For more than a hundred years, people have debated whether the Kensington Runestone is real or fake. Now, a playwright with ties to the Kensington area is bringing all that history to life in a new musical.
"Runestone! The Rock Musical" will be performed this weekend for the first time during the Raw Stages New Works Festival at History Theatre in St. Paul.
The play's author, Mark Jensen, grew up in Kensington, not far from where the stone was found at the Olof Ohman farm, which is now Kensington Rune Stone Park.
"My grandfather knew Olof," he said.
Jensen, who started his career as a playwright, has also been a tech writer and computer game creative writer. He currently works as a multimedia instructional designer for Epicor Software in the Twin Cities, where he lives.
Over the years Jensen has written about 60 full-length and short plays, including an historical pageant that was performed in Hoffman for the town's 125th anniversary in 2016. He has also written a couple of books and received numerous awards for his plays, some of which have been performed across the country.
His newest play is all about the Runestone and the man who claimed to have found it in the roots of a tree in 1898.
"It's all about Olof Ohman and how he struggles with the accusations that he carved it," Jensen said.
Over the years, there has been no shortage of controversy revolving around the stone, which tells of a Viking expedition to the area in the year 1362. Many people believe the Runestone is real, while others insist it as a hoax. Experts on both sides have weighed in on the issue, and Jensen said that after many years of working on the play and researching the issue, he is not sure what to think.
"I'm intrigued by both sides," he said. "The show is really about how we interpret history."
Jensen has been working on the play for about 16 years, but it wasn't until just a few years ago while working with some other people that they decided it should be a musical. He describes the play as a rock musical, which includes history set to modern music styles such as rock, Viking metal and pop.
The performance this weekend at the History Theatre's Raw Stages New Works Festival will be the first step in the evolution of the play. Because it is meant mainly as a preliminary performance before possible future development, it will be fairly rough, he said, with no costumes, scripts in hand, and just a piano for accompaniment. A time for audience feedback will also be included at the end.
Jensen noted that he has been spending all of his free time this week either in rehearsals or in rewriting scenes for the play.
"We'll show what we have," he said, explaining that they might not be able to present the whole play. "This is professional play development."
If all goes well, he says the play could turn into a polished production at the History Theatre, which has already expressed interest in it.
"They've wanted to do a piece about the runestone for a long time," Jensen said.
The History Theatre specializes in both entertaining and educating people through creating and producing plays that explore Minnesota's past. The theater is located at 30 East 10th Street in downtown St. Paul.
Jensen would like to see the play eventually make it to the Alexandria area and be performed in one of our local theaters.
"I hope it gets up there at some point," he said.