2nd Annual WI Native American Playwright Festival

By Justin Eagle Gauthier playwright festival

On July 25th, 2017, the Oneida Nation Community Education Center (CEC), in partnership with the Wisconsin Arts Board, the National Endowment for the Arts, and College of Menominee Nation, presented the opening night of a four-day tour of the WI Native American Playwright Festival. The festival was staged with additional stops in the Menominee, Mohican, and Ho-Chunk communities.

The premiere performance took place at the Cultural Heritage Amphitheatre in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The production, directed by Ryan Winn, consisted of an anthology of three scenes from a collection of native playwrights. The first and third acts were scenes from a play entitled Protestors and Protectors, written by College of Menominee Nation’s playwriting class: Matthew Cornelius, Jamie Funmaker, Destiny Ortiz-Nicholas, and JayCee Toutillott. The middle scene, entitled Bedroom Scene, was written by Dawn Walshinski. This mix of two works into a classical three-act structure worked well. The production value of each scene was helped greatly by the stage construction efforts led by Larry P. Madden.

The individual works formed a cohesive view into the contemporary lives of Native Americans in Wisconsin. The current issues of opposition to the Back 40 Mine proposal and the protection of sacred mound formations throughout the state serve as the backbone of Protestors and Protectors. The interplay between characters from both the Menominee and Ho-Chunk Nations was an interesting conceit and provided both tension and levity throughout the play.

Setting up the stage for Bedroom Scene required a short intermission between scenes—Richie Plass and Brian Doxtator acted as emcees during the scene breaks, entertaining the audience and providing context to the on-stage action. The scene took place inside of a hotel room and was well acted. The dialogue between the main characters was witty and had a naturalistic quality. All opening night jitters melted away when the actors surrendered to the words written on the page and any stumbles or flubbed lines were nearly imperceptible.

The Cultural Heritage Amphitheatre was an ideal setting for the night. Sound designer Nathaniel Madsen of Wolf River Media, LLC. had to battle some interference from occasional overhead air traffic. I sat in the fifth row and as long as the actors projected their voices, I had no problem hearing. The performances were good to great and the cast did a fine job of balancing the gravity of the subject matter with the inherent humor that interlaces throughout Indigenous life. Lloyd Frieson and Doris Menore had the majority of the dialogue and the rest of the troupe did a great job of supporting them and provided some notable performances.

The 2nd annual WI Native American Playwright Festival represents an ambitious and worthwhile leap forward for the local art scene. This reviewer looks forward to the ensuing years of the festival and the talent that will emerge from it.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier has been featured in several literary journals. He is currently enrolled in the LoRez MFA program in creative writing studying screenwriting at the Institute of American Indian Arts.