Anarchy abounds in ‘EF! The Musical’

The student-performed musical took shape through collaborations between students and playwrights interested in environmentalism.

EF! The Musical cast members Katie Korpi (left), Ian Meyer and Rachel Chevremont act out a scene during their dress rehearsal in the Nolte Experimental Theatre in the Rarig Center on West Bank Monday evening.

Liam James Doyle

“EF! The Musical” cast members Katie Korpi (left), Ian Meyer and Rachel Chevremont act out a scene during their dress rehearsal in the Nolte Experimental Theatre in the Rarig Center on West Bank Monday evening.

Jared Hemming

The cast of “EF! The Musical” read the show’s script for the first time last Tuesday.

And one week later, the experimental musical about the anarchic environmental group, Earth First!, is ready to premiere at the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Center.

The show’s director Maren Ward said she wanted to produce a work about Earth First! — a rebellious political organization dedicated to environmental policy — long before the production began.

Though the idea gestated for years in Ward’s mind, she and producer Donna Oblongata only recently invited University students to collaborate, said theater arts freshman Shelby Stahl, who’s a performer in the show.

“We started off with no text at all — [Ward] just brought music,” Stahl said.

Stahl created the character she plays — a child named Rory whose parents are in the Earth First! Organization — while participating in a free-writing exercise that Ward leads with the show’s other actors.

“We’ve taken an approach that’s built around the students’ input and ideas,” Ward said. “Rather than coming in and saying, ‘We have a script’ and having actors play the roles, we come in with this concept and everybody gets to help make what it is.”

Ward said the performers sifted through activists’ old journals and other records to familiarize themselves with the Earth First! movement.

Without a script, the creators fleshed out their characters by improvising scenes around the show’s campfire-style setting. Similar to her work with the Bedlam Theatre, Ward said “EF! The Musical” lacks a specific story structure.

“We’re considering the entire history and nuances of a movement that’s been underway for decades, and that’s a huge topic to have this idea of creating a musical [on],” Ward said.

Cast member Phil Bolinder, a retiree and part-time theatre arts student, said the cast’s method of collaboration increased his understanding of the environmental movement.

“I had a caricature in my head of hippies, you know, crazy people,” Bolinder said about Earth First! activists. “I have a whole new respect for their radical philosophy and approach.”

The production shares the movement’s far-out attitude. Between the show’s real campfire smoke, choreographed zip lining and obscure folk music, there’s little room for conventional storytelling.

“For someone who has no background with Earth First!, it will be like being at a big gathering and listening in,” Ward said. “You’re not going to get a lot of explanation.”

But cast member and sociology freshman Jacob Dworak said the show hopes to engage spectators rather than confuse them.

“For the audience, we’re really trying to make them get more involved and have them feel like they’re at the campfire and enjoying this conversation,” Dworak said.

With the show’s element of improvisation, its evolving nature retains the Earth First! movement’s spark of spontaneity, Ward said.

“It doesn’t follow any kind of conventional plot or any structure that you’d be familiar with from theater,” Ward said. “At this moment … I still don’t know exactly what’s going to be on the stage.”



What: EF! The Musical

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Nolte Xperimental Theatre, Rarig Center, 330 S. 21st Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: Free