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Two Harbors resident's play reflects on how music changed her life

Two Harbors resident and musician Rachel Nelson recently received a grant to work on her original play "The Urban Hermit." Nelson's play focuses on a period in her life as a street musician in the Twin Cities. Photo by Catherine Hannula

A Two Harbors resident is putting the finishing touches on turning a dream into reality.

The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council announced last week that Rachel Nelson will receive a $2,500 grant for her show "The Urban Hermit." Nelson said that her show is about her experiences after she faced and conquered alcohol addiction. The show will follow Nelson's life after she started street busking on the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis when she was in her mid-twenties. Street busking is playing music on the street with the musician's case open so that passerby may give money to the musician if they so wish.

"It's my first foray into personal story," said Nelson. "Which is a little scary for me." But "The Urban Hermit" is not the first show that Nelson has done with themes about addiction. Nelson said that this show completed the circle that started with her participation as a theatre musician in the show "JUNKIE!" which ran in Minneapolis in the 1980s. Nelson said that "JUNKIE!" asked audience members to wonder if addiction was a part of their life.

"The Urban Hermit" takes place after Nelson has seemingly quit all activities in her life and how she restarted her life through music. The show chronicles how she became interested in folk music and began playing in a band as a fiddler. One of the band members introduced her to street busking and Nelson began doing it every day. Nelson said while she had been socially awkward when she was younger, performing allowed her to "interact with people when I really didn't know how to do it."

Nelson said her street busking audiences were varied. "You can expect money from mothers who may even be on food stamps, but they'll send their kids with a couple of quarters. They will be kind and they will appreciate you," said Nelson. Nelson said tourists were also very supportive while "suits" -- men or women with high-paying jobs who were "bustling around" Nicollet Mall -- were not as likely to donate.

Nelson said there is another story she would fold into "The Urban Hermit" for students. "I'm hoping in this remount to get at least one version of it that I could take to junior highs and high schools," Nelson said. "Where there are tons of kids just like me who have no idea how to approach alcohol."

Nelson said that she had a lot of compassion for the person she used to be. "I'm just grateful I stuck it out to when things got better," she said.

Overall, Nelson said that she wanted audience members to understand the importance of connection. "In this show, it's really about connecting with people. One of the reasons for doing this "Urban Hermit" show is I see a lot of urban hermits when I'm in a city. Big cities are hard. You have to find a smaller community within a big city to really make friends. If people have trouble doing that, they are going to live isolated lives," said Nelson.

The grant will pay for a director, filming of a performance, script development, and rehearsal space. Nelson's show will run at the Duluth Playground June 21-23.