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Theater Project at College of Menominee Nation Wins Packers Foundation Arts and Culture Grant

 

College of Menominee Nation Professor Ryan Winn and CMN alumna Melinda Cook represented the Menominee Theater Project at recent Packers Foundation grant award ceremonies in the Lambeau Field atrium. Cook, the College’s Chief of Staff, has worked with the Menominee summer pageant revival project since it began in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Packers Foundation.

“Revival” takes on new meaning for the Menominee Theater Project thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation.

 

The award, announced in December ceremonies at the Lambeau Field atrium, will help keep impetus going on summer presentations that reprise traditional Menominee pageants that were staged on the Reservation from the 1935 through 1970. The new grant-funded emphasis will encourage not only pageants as retrospective experiences, but also a renewal of scriptwriting as proactive storytelling.

 

Professor Ryan Winn of the College of Menominee Nation has led the pageant revival effort since 2015 when tribal elders asked his assistance in bringing the summer performances back to Keshena’s Woodland Bowl.

 

With CMN students, staff and alumni, and community volunteers, the Menominee Theater Project has been locating scripts and documents from the original pageants. While building this new, permanent archive, they have re-scripted and restaged them in free, public shows in August of 2016, 2017 and 2018.

 

“Often descendants of the original cast and crew are now filling roles their ancestors originated, and the annual response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Winn says. “Each year we draw a larger crowd, and we’re seeing tribal communities from across the state busing groups to Keshena for the pageants.”

 

“We need to remember that Menominee Theatrical Pageants were not created to simply be time capsules preserving the past,” Winn adds, “but rather a way for the community to use art to celebrate the endurance of Menominee lifeways. Certainly the shows we have revived from the past are effective at reminding and educating the community about what once was. What we would like to see now is new shows that help revive the creative process of traditional storytelling through script writing for theater.”

 

Additional funds like the Packers Foundation grant will help make the revival of scriptwriting possible for the summer pageant series. But of equal importance, the Menominee Theater Project hopes the newly-funded effort will have long-term results and, as Winn says, “encourage the Menominee community to renew its tradition of storytelling via scripts for performance, and in this way revive a truly living art form.”

 

The August 2019 performance at Woodland Bowl may be based on a new script or one of the two surviving pageant scripts that have not yet been revived. Selection of the show will take place in May and auditions scheduled in June. Rehearsals continue through summer until the August performance.

 

Whether making its debut in 2019 or with the 2020 pageant, an entirely new pageant script will be the first of its kind from Menominee storytellers in over 50 years.