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'Wilderness Plots'

Stage show uses storytelling,
music to tell Ohio Valley history

New cultural group
helped bring show to Madison

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(June 2009) – The struggle of the early pioneers in this country to tame the wilderness has held a fascinating appeal for many modern-day people. The trials, tragedies and triumphs of those brave men and women continue to fascinate and engage peoples’ imaginations.

Scott Russell Sanders

Photo provided

Scott Russell Sanders authored the book “Wilderness Plots,”
the inspiration behind
the musical stage show
of the same name.

In 1983, Indiana University English professor Scott Russell Sanders, fascinated with the history of the settlements, wrote “Wilderness Plots,” a compilation of 50 short tales that narrate the history of early American pioneers. The book centers on the folks who settled the Ohio River Valley from the American Revolution to the American Civil War.
That book became the inspiration for a new stage production, “Wilderness Plots,’ which will come to Madison, Ind.’s Ohio Theater, 105 E. Main St., at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 19. The show is a two-act live performance of stories and songs based upon the anecdotal stories recounted in Sanders’ book.
Actor, singer and songwriter Tim Grimm was browsing through a bookstore one day when he picked up a copy of “Wilderness Plots.” He found he could barely put it down. “I found it very intriguing, and I stood there and read several of the stories before getting a copy.”
Grimm, a member of a song-writing group from Bloomington, Ind., took the book to a meeting. “We offer challenges to each other for songwriting, and I thought the book would be a wonderful inspiration for everyone. As it turned out, it was.”
Over the course of several meetings, the five songwriters in the group, Grimms, Krista Detor, Carrie Newcomer, Tom Roznowski and Michael White, composed 19 songs about the short stories in the book, and then later recorded a CD of them.
The songs and the short stories they were written from form the basis of the stage production, which in the three years since its creation has traveled the region and been seen by a wide variety of audiences. Sanders has also been included in the performance. He reads excerpts from the tales and the five singer-songwriters perform their accompanying music.
“I loved their music for a long time prior to the production,” he said during a telephone interview. “I thought it was fabulous that they wanted to do this, and when they asked me to join the stage show, it sounded like fun.”
Sanders said he was actually doing background research for another of his books, “Bad Man Ballad,” and kept coming across anecdotes of people who had lived in northern Ohio, where the book is set.
“I wrote a very brief history for some of those people because I thought I might go back and do something different later,” he said. Instead, he decided to leave the 50 short stories as they were. “I call ‘Wilderness Plots” a wonderful accident that occurred,” he said.
Sanders is the author of more than 20 books, including one recently published entitled “A Conservationist’s Manifesto,” published by Indiana University Press. The essays in the book discuss the need to shift from a culture of consumption to a culture of preservation.
In addition to the stage show, Sanders will be doing a reading and a book signing at the Village Lights Bookstore, 110 E. Main St. from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on June 19.
The stage production is sponsored by The Rivers Institute of Hanover College. “We thought it was a great fit for us,” said Marissa Austin of the Institute. “We like to use an interdisciplinary approach to art, history and economics. This is a great artistic fit for us.”
The show was brought to their attention by singer-songwriter Greg Zeisemer and Kevin Watkins, a veterinarian and community advocate. They have formed the Madison Cultural Continuum in an effort to bring more cultural events to the area. All proceeds from the production will be used by the new organization to bring other productions to the community.
“I saw ‘Wilderness Plots’ in its infancy and was simply blown away by it,” said Zeisemer, who also owns Antiquity Furniture Restoration. “I loved it and knew we needed to get it here to Madison.”
Austin said Rivers Institute is excited about the new cultural organization and hopes “Wilderness Plots” is just the beginning of the future events that will come to the community. “It is going to be a great event,” she said.

• Tickets are available at the Ohio Theater, Village Lights Bookstore, and the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Advance sale tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youths under 18 or students with a college ID. Tickets at the door will be $18 and $12 on the day of the show. For more information, call Rivers Institute at (812) 866-7290. Author Scott Russell Sanders’ books are available at Village Lights Bookstore, 110 E. Main St. (812) 265-1800.

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