequate for his task.
â™ª The companions, life faded and gone â™ª
â™ª No far-- â™ª
- At the end of the show, this wedge has now driven
itself in between Emerson and Thoreau.
â™ª No rosebud is nigh â™ª
- They are becoming sort of estranged
and they're now going back through this field
that was such a source of joy for them.
And they're now walking through it
in the sort of winter of their life
and of their friendship.
(bagpipes and drums playing)
- When Thoreau died, Emerson's continually reading
Thoreau's works again and again and again.
Reading his journals and learning more about
who this man was that he lost: this friend.
And when Emerson was in his late 70's, the name Thoreau
Emerson couldn't come up with anymore.
His mind was starting to go a little bit
and he had to call Lydian, his wife, into the next room
and say, "what was the name of my best friend?"
The thing he remembers in his heart, was that
that person was his best friend.
- The country knows not yet,
for in the least part
how great a son it has lost.
(pipes and drums playing)
- Everyone is different in their own way
but there is always that one thing that can
bring people together.
And in this play, it was nature.
- How do we work our way through this world
and appreciate what's around us while we have it?
- It was a chance to look to my right, look to my left
share a smile or even a word with one of my neighbors
whom I'd never met, but now I'm sure we are bonded for life.
It's not just a theatrical experience,
it's a spiritual experience.
- They were real people.
And to see them as real people just completely
transforms the way I think about them.
- This idea of interconnection, it's not just
Mother Nature, or environmental nature,
it's human nature and I feel like
we're all a part of the same nature.
- Thoreau said, "every child begins the world again"
and it was like seeing it through a child's eyes,
just those little moments, those little miracles
in the play, so I was taking in both the
the bigger, heavier thoughts and also
those little magical moments.
- To be able to also stand back and witness
the show and conversation with the space,
nature just is so profound and it is constantly
playing with us and singing to us and
speaking to us and sharing her beauty with us,
so to be able to witness that interchange
between our peace and its natural environment
is really one of the most profound experiences
I've ever had.
- Everything that changes in this world
always comes down to one human being.
Some one individual has to think the thought
that then resonates out so, we as individuals
have to make that change.
- What I hear them saying is, "do,
"do something, engage,
"build your own world."
â™ª Many generations will be touched by you â™ª
â™ª Thank you â™ª
â™ª Thank you â™ª
(simple folk music)
- [Narrator] Nature: Walking with Emerson and Thoreau
is a partnership co-production of Twin Cities PBS
and TigerLion Arts.
Celebrating spirit and nature through the arts.
Funding has been provided by:
With additional support from: