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Tiger Lion Arts' Nature takes theater outdoors

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What do you do if you’re the great great great grandson of Ralph Waldo Emerson? Make a play about your famous great great great grandfather, of course. That’s what TigerLion Arts' Tyson Forbes, a descendent of the famous transcendentalist, has done.

Nature is a walking play that he co-wrote with his wife, Markell Kiefer, and Sam Elmore, a friend from college. The piece debuted in 2010 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. This summer, they're taking it on a statewide tour, beginning this weekend at Fair Oaks Park, across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. 

Forbes was raised in Massachusetts, along with the whole Emerson clan. While his famous great great great grandfather's values were a part of his upbringing, he didn’t think much about the philosophy behind it as a youngster. “It went over my head,” he says of when he first was introduced to Emerson’s writings as a junior in high school.  

While growing up, Forbes would often stay with aunts and uncles on an island, located between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard, that acts as a kind of nature preserve. There he was taught the values of living “off the grid,” and an appreciation of nature.

Later, when he moved to Colorado, he further embraced his outdoorsy heritage. These days he lives in the Twin Cities, and tries to get out and into the woods several times a week.

Since college, Forbes has been obsessed with Emerson’s essays and poetry. With his friend Elmore, he wanted to create a kind of ritual in nature. They teamed up with Forbes’s wife to create a piece of theater.

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“It’s not like we are doing a play that happens to be outside,” says Forbes. Rather, the play is immersed in the outdoor setting, as the company works with the land, light, and wind to create the story. At each of the locations they’ll be performing at this summer, they have been working hard to evoke the same specificity that they found at the Arboretum. Eventually, they'd like to tour nationally. 

The play follows the relationship between Emerson and Thoreau, beginning with Thoreau's graduation from Harvard and Emerson taking him up as a protege, to the two men's falling out.

When working with the actors, Forbes says that they encourage the ensemble to acknowledge serendipitous happenings that the outdoor setting provides — a gust of wind or a flock of turkeys will suddenly become part of the show.

“Sometimes you can’t deny the wind is blowing 20 miles an hour,” he says.

IF YOU GO:

Nature for the Nation runs this weekend at Washburn Fair Oaks Park.

200 E. 24th St., Minneapolis

6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday

Tickets are $20; children under 12 are free