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Reviewed by:
  • Performing Worlds into Being: Native American Women’s Theater
  • Tiffany Noell
Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, Kelli Lyon Johnson, and William A. Wortman. Performing Worlds into Being: Native American Women’s Theater. Oxford, OH: Miami University Press, 2009. 186 pp. Paper, $29.99.

Performing Worlds into Being comes out of the conference “Honoring Spiderwoman Theater/Celebrating Native American Theater,” convened by the Native American Women Playwrights Archive and Miami University (Ohio) in February 2007. All of the materials in the book and accompanying DVD were edited and updated for publication; included in the text were academic papers, plays, production histories, and photos. Although the title indicates that this book will look broadly at Native American Women’s Theater, Spiderwoman Theater and its legacy are the connecting threads throughout the book.

Founded in 1975, Spiderwoman Theater has a main core of three sisters, Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel, and Muriel Miguel (Kuna, Rappahannock), although other women have been a part of the group as interests aligned. Their recent Persistence of Memory—possibly the group’s last play, given its themes—was produced at the conference and has been subsequently recorded in this book, and scene snippets are included on the DVD (along with production photos from other plays at the conference). This play largely was a retrospective of past works and included video of previous contributors to the collective. Spiderwoman Theater’s legacy is represented in the book directly through two of its daughters, playwrights Monique Mojica and Murielle Borst (Kuna, Rappahannock), and indirectly through other Native American women playwrights and community theaters that have been influenced by their work.

Performing Worlds into Being is broken up into four sections. The first, “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” includes three very different essays. It begins with [End Page 269] a presentation by Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles, who discuss dialogically and performatively the power and potential in (re-)creating Native stories on-stage. Jill Carter (Anishinaabe) analyzes Monica Mojica’s play Princess Pocahontas and yhe Blue Spots, focusing Native understandings of the historical (versus fictional) person of Pocahontas by using what she terms a “red reading” of the play. This section concludes with an ethnographic interview of a mother and daughter who continue to dance Quileute traditional dances; the interviewer is Vessela Warner, the daughter’s stepmother. While this interview is significant for examining different generations’ views on the dance traditions, it is awkwardly placed within this section, as it is positioned in between four essays that focus to some degree on Spiderwoman Theater.

The second section, “Honoring Spiderwoman Theater,” examines the collaborative process of “storyweaving” for which Spiderwoman Theater is known. Evoking the quilt that served as a backdrop to so many of their productions, Persistence of Memory is presented as a patchwork of performances and relationships with family members, ancestors, and friends that have made up the lifetime of the group. The small scenes presented on the DVD help the reader to more fully imagine some of these past performances in connection to Persistence. The three sisters have a chance to explain their process and the development of the group in an extended interview with Ann Haugo (“Persistent Memories”). Two poems, written by Marie Annharte Baker (Saulteaux Ojibway) and Marcie Rendon (White Earth Anishinabe), have been included to demonstrate the artistic legacy of Spiderwoman Theater. Additionally, Murielle Borst speaks to the importance of collaboration and storyweaving in her own works that were influenced by Spiderwoman Theater.

“Voices,” the third section, focuses on five current women playwrights. The plays and playwrights include Weaving the Rain by Dianne Yeahquo Reyner (Kiowa), Friends by Marcie Rendon, Cannibal Woman Camp Out by Marie Annharte Baker, and Pushing the Bear by Diane Glancy (Cherokee). These four plays demonstrate the diversity of Native American playwriting, covering many themes, time periods, and theatrical styles. Also in this section Monica Mojica explores and analyzes her dramaturgical process of the creation of her plays in Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way. Although Spiderwoman Theater’s legacy is not specifically discussed in this section, I felt its echoes through each of the plays and especially in Monique Mojica’s essay.

The final section, “Collaboration and Community,” focuses on the importance of the...


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pp. 269-271
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