When the taconite freighter, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, sank on Nov. 10, 1975, the news was a heavy blow to the Duluth-Superior community, the Midwest and the nation.
The Fitzgerald was the largest ship to ever sink in Lake Superior. A severe winter squall sent it reeling into the deep; all 29 crew members perished, their bodies never recovered.
The story of the Fitzgerald captured a nation. Divers searched for it, documentaries tried to tell the story, folk singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song about it and Great Lakes Brewing Company crafted a beer all in memory of that dark day on Nov. 10.
In 1987, two Minneapolis artists wrote a play with music to try and parse out the complexities of the Fitzgerald's tragic end. Titled "Ten November," the play has been taken on by the Merlin Players community theater troupe and premieres on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.
"It's one of those shows that really sticks with you after you've left the theater," said director for the production Eric Parrish.
Parrish is a theater professor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College currently on sabbatical. He said he first saw a production of "Ten November" at Minneapolis's Theater in the Round more than 10 years ago. He's wanted to direct the play ever since.
"'Ten November' tells the story in a dynamic, powerful way," Parrish said. "It tells the story of the sinking and the hearings afterward. There are no caricatures, no recreations. It does a good job of making the story accessible."
Described as a play set to music, "Ten November" is acted out by nine men playing all 29 crew members, as well as the lawyers and families that were a part of the Fitzgerald tragedy. In addition, three female singers − representing the Three Sisters of nautical legend, or a rogue wave − weave song throughout the production in a constant, haunting memorial of the tragedy.
Because of the small cast, Parrish said the group has become very close-knit.
"In a show where everyone plays multiple characters, the constant becomes yourself rather than the character you play. We've really become like a family," Parrish said.
Because the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is such a seminal historic event in Minnesota history, Parrish reached out to the Rice County Historical Society to program a sister feature to the play. On Sunday, Feb. 9, RCHS will host a pair of presenters who have studied the wreck and history of the Fitzgerald. Documentarian Rick Mixter will present his PBS film "The Edmund Fitzgerald Investigations," while amateur diver Jim Christian will share his experience exploring the Fitzgerald wreck.
"This partnership is a great opportunity to introduce people interested in history to the theater, and more theater-minded people to the history," said RCHS director Sue Garwood. "We're really excited to put this together."
"Ten November" premieres at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 and runs weekends through Feb. 22.