Activism Through Theater: BSU & Red Lake Nation College Give a Voice to Mother Earth

Badge: 2018-23 Strategic Plan: Priority 2In conjunction with the second annual “Arts of the Earth” Festival, Bemidji State University and Red Lake Nation College partnered to hold the inaugural “Voices of the Earth” Festival. The festival, held April 28 in BSU’s Black Box Theatre, featured readings of short plays written by national and local playwrights on topics ranging from sustainability to indigenous legends.

Nine short plays were presented during the festival, including four written by Red Lake Nation College students. Other pieces were chosen from a national pool of submissions and included plays associated with the Dramatist’s Lab in New York City, the New Play Exchange, Florida State University, the University of New Orleans and Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

Dr. Season Ellison, assistant professor of history at Bemidji State, produced the festival and served as one of three directors. She was joined by two professional directorial fellows who specialize in new play development: Dr. Emily Rollie, assistant professor of theater studies at Washington State University, and Dr. Joe Stollenwerk, assistant professor of theater at North Dakota State University. Guest playwright Vibrina Coronado, theater instructor at Methodist University in Pembroke, N.C., was also able to attend.

Ellison said she was surprised by the national attention the event received after sharing a call for plays on Facebook.

“Initially, I was expecting this project to be a fairly simple weekend event,” she said. “People submitted plays from across the country, alongside the Red Lake Nation College plays. It became clear that the ‘Voices of the Earth’ theme spoke so vividly to people that they wanted to be a part of the project.”

The festival’s planning committee hired local freelance photographer and filmmaker Jon Heller to produce a documentary featuring rehearsal performances and interviews with readers and playwrights. Footage will be shared with theater professionals who could not attend the event.

Nine play readers performed at the festival, including BSU administrators and students. Readers rehearsed Saturday and Sunday for the final 4 p.m. Sunday performance, but were not required to memorize lines or stage blocking. Faculty and administrators participating in the readings included Dr. Jesse Grant, associate vice president of student life and success; Dr. Mark Fulton, professor of biology; and Shaun Duke, assistant professor of English. BSU students participating were Krysta Sanders, a graduate student in biology from Laporte, Minn., and Erich Feist, a liberal studies sophomore from New London, Minn.

“I am in awe, in the true sense of the word, of all the different people and organizations who came together to ensure the success of our first festival,” Ellison said. “I’m grateful that people across our communities have embraced new play development and are excited to participate in this important part of the theater process.”

The festival was supported by BSU’s Sustainability Office, College of Arts, Education and Humanities, College of Individual and Community Health, American Indian Resource Center and Office of Affirmative Action and Accreditation. Red Lake Nation College provided financial support for its students to participate, as well.

Play Program

  • “This is a River,” written by Isabelle Rogers and James P. Tyler, directed by Dr. Joe Stollenwerk, performed by Erich Feist, Shayna May and Krysta Sanders.
  • “Iceman: The Frozen Protector,” written by Tyrisah Smith, directed by Dr. Emily Rollie, performed by Shaun Duke, Dave Flota, Mark Fulton and Kay Sanders.
  • “Echolocation,” written by Rachel Carnes, directed by Dr. Joe Stollenwerk, performed by Krysta Sanders.
  • “Life of Sally,” written by Cassidy Defoe, directed by Dr. Joe Stollenwerk, performed by Dr. Jesse Grant, Dr. Wendy Grosskopf, Shayna May and Kay Sanders.
  • “Power,” written by Becky Retz, directed by Dr. Emily Rollie, performed by Dave Flota and Kay Sanders.
  • “Borders,” written by Coronado, directed by Dr. Season Ellison, performed by Erich Feist, Dave Flota, Dr. Mark Fulton, Dr. Emily Rollie and Krysta Sanders.
  • “The Child of the Evening Star,” written by Jessilyn Spears, directed by Dr. Season Ellison, performed by Erich Feist, Dr. Mark Fulton, Dr. Jesse Grant, Shayna May and Krysta Sanders.
  • “How the Old Man Above Created the World,” written by Justice May, directed by Dr. Emily Rollie, performed by Dr. Mark Fulton and Dr. Jesse Grant.
  • “Dead Zone,” written by Lindsay Adams, directed by Dr. Joe Stollenwerk, performed by Dave Flota and Dr. Emily Rollie.



MN State logoBemidji State University, located amid the lakes and forests of northern Minnesota, occupies a wooded campus along the shore of Lake Bemidji. Enrolling more than 5,100 students, Bemidji State offers more than 80 undergraduate majors and eight graduate degrees encompassing arts, sciences and select professional programs. BSU is a member of the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities and has a faculty and staff of more than 550. The university’s Shared Fundamental Values include environmental stewardship, civic engagement and international and multicultural understanding. For more, visit or find us at BemidjiState on most of your favorite social media networks.