A Project or a Movement?

By     Dec 6, 2014
Creative Community Fellow

Madeline Sayet

When I went into my feedback session at the end of our time at the impact house and they asked me - What would be your champagne moment? How would you know you had succeeded?

My answer was - when redface is illegal.

I already knew then that this would never be as simple as a single project. This is a movement. And it must be maintained.

Right after the Impact House - We did a week long workshop of Native Shakes, which ended in a performance and this interview with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.


They titled the interview - This Is For Us

Until I went back and listened to what I had said, I didn't have a clue what that meant. I'm always interested when I can't remember what I said - what the words that stuck most with the listener were . . .

This Is For Us

was a reaction to the many Native folks who had been told that it was not. That they couldn't do Shakespeare.

I was never a good public speaker, but I have found myself in many situations lately where I have to speak out. I was misquoted recently by American Theatre, and again - I wondered what about this was it that stuck with them . . .luckily it was taped so I went back and watched myself speak - at  2:00:46


And then, I realized how many people's perspectives I shift each time I do speak out. People have been picking up on my emotions. And what makes it difficult for me to speak in public, my sensitivity, is the very reason I need to keep doing it.

There is so much happening in Native Theater this year that Native Shakes feels like such a small piece of the puzzle and that my CCF project should be something more.  Native Shakes is really a multi-year theatre initiative at Amerinda Inc., not the kind of project I can quickly activate in the way I want to. I want to get out in the world and mobilize change, but CCF  has taught me not to rush.

After my new play deconstructing the narrative of women in myth opens next week, I will gather the Native Shakespeare Ensemble together again, and ask them if this is really what they want and why. If it is - we will move forward, and if not - I will move on to a different project, without regretting a single step along the way.

I am proud of all the work I get to do. We are creating a movement and sometimes figuring out what the project the community needs most is, is the trickiest part.

While I work on so many plays at once, deconstructing the narrative for unheard voices on a multitude of platforms, a new way of thinking came to me.

Story Medicine.

Let me explain.

When we were young, it was our grandmother who gathered us around to tell us of many things; of how the world began, of where we came from; why we must respect all living things; of the wonders of the universe. . . The hypnotic quality of grandmother’s carefully selected words healed us. Cured us, strengthened and enriched our lives – which we committed to pass on.” - Trudie Ray Lamb (Schagticoke Elder)

There is a certain spiritual warfare at play when a human being stands in front of us and begins to paint a new world or share something deeply personal from their own. The air around us shifts. Power is exchanged. Equally palpable is the violence of acts of ridicule or removal from the narrative. For example, the experience of Native Americans who witnessed Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on stage is continuously described as painful or scarring.

As children, we crave bedtime stories to keep the night terrors away. Story is and has always traditionally been used as medicine. From the tales passed down from grandmas and aunties to the modern need to binge on Netflix.

Social change through story is not limited to urban political theatre. We never forget the small moments when we feel a story has included us, essentialized us, or left us out. Those triggers are part of a larger battle between forces that heal us or tear us apart as human beings.

Do stories change us? Alter our physical and mental state of being? Make us better or worse? A large part of traditional indigenous woodlands medicine is story. How do we frame things in a way that heals? In one of the plays I direct,  Sliver of a Full Moon by Cherokee playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, survivors of abuse tell their own stories as offerings of true medicine within this constructed play about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It is arguably one of the most tragic and relevant issues encountered in performance, yet everyone leaves the theatre feeling optimistic and inspired. The act of testifying is a powerful restorative ceremony. It is good medicine.

So, what is this idea of Story Medicine? And how does it tie so deeply into the projects of so many of us CCFs. Whether its Scott's Saga Fest or Elise's Bricks this need to connect through story is deeply embedded in so much of our work, as it is in all of us.

Somewhere rooted in this idea, I think the project yet to be written lies.

And I think it has to do with a movement toward a more inclusive and understanding world.