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UMD Theatre presents "One River" 9/29–10/8

One River Publicity photo shoot by river
September 29, 2016

Dramatizing the journalism of the One River, Many Stories project, One River is an evocative exploration of place, examining what it means to live in the St. Louis River watershed.

​​One River Publicity
DNT article

One River

By Tom Isbell

Directed by Tom Isbell

Sept 29 - Oct 1 & Oct 4-8 @ 7:30pm | Oct 2 @ 2pm

Marshall Performing Arts Center - Dudley Experimental Theatre | General admission seating

Evocative. Whimsical. Poetic. Dramatizing the journalism of the One River, Many Stories project, One River is an evocative exploration of place, examining what it means to live in the St. Louis River watershed. Director Tom Isbell shared what he wants to convey with this work, "I want to demonstrate that theatre is another way to tell stories. I want to support the One River, Many Stories initiative and encourage overlap of disciplines and different modes of storytelling. In the play itself, through the exploration of the St. Louis River and what it means to so many, I hope we can also come to find out what it is that each of us values, and, namely that value of Place."

When I was in college and graduate school, I spent each summer in the middle of Illinois doing documentary theatre. We were led by a University of Illinois professor named John Ahart, and we performed sixty-two nights a summer in a sweltering outdoor theatre, battling heat and cicadas and thunderstorms . . . and it was the most meaningful experience of my young life.

The plays we did told the stories of Abraham Lincoln’s rise to the White House; of three Illinois poets (Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay) in search of another Lincoln; of America from World War I to landing on the moon; of the strained relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass; of the story behind Lincoln’s House Divided speech. The common denominator in all these plays – besides the fact that most revolved in some way around Abraham Lincoln –was that they were documentary in nature, and were stories that we felt needed to be told.

Those experiences were what led me to write Dear Finder back in 1997. That story, the Holocaust, is one that will always need to be told.

Last November I went to a meeting hosted by journalism professors John Hatcher and Jennifer Moore, where they laid out their vision for the One River, Many Stories project – to have as many storytellers from the region talk and write and report about one thing: the St. LouisRiver. I was smitten.

It’s easy to have blinders on in one’s discipline, especially in academia, and it has been our greatest joy getting out into the community and hearing stories we don’t normally hear. Talking to people we don’t normally get a chance to talk to. 

But here’s the thing. These stories that you’re going to see and hear tonight are but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the stories that could be told. That should be told. The impact of the St. Louis River on many people over many, many years is a far larger story than can be encapsulated in one evening of theatre.

But it’s a start. 

A final note of gratitude. Theatre is challenging enough when you have a script. But when a production team and cast begins work on a play when the play isn’t finished, well, that requires not only extra effort, but also extra commitment and trust. I am grateful beyond words to these designers and actors and the entire production team for jumping into this river, even though we didn’t know always know how swift the current or where it would eventually take us.

And thank you for joining us. Now it’s your turn, right? What are your stories? 

Tom Isbell

Our mission: The University of Minnesota Duluth integrates liberal education, research, creative activity, and public engagement and prepares students to thrive as lifelong learners and globally engaged citizens.

UMD offers 153 undergraduate majors and minors and more than 23 graduate degree programs.  Find UMD online:

DEPARTMENT OF THEATRE:  The UMD Department of Theatre prepares students for careers in theatre and related fields through academic, artistic and production opportunities; serves as a campus and community cultural center; and provides regional support for the performing arts.

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