Mixed Blood theater spotlights Iron Range culture

Sometimes I hear folks here say they don’t have a culture. Other people have cultures — people on TV, people from someplace else. But us? We’re just … regular. 

Iron Range history demonstrates that a collision of many cultures produced a local culture so unique we share a distinct dialect studied by linguists. Outsiders talk about this place like it was a boozy mining colony in a science fiction novel. 

The best part? It pretty much is. The Iron Range is many things, but regular is not one of them.

This lack of self-awareness, however, is part of our culture. Immigrants from 43 nations converged here more than a century ago, joining American settlers and native peoples. When this happened, political pressure and economic peril threatened ruination to those who didn’t join the collective. With this came good things and bad. 

Sticking together through good times and bad? Yes. A sometimes repressive society that likes to hammer any pegs that stick out? Also yes. The Iron Range paints a collage of contradictions. Patriotic and subversive at the same time, we demand that people pay attention to us, but also leave us alone. Tough as nails, we remain deeply sensitive to criticism. 

All of this came from a real human experience, shared by generations, right here in the woods and mine pits of northern Minnesota. Our story wraps around the central narrative of America, the triumphs and pain stewed together in the same melting pot.

Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis is one of Minnesota’s most prolific dramatic organizations centered around exploring culture. Most Iron Rangers experience Mixed Blood in the form of touring plays often performed at high schools. I remember their production about Jackie Robinson from my school days almost three decades ago. For Iron Rangers, the organization has provided perspectives on other cultures. But this summer, Mixed Blood will present Iron Range culture in vivid detail. 

Playwright Alison Carey was commissioned to write a play about the Iron Range after conducting interviews with locals. Those interviews generated ideas for the story. Mark Valdez will direct her work, titled “Full Range,” for a June 20-30 run in theaters across the region.

“The goal is to frame the work and imagination around what is possible in the area in which the play takes place,” said Ansa Akyea, a producer in residence for Mixed Blood Theater. “Full Range is all about the Iron Range, its people, dreams, and desires for the future.”

To that end, Mixed Blood is looking for Iron Range actors and crew members to perform the production. 

“‘Full Range’ is a story for everyone who lives in and around the Iron Range and no one could tell it better than the people who are there,” said Akyea. “No one from the outside can really tell you what you need or want for your own community. 

“Also the value of bringing community together collaborating with Mixed Blood Theater to lift up, celebrate, and engage is how we can bridge gaps and build new bridges of collaboration and learn from each other,” added Akyea.

The auditions for “Full Range” will take place over four days in different towns. Actors will do a cold reading from a provided script.

The first audition will take place Thursday, April 25 from 3-7 p.m. at Lost Forty Studios at 316 West Lake Street in Chisholm. 

On Friday, April 26, auditions will happen from 3-5:30 p.m. at Rock Ridge High School at 1403 Progress Parkway in Virginia. 

On Saturday, April 27, auditions will be from noon to 3 p.m. at the Lyric Arts Center, 510 Chestnut Street in Virginia. 

Then, on Sunday, April 28, auditions return to Lost Forty Studios in Chisholm from noon to 6 p.m.

If you have questions about the auditions, contact Alejandro Tey of Mixed Blood Theater at tey@mixedblood.com.

The Iron Range theater community is more than capable of answering this call. Just in the past few months, I’ve seen outstanding performances of “Always … Patsy Cline” by Mesabi Musical Theater in Mountain Iron and “Fiddler on the Roof” by the Northern Lakes Arts Association in Ely.

In fact, the rich history of the arts in our region is another outcropping of Range culture. Musical and performance traditions from around the world combined over the decades to elevate talent from working class towns like ours.

So yes, the Range has a culture and worth celebrating. Combining local voices with a professional theater organization like Mixed Blood provides a real opportunity for our story to reach a bigger audience and new generations.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, April 20, 2024 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. joe musich says

    Wow. I played Dungeons and Dragons in that theater. It was the first twin cities theather to institute pay as you go. No surprise they would be doing this. I have no idea what the script is or will be. It would be interestiing to somehow see the preformance of Mesabi Red done that the History Theater done years ago interwoven in this coming or already existing story. The last time I was up there was for a humaities week long tour to educate teachers about the steel industry. One of our giudes was a now retired Macalaster professror who wanted us to think about the various Mesabi Iron Range towns as neighborhoods in a big city. Two of us in the group were from up there. Myself from Hibbing/Kitzville and another guy from Eveleth. Otherwise everyone was from around the world, Thanks for the news.

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