Unique theater piece coming to Swede Hollow Park

The cast of “Swede Hollow Ghost Sonata” rehearsed in the park Aug. 24. The unique theater piece will be presented in Swede Hollow Park starting Sept. 14 and will evoke concepts of immigration to serve as a starting point for community dialogue. (Marjorie Otto/Review)

Rather than sitting and watching the story unfold in one place, viewers will follow the production through Swede Hollow Park. (Marjorie Otto photos/Review)

The piece is based off a play written by Swedish playwright August Stridberg called “Ghost Sonata.”

On a recent Saturday morning a group of 20-or-so actors gathered at the edge of Swede Hollow Park for a rehearsal before singing, dancing and tossing old suitcases into Drewry Tunnel.

As they made their way through the tunnel, the movement of their bodies was reminiscent of the sway of a boat crossing the Atlantic, the jostle of a plane crossing the globe, or the confusion bodies may feel reaching solid ground in an unfamiliar land. 

The actors held onto to the walls of the tunnel as though they were looking for some kind of stability. 

It was all practice for an immersive theater piece coming to Swede Hollow Park in September, called “Swede Hollow Ghost Sonata.” 

The piece, presented by Sod House Theater and Black Label Movement, a contemporary dance group, is about immigration and the emotions, experiences and conversations around the topic. 

Its creators, Darcey Engen and Luverne Seifert from Sod House, and Carl Flink from Black Label Movement, said the piece isn’t about specific waves of immigrants or a specific history or person at Swede Hollow. 

Rather Flink said, it “evokes those concepts that each one of the waves experienced, that hope, that challenge of entering a new space.”

Said Seifert, “We’re trying to find the translation of these stories and we’re not trying to do a historic reproduction by any means.” He added the piece is looking at the space of Swede Hollow and what it means as a place of transition.

The creators said that there are common themes between all waves of immigrants.

“They built a community, and like any community there is light and dark, and safety and danger, and happiness and sadness and all the things humanity brings,” Engen said

Flink added it’s important to acknowledge that the park continues to serve as a transition place and home, and he hopes that the play will get viewers thinking about that as well.

“One thing to contemplate is that Swede Hollow is still used as a residence, and how do we process that?” Flink said, highlighting that those without homes use the park as a temporary place to live. “On a smaller scale, it’s still being used for transition. It’s important to recognize that.”


Using space to tell a story

“Swede Hollow Ghost Sonata” is based off a play by Swedish playwright August Strindberg called “Ghost Sonata.” Seifert said the work has many elements that remind him and his colleagues of the hollow — a fire that destroys a home and storytelling by ghosts. 

“It’s this idea of ghosts that travel around in the play, and ghosts that probably also live in this area, as well, that have lots of stories to tell,” Seifert said. 

Swede Hollow served as a starting place and home for a number of waves of immigrants as St. Paul developed, ending in the 1950s when the city determined the hollow to be an unsafe and unsanitary place to live, deciding to burn the remaining homes to the ground. 

Work on the theater piece began about two years ago, its creators said, at a time when they couldn’t have imagined that the topic of immigration would be the lighting rod political issue that it is now.

Engen said Sod House Theater often produces works for rural communities in greater Minnesota, but that when it was awarded a Knight Arts Grant for “Swede Hollow Ghost Sonata,” the creators sought unique locations in St. Paul. 

The theater group builds performances out of places.

“[Sod House] works to identify the stories that can come out of the land, out of the location,” Flink said,

The performance piece won’t follow the norms of theater — instead of sitting and watching the story unfold in one spot, viewers will travel through the park with the production. 

It will also be accompanied by community discussions meant to go in depth on the topics the piece is trying to evoke.

“We didn’t want the production to have to do all the heavy lifting” said Flink.

Shows will be taking place Saturdays and Sundays from Sept. 14 through Sept. 29. Each show starts at 6 p.m. and is free to attend. Community discussions will be held two hours before the shows on Sept. 15, 21 and 22, and after the show on Sept. 28. Specific times and details for each discussion, as well as tickets, can be found at www.sodhousetheater.org.

Viewers should meet near the Drewry Tunnel entrance of Swede Hollow Park, near Community of Peace Academy in the 400 block of Magnolia Avenue East. Visitors should wear sturdy shoes and comfortable clothes, as they will be walking through the park during the performance. For those with mobility concerns, golf carts will be available. Weather cancellations will be announced at www.sodhousetheater.org.


–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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