Live theater, in an untamed setting

Live theater at the National  Wildlife REfuge
Michael Childe of Lakeville, right, portrays Rodney the Robin and Abby Wagner of St. Paul, left, portrays Tiffany the Juvenile Robin in the production of “After the Birds Taught Me to Fly.” The original play features a cast of approximately 50 and is set on the trails of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. (Sun Current staff photo by Mike Hanks)

If all the world’s a stage, it should only seem natural that the trails of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge will be turned over to an original production this weekend.

Written specifically for and about the refuge and Bloomington’s South Loop district, “After the Birds Taught Me to Fly” will combine live theater with a hike along a refuge trail. The play explores the history of the refuge, the history of the South Loop District and the lives and behaviors of more than 25 of the refuge’s feathered residents, as seen through the eyes and imagination of Dana, an 8-year-old birdwatcher.

Dana draws parallels between the birds she meets and the people who inhabit the refuge and South Loop District. An eagle, for example, is also representative of a park ranger, while migratory waterfowl are akin to the tourists who flock to Mall of America and businesspeople who travel to office buildings in the district, according to Ashley Hanson, the producer and director for PlaceBase Productions, the organization presenting the play.

The play features an original script written after meetings with community representatives and members earlier this year to discuss the stories and significance of the refuge and district surrounding it. It also features music and dancing while moving about the refuge trail system. A cast of about 50 portray the characters, human and otherwise.

The moving, outdoor setting for the play provides a distinct setting, but it poses challenges as well. The cast utilizes the hills of the river valley in its scenes, and the physical distance between the actors and the audience at points during the play might make it difficult to hear the interaction between the characters, especially with the occasional jet passing overhead. To combat that the cast pre-recorded the audio for the play. A speaker system along the trail will amplify the story to the audience as it gathers at points along the trail to watch the story unfold, Hanson explained.

Four performances are planned this weekend. The last of which will be performed inside the refuge visitor center in order to provide accessibility to those who would be unable to navigate the stairs and trails outside the refuge. If weather conditions prohibit outdoor performances during other scheduled presentations, those will be moved indoors as well, Hanson noted.

Performances are 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, June 6, and Sunday, June 7, at the visitor center, 3815 American Blvd E. Free tickets are available online at

The play is part of the Creative Placemaking in the South Loop series that began last year. Organized by the Bloomington Theatre and Art Center, the series has featured a variety of projects intended to demonstrate the power of artists, designers and other members of the creative community in transforming South Loop from a dispersed commercial area into a walkable urban neighborhood with a distinct identity and sense of connection among its stakeholders.

The play is also part of the Urban Birding Festival of the Twin Cities, taking place at several parks and refuges across the Twin Cities June 5-7.

The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge will present several programs, including morning bird walks, a family nature hike, bird banding demonstrations and a presentation about bird language. A list of birding festival events is available online at

Acting at the national wildlife refuge
Michelle Farrell of Minneapolis, left, portrays Dana, the 8-year-old girl whose viewpoint and imagination provide the story for “After the Birds Taught Me to Fly.” Alex Yang of St. Paul, right, portrays Crow, Dana’s guide during her journey along the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge trails. (Sun Current staff photo by Mike Hanks)