Indigenous Culture and Contemporary Performance
On Sunday, May 30th, a roundtable discussion on “Indigenous Culture and Contemporary Performance” will immediately follow the 2:30 performance of Spiderwoman Theater’s “Red Mother.” Louis Mofsie, Director of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers will moderate. Participants include Diane Fraher of AMERINDA, Danielle Soames of Mixed Phoenix Theater, and Lisa Mayo and Gloria Miguel, founding members of Spiderwoman Theater. These artists from the New York City Indigenous Theatre Community will discuss the challenges of maintaining visibility and asserting self-determination in the creation and representation of their work and their culture within the larger performing arts community.
Red Mother is a one-woman show written and performed by the acclaimed Muriel Miguel, co-founder of Spiderwoman Theater. It is the story of Belle who, with her horse and companion, Blue Fred, travels across what was once Indigenous land. Based on Brecht’s Mother Courage, it weaves traditional dance with humor and satire, Brechtian themes with Kuna demon and ghost stories, exploring legacy and memory through the eyes of an old Indigenous woman.
Using multimedia projections, music, and a staging that utilizes elaborate fabric hangings, the 60-minute piece is full of earthy humor, yet stinging pathos. Red Mother explodes the fiction of Indigenous women as virtuous, noble, “earth mothers,” a stereotype that has been perpetuated both by the dominant culture and the Native population for centuries. Belle, the Red Mother, is a fiery incarnation of Native women who sabotage that patronizing image. She speaks for and to the failed mothers, the prostitutes, and the addicts: women living on the fringe whose very existence contradict the myth of the Native “earth mother.”
The piece draws on the “storyweaving” techniques of the legendary Spiderwoman Theater, a radical feminist collective of Native and non-Native American female performers whose work has bridged the traditional cultural art forms of storytelling, dance, and music and the practice of contemporary Western theater since the 1970s. (“Storyweaving” blends poetry, personal memory, and Native legend.)
Muriel Miguel worked with the Open Theatre and Joseph Chaikin during the 1960s. She pioneered the teaching of Indigenous Performance through “storyweaving” and through the use of the Laban method at The Banff Centre and The Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto. She has been awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Miami University Ohio and profiled in American Women Directors of the 20th Century. She was chosen as the first Lipinsky resident (Feminist-in-Residence) at San Diego State University’s Women’s Studies Department. Along with her sisters Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo, who have formed the core of Spiderwoman Theater since the 1980s, Muriel is receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 from the prestigious Women’s Caucus for Art.
Muriel began to develop Red Mother in 2003, working with members of the Playwrights Workshop Montreal, and continued to develop it at the American Indian Community House and urban ink productions/fathom lab’s New Works division. In November, 2007, Red Mother was presented as a workshop production by Indigenous Performance Initiatives and Two Spirit Productions at Nozhem First Peoples Performance Space at Trent University in Ontario. It was presented by the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., as part of their Native Expressions Series in 2008. Featuring greatly expanded lighting, costume, and music design, this will be its New York premiere.
Spiderwoman Theater was founded in 1976, when Muriel Miguel gathered together a diverse company of women of varying ages, races, sexual orientation, and world view. This group included her two sisters, (Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo). The group broke new ground in their use of storytelling and “storyweaving” as the basis for the creation of their theatrical pieces. Spiderwoman Theater Workshop’s mission is to provide exceptional theatre performance, training and education in an effort to address cultural, social, and political issues in the Native American and women’s communities. They seek to entertain and challenge audiences and bring communities of people together to examine the causes and effects of a variety of issues.
Red Mother has been developed with the assistance of Loose Change Productions.
Loose Change Productions, founded in 2009, is dedicated to the promotion of transnational, cross-cultural theatre and performance exploring new creative, moral, ethical, and political territories. Loose Change develops works within the company itself and also co-produces in collaboration with outside artists. Their interest is in work that builds innovative structures; they seek stories told theatrically which entertain but still retain the ability to spur social awareness and empathy between cultures.
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