There’s a New Native Theatre in Town
June 1, 2010
By Sheila Regan
New Native Theatre has had a busy five months since its inception in January. The theater company finished its third reading series in May, celebrating Native authors. NNT, which also produced a Native comedy jam in January and plans to produce its first full production next year, is gaining momentum using a unique theater model that seeks to nurture Native artists, connect to the community and “heal the wounds in the colonial narrative and in Native America’s personal stories through theatre,” according to its website.
Artistic Director Rhiana Yazzie said that most recent readings of "Custer Died for Your Sins," held at the Minneapolis American Indian Center’s outside amphitheater, attracted a diverse audience including those who heard about the event through the Minnesota Indian listserve, those who heard about it because they spend time at MAIC, and those who just were walking in the neighborhood and stopped by.
Originally scheduled to close on May 24, NNT extended the series to close on May 31 because of the positive response and in order to finish the book.
Yazzie said NNT plans to produce existing plays by Native authors and also commission plays by Native authors. They also hope to eventually become a venue where other Native companies can come and perform work.
In October, NNT conducted a reading of Sami author Harriet Nordlund’s work. The reading was accompanied by short pieces written by local Native authors centering on the subject of government boarding schools. The event was held at Mixed Blood Theatre and included a talk-back afterwards.
Then in November, NNT presented readings by playwrights Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibwe) and Rhiana Yazzie (Dine’). Yazzie said the readings have been informal presentations, using local actors to read the work.
NNT then presented a Comedy Jam in January with J.R. Redwater, Vaughn Eaglebear, Marc Yaffee and Jim Ruel. Yazzie said that NNT worked with the Minnehaha Comedy club to organize the event, which included a comedy workshop.
For May’s reading of "Custer Died for your Sins," Yazzie said Juanita Espinoza, who runs Two Rivers Gallery in MAIC, helped Yazzie plan for the event, and also had been encouraging when Yazzie decided to start a theater company a year and a half ago.
Yazzie said that she spent quite a bit of time at MAIC and in Espinoza’s gallery in April. She met with community members, and talked to people about the theater company and about the reading. “People started to get excited about the idea,” she said.
The next project for NNT, for which they received funding from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, will be a community-created piece premiering in December. The creation of the play will take six months of workshops with community members and professional actors. The process will use the Cornerstone Theater model, which aims to bring theater to people who have never experienced it, Yazzie said.
The play in December will be about dreams. Yazzie said that a few years ago, a friend of hers told her about a dream in which she was pushed out of her home. Yazzie said she thought it was weird because she had often had a similar dream. The play therefore will be “an investigation into what our Native community is dreaming,” Yazzie said. She hopes that holding workshops and connecting with the community will be a way “put another angle on our experience,” she said, “an angle that no one ever thinks about.”
Yazzie said that she doesn’t just want to do theater the same old way. “I don’t want to just have the same old nonprofit machine and paint it red,” she said. “That won’t work in our community. Our community has specific needs and experiences.” Therefore NNT’s artists will be more engaged in the community involve the community in our artwork, according to Yazzie.