Ramsey Hill playwright Leah Cooper grew increasingly intrigued several years ago with the concept of loss and the kinds of ambiguous loss that go unnamed, ungrieved and unresolved. In her research she learned that storytelling and ritual can help people identify their losses and develop a new resilience. As the co-founder and co-artistic director of Wonderlust Productions, she has created an interactive performance that will offer participants a chance to grieve their ambiguous losses together.

Lost & Found
"Lost & Found" cast members (clockwise from left) Ernest Briggs, Shante’ Sojourn Zenith, Mahayana Lan­downe, Antonio Duke, Laurel Armstrong, Sophie Javna, Becky Dale, Adam Whisner and Masanari Kawahara rehearse their parts on Raspberry Island where they will be performing the interactive drama. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Cooper’s Lost & Found: Storytelling, Ritual & Remembrance will be staged by Wonderlust at 3 p.m. Fridays through Sundays from August 19 through September 4 on Raspberry Island in downtown Saint Paul.

“For a long time I had a hard time explaining what I meant by complex or unresolved loss,” Cooper said…. ” And then the pandemic happened.”

According to Cooper, Raspberry Island seemed like the ideal venue for Lost & Found. “An island is kind of a magical space,” she said, “especially an island in an urban setting in the middle of a fast-moving river. It feels like a liminal space that can connect us to larger things within ourselves and among ourselves collectively.

“For a long time I had a hard time explaining what I meant by complex or unresolved loss,” Cooper continued. “If you had it, you knew what I meant. If you didn’t, you didn’t. And then the pandemic happened. So now nearly everyone has experienced profound loss, even if it’s just a loss of certainty about what’s true and reliable. And they’ve had to endure it in isolation. After the last two years, it feels like everyone gets it now and everyone is looking for a more thoughtful way forward than pretending it all didn’t happen.”

Lost & Found
Actress Laurel Armstrong lifts her voice in rehearsal for Wonderlust Production’s new interactive drama "Lost & Found," playing weekends through September 4 on Raspberry Island. Photo by Brad Stauffer

A powerful tool for creating trust

Last year Cooper created an online storytelling and ritual experience about loss entitled Contact Tracing. After nine performances with 18 participants each, she was inspired to create Lost & Found.

In Lost & Found, four guides lead four groups of audience members around the island where they meet up with four theater artists sharing their personal losses through a ritual they have created. With that ritual as inspiration, each group will create its own ritual to perform.

 

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“What we have noticed in our work making and performing plays is that ritual is a really powerful tool for creating trust and shared vulnerability,” Cooper said. “When we embody ritual on stage, it creates a cathartic experience for the audience.”

Loss of a stillborn sibling

One of the four artists taking part in Lost & Found is Highland Park actor Masanari Kawahara. He will use storytelling, movement and song to share his experience of loss. “My story will be about my sister,” Kawahara said. “She was stillborn two years before I was born. The story will be about my connection to her.

“Most of us have had many losses,” Kawahara said. “The longer we live, the more we have. Sometimes we inherit cultural or family losses that happened before we were born. It can be a gift—both to our ancestors and our descendants—to try to find peace with those losses.”

Loss through international adoption

Kawahara took part in Contact Tracing. So did actor and singer Megan Kim, who will be serving as one of the guides in Lost & Found. “I’m an international adoptee,” Kim said, “so I have a lot of ambiguous loss in that area. What I’ve learned is that everyone has some sort of ambiguous loss, whether they know it or not. That to me is sad and also beautiful. The things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.”

“This production isn’t meant to be a funeral in any way,” Cooper said. “We won’t be mourning together; we’ll be considering loss and transformation together. There’s an aspect of that that is sad. But there’s also an aspect of that that is cathartic, celebrating the fact that we can do this together. At this stage in the pandemic, we want to celebrate that we can bring bodies together outdoors and feel a sense of collective unity.”

Tickets for Lost & Found are by donation ($20 is suggested), and only 80 tickets are available for each performance. For reservations, visit wlproductions.org or call 651-393-5104.

— Anne Murphy

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