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Humans of MN comes to the Northland

CLIMB actors perform in the Region I Humans of Minnesota play. Contributed Photo1 / 3
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Director Anton Jones3 / 3

Sometime over the next two weeks, two actors from CLIMB Theatre are coming to the Northland to try to figure out just who we are. Not an easy task.

It's all part of a new project by CLIMB Theatre — a touring educational theater company based out of Inver Grove Heights, Minn. — called "Humans of Minnesota," being done in four different parts of the state. Cloquet, Esko, Duluth and Mt. Iron are the focus of the fourth region.

The process is simple. Two actors visit the area for two weeks, conduct and record interviews with people they meet and bring the recordings to the director. He or she then creates and writes a play based on the stories they collected here.

Simple, yes.

Easy, no.

Director Anton Jones said he had the mixed blessing of almost too much information. He ended up listening to interviews for the first region that went far beyond the anticipated half hour, with some of them lasting as long as an hour and a half.

"There was so much that could be used," he said. "People had stories to tell, how and why they came there, what they believe and don't believe, what they've experienced. Just give people a chance to share their stories. That's what the point of this is, to really be able to capture the humans of Minnesota. I think being humans in Minnesota is not about the town itself, it's about the humans that inhabit that town, that area, that region."

It's a departure from the norm for the theater group. CLIMB normally creates and performs plays "to inspire and propel mostly young people toward actions that benefit themselves, each other and the community" according to their website. They have performed plays about drugs and drug addiction, bullying, and more at schools in Carlton County, and usually meet with students afterward to answer questions or workshop on the issue.

This time CLIMB wanted to do something that would include adults and the general public and, at the same time, expand their podcast programming options. Thus, Humans of Minnesota was born.

CLIMB will be sending two actor/educators to the Cloquet area to interview individual community members and host several free workshops intended to gather community members and collect stories, identify possible interviewees, and build interest around the Humans of Minnesota project between April 10-22. These are open to the public and led by the actor/educators, who will later perform in the play that is developed through these workshops.

When CLIMB sends its duo of actor/interviewers to an area, they're not looking for history book facts and figures.

"We want the story of the individual rather than the history of Duluth, because I can find that online," Jones said. "But how they fit in here, what's their backstory in this town and region?"

While they're here, the actors will meet with people for prearranged interviews and just wander around and talk to random folks. The actors will likely spend about three days in each city.

Jones — who is producer of excellence in performance for CLIMB — was the director/playwright for the first region and is also doing the fourth. Buffy Sedlachek is working on the second and third region plays.

Both plays so far have been a narrative. It's a fictionalized world that's created, he said.

"The idea is to not only have a dramatic piece of theater, but also to integrate the photography that we've taken while we're up there and voice clips from the interviews," Jones explained. "So it's a multi-media piece. You have two actors, a projection screen that's showing images taken of the areas as well as clips from the interviews.

His first play became a film noir piece, where one character was an investigator and the other was a kid who had lost $100. The two went to each part of the region to find out what happened. He used interview clips to give background about each town.

"I also creatively reordered some [clips] to become dialogue," Jones said.

One theme that popped up in nearly all the region-one interviews was the desire to give back to the community. "Also coffee, and fires," he said.

The premise for the second play — still a work in progress — is two aliens that come down and try to figure out what it means to be human, so they're visiting all the different towns and trying to figure that out by talking to the people they find there.

CLIMB will also produce a series of podcast episodes about the stories they gather from the people here. Once the website goes live, Jones explained, the interviews will be posted on the website in podcast form. Also the performances themselves will be posted in their entirety and podcast, and all the photography and photos will be on the website as well.

Jones expects a preliminary performance of the play to be ready later in May, and a larger, more polished version later in the year.

Want to get involved in the CLIMB project? Call the Pine Journal at 218-879-1950 or email news@pinejournal with questions, your name and contact information and Humans project in the subject line before April 8.