Nature: Walking With Emerson & Thoreau


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.

AIRED: April 22, 2018 | 0:26:41

(flute music)

- Do you feel that?

- Yes, what is that?

- It's a feeling of.

(inhales and exhales)

(folk music)

- 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.

(baby crying)

- Henry David Thoreau (speaking in unison)

- Born July 12th, 1817,

- Concord, Massachusetts.

(baby crying)

- Everywhere we go, the show changes,

based on the location and the environment.

- Here we go,

(all sing)

- At every location we recruit volunteer singers

from the community, and this chorus becomes

integrated into our show.

(all sing)

- 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!

(folk music)

- There's a way to really engage

directly with the community.

(audience laughing)

- 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.

- Ow!

- 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

Emerson's legacy.

(flute music)

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

spiritual practice.

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.

(ducks quacking)

- 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

at Harvard.

(flute music)

- 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.



(woman singing)

(bell dings)

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

beyond ourselves,

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.

(flute music)

(water bubbling)

- 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.

(fiddle playing)

- [All Actors] Water?

Thank you!

(fiddle playing)

- Ah!

(fiddle string plucked)

(fiddle plays)

- 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.

(kids laughing)

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.

♪ have it this bleak world ♪

♪ Alone ♪

- We had Nora Long come into the piece,

who's an incredible vocalist in Minneapolis.

(woman singing)

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)

♪ Ho ♪

- 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

magical feeling.

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.

(man sings)

- 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.

- No!

It doesn't need me, it needs less of all of us.


- Selfish! - Simplify, simplify!

(steam engine chugging)

(bell clanging)

- 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.

♪ The companions, life faded and gone ♪

♪ No far-- ♪

- At the end of the show, this wedge has now driven

itself in between Emerson and Thoreau.

♪ No rosebud is nigh ♪

- 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.

(fiddle playing)

(man coughing)

(man gasping)

(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.

(choir singing)

- What I hear them saying is, "do,

"do something, engage,

"build your own world."

♪ Many generations will be touched by you ♪

♪ Thank you ♪

♪ Thank you ♪

(audience applauds)

(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: