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Gebhard performing in ‘Nature’ tour

Nathan Gebhard is pursuing an acting career in Minneapolis. He’s recently performed at Byrant Lake Bowl in “The Misanthrope” and “An Empty Box of People.”

The percussionist in the touring production of the highly acclaimed play “Nature” has Park Rapids roots.  Nathan Gebhard, a 2010 Park Rapids Area High School graduate, was active in both theater and speech.  In 2014, he graduated from Hamline University with a bachelor’s degree in theater and digital media arts.  He also took drum lessons.  Gebhard auditioned for – and landed – his role in “Nature” last spring.  His hometown was the second stop on the show’s Midwest tour.  Performances were held Wednesday at the Park Rapids Antique Tractor Club grounds. The final two performances were Friday at the Lake Itasca Pioneer Farmer grounds.

“I get to act, which I love, and do music, which is my hobby,” Gebhard said.  “Nature” is performed outdoors as a “walking play.” A professional ensemble of actors takes the audience on a journey through the natural environment as scenes unfold around them.  The set pieces are minimal – a few small tables, benches.  Nature’s beauty is the true stage.  Set in the 1840s, the story is grounded in the friendship between Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and their love of the natural world.  Bagpipes, ancient flutes, drums and rich choral arrangements are woven into the experience.  

The musical accents – a clattering drum set to represent the oncoming railroad, or the looping notes of the flute to mimic a bird’s cry – are key to the physical theater in this show.  Gebhard said he follows a “loose arrangement” as percussionist.  The musical score was a collaboration of composer Dick Hensold, violinist Norah Long, music director Jason Hansen, piper/flautist Andrew Forbes and Gebhard.  Following the original performances at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the show was hailed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as the “Best of 2014: Striking performances mark best in theater.”  This summer marks the launch of the nationwide tour by TigerLions Arts, the Minneapolis-based theatre company that wrote and produced “Nature.”  In fact, the actor who portrays Emerson is a direct descendant of the man.   “I feel like the coolest things for me are I get to perform with an awesome theater company and incredibly talented actors,” said Gebhard.  

Bringing the show’s message to audiences and reconnecting them with the outdoors is also a thrill.  “I grew up in Park Rapids in the Northwoods, so nature’s been a huge part of my life,” he said.  “Emerson and Thoreau’s Transcendental writing is great, influential stuff. It’s definitely a spiritual show – not in a conservative, religious way, but by communing with one’s own spirituality through nature.” Gebhard is the son of Jennifer Therkilsen-Gebhard and Duane Gebhard.  “My dad is a minister and the son of a minister,” said Gebhard. “Storytelling is a huge part of my family heritage and it’s what we do.”  In cooperation with universities, parks, arboretum and communities, the “Nature” tour continues through Alexandria (July 21-26), Grinnell College in Ames, Iowa (Sept. 10-13), St. John’s/St. Benedict’s Abbey (Sept. 18-20), Gustavus Adlphus College (Sept. 25-27) and Carleton College (Oct. 2-4).  Gebhard is also slated to play in the orchestra pit for “Bartleby,” an original musical adaptation, at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.