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Area Voices: Bemidji playwright receives grant for original play

Jeremiah Liend standing in front of a screen wearing a suit and holding his finger up.
Jeremiah Liend
Playwright Jeremiah Liend performing in his production of "21st Century Play" in 2015.

Playwright Jeremiah Liend is a recipient of the Region 2 Arts Grant to produce his original play "Irresponsible Men, Irresponsible Women." He discusses how the play came to be and how he first became interested in theater.

BEMIDJI — Putting on a play can be difficult, especially an original play in a community of Bemidji’s size. Playwright Jeremiah Liend welcomes that challenge. It helps that he received a Region 2 Arts Grant to put on a production of his new play Irresponsible Men, Irresponsible Women.

The play was inspired by the Bemidji State University Drama Department’s productions of Responsible Men, Responsible Women, which used to be performed annually for first year students.

“I like to think of that project as having... a pie chart where 90% of it was the information that a college student should know and 10% is entertainment, and my vision for Irresponsible Men, Irresponsible Women was to invert that pie chart so that it's 90% entertainment and maybe we try to wedge some messaging in there somewhere,” Liend said.

A stage with four adult size puppets and four puppeteers dressed in black surrounded by stone walls.
Jeremiah Liend
Picture from a previous Jeremiah Liend production "Four Garys" in 2016.

He started working on the play in 2015 and completed his first draft in 2017. It’s taken a few years to get the grant money and the cast together to finally put on the production.

Usually, Liend directs the plays he writes, but this time he is handing the directing job to Vicki Stenerson. Liend’s summers get very busy, as he will be directing the first spring play at Bemidji High School and working at BSU. This time around Liend will take the role of playwright/producer.

“In general I think it’s kind of hard and it’s why I generally direct shows that I’ve written because it’s kind of like handing your baby over to somebody else and trusting that they’re going to be able to care for it and make it into the same, or have the same sort of vision that you do,” Liend said, adding he’s confident in Stenerson because she is familiar with his work.

Theater beginnings

Liend’s theater history begins in 1993. Participating in the BSU Upward Bound program, students were brought to the Paul Bunyan Playhouse to see a production of Foxfire. Liend’s interest was sparked enough to help with Bemidji Community Theater’s production of A Man for All Seasons, which led to auditioning and getting cast in Macbeth Did It the following year. Theater has been a part of his life ever since.

Liend made the creative leap into writing plays around 2003 while he was living in New York. At first, Liend had to focus more on producing traditional or established plays, mostly because it is difficult to get a new original show produced.

Liend returned to playwriting in full force when he was finishing his undergrad program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His capstone project was his piece called 21st Century Play. Since then, he has continued to write and produce his original works.


Liend wants to create a welcoming space for all for Irresponsible Men, Irresponsible Women. He plans to include open captioning for hard of hearing audience members where there will be a projection during the entire performance that shows the dialogue spoken by the performers.

Six people on stage with two standing and the rest sitting at a table.
Jeremiah Liend
Picture from a previous Jeremiah Liend production P.A.P.P.i.D. in 2017

Another goal is to provide integrated audio descriptive services for sight-impaired or blind audience members as part of the show. People will hear the stage directions for the piece read aloud by a narrator.

Liend says accessibility has always been on his radar. “This is the first time that I'm attempting it and I hope to be able to deploy it with other shows.”

Artists grants

Liend said he finds the Region 2 Arts Grants incredibly helpful for area artists. There’s risk involved in putting on an original play, even in the Twin Cities. The grants help original theater productions reach more people.

Without grants, covering costs for an original play production could be difficult. Sometimes artists end up funding the entire production themselves. “I know that I'll be able to pay people for their efforts, which is really meaningful for me and hopefully people will come see it and enjoy it.”

Knowing when it’s finished

Liend has been working on this project since 2015, sporadically returning to it when inspired. The question is, when does a creative know he is done?

“I think for me it takes being able to put it in my computer and almost let it get lost and then come back to it and see, does this piece still speak to me or is it just stuff that I've written down?” Liend continues, “When this piece still speaks to me, those are the things that I try to get up on stage.”

What’s next?

Now that Liend has the grant money, the next step is to secure a venue for the production. After that, he will have to set a rehearsal schedule that is different than most, due to the recording component. To have dialogue scrolling on the projection, all the performers must be recorded beforehand. Then they will be able to begin regular rehearsals.

Another thing that excited Liend about putting on Irresponsible Men, Irresponsible Women is that it has more adult content than usual. He believes it will expand his creative wings. He feels theater is an art form that asks people to test the borders. To not only entertain people but to challenge audience members as well.

“I don't ever want people to come to a show of mine and feel like they're sitting there just being spoon-fed a predictable show. I want them to be on the edge of their seats. I want them to not know what's coming next because that's part of the excitement.”

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Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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