Author-playwright-poet Marcie Rendon is fearlessly articulate. With wry, sardonic wit she cuts to the bone, setting society’s record straight on Native America, determined to disabuse society of its notion that Indians are frozen in time, still running around in buckskins, riding horses bareback and jumping off the reservation.
“Believe it or not”, she quips, “some people consider Dances With Wolves current events.” That’s why she founded Raving Native Production.
Raving Nation Productions debuted at Minnesota Fringe Festival 1996, showcasing a rare public appearance by Rendon and giving exposure to, among other pens, Janice Command and Ardie Mendoza, in a well-received staged reading of short scripts by Native American playwrights. Encouraged, Rendon decided to keep Raving Native Productions alive, mounting one or two shows in a given season – enough to maintain a presence without spending RNP into a financial corner.
In between RNP productions, Rendon stays busy. She spends a lot of time teaching peer counseling to Native folk around the continent. A laundry list of credits includes the popular children’s books Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life and Farmer’s Market: Families Work Together, poems in countless collections (All Around Her, Native Women in the Arts, The Colour of Resistance, Women Between Two Worlds, Fireweed/A Feminist Quarterly), and the plays, “Rough-Face Girl” (The American Indian Repertory Theatre), “Song Catcher” (Great American History Theater) and “Bring the Children Home” (Child’s Play Theatre at Pillsbury House Theatre).
Most successful to date is her take-no-prisoners satire, “Free Frybread,” which rakes America’s criminal justice system and its attitude towards Indians over the coals. “Free Frybread” premiered at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theatre for the 1999 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Since then, it has been performed at so many venues, each time to rousing success, that Rendon can’t remember them all.
She’s come a long way since the mid-90s, as a student of mine at The Playwrights Center. Back then, her paramount concern was how to reach non-Native audiences without watering down a script’s cultural integrity. Now, she does it by second nature.
“I was a novice playwright in those days. I guess, I lacked a certain of confidence,” she reflects. “I’m not a novice any more.” Then and now, she’s quick to acknowledge poetry as her first strength. Her strong poetic voice is the reason why, when my in-progress CD is done, I’ve recruited Rendon to liner notes the lyrics.
When not pursuing her profession, she manages the lives of her grandchildren, which, she attests, “are Raving Native Productions all in and of themselves.”
Why did you start Raving Natives Productions?
It began as a loose-knit group of Native folks who were [and still] are interested in performing on stage. We are all writers and performers and not administrators which is why Raving Natives has continued as an ad hoc group that gets together when any of us decides to put together a piece for stage. By having an official name we garner name-recognition for our performances. People and organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul have now seen the name Raving Natives enough times that they have [an] idea of the type of work we do–humor, pieces that counteract stereotypes that we only exist in the past and have nothing relevant to offer today.
What moved you to write the poem “what’s an Indian woman to do when white girls act more Indian than the Indians do….” And where is it published?
Years ago, Spiderwoman Theater was doing a residency at the Playwright Center. I was lucky enough to attend. We spent the day workshopping a piece I was working on, and conversation drifted to the co-opting of native culture that is done by some folks in the mainstream. I went home and wrote the poem: “what’s an Indian woman to do….” So, it was divine inspiration from Spiderwoman Theater. They are the honored grandmothers of Native [theatre] in Indian country. It has been published a couple places, recently in “Sister Vision” edited by Heid Erdrich.
You contributed contribute “Ancient Migratory Journey” to the Loft Literary Center CD ¿Nation of Immigrants? How’d that come about?
[Curator] Bao Phi has always respected my work and he determined to include Native American poets on the CD even though the concept was about immigration. It was his way of giving voice to the original people of this continent.
Why did you write “Free Frybread”?
“Free Frybread” was written while I was a LIN awardee . My goal was to put Native theatre on the map here in the Twin Cities. I also had a goal to move us out of the feathers-and-beads category, beyond history into current day existence. So, a small group of us got together and created “Free Frybread.” Every Raving Natives production since then has been based loosely on the model developed back then. And we still aim for no beads, feathers or flutes in our productions.
Last year I had a disastrous experience with a theater company here in Minneapolis, who shall remain nameless. But that work and experience gave me the impetus to question. As Native people we have the lowest survival rates of any group here in the U.S. We have the highest health risks and highest incarceration rates of any group. Many reservation statistics continue to rival third world statistics. And yet, we do not immigrate out of this country. Why? Why do we not seek a better life elsewhere, like so many of the immigrants coming to the United States for “a better life?” Why don’t we leave?
So, to answer that question, I researched continents and found that Australia and South Africa are two countries that have small groups of Native Americans who have expatriated to those countries. So, I applied for, and received, a Jerome Travel grant to go to Australia to ask Native American expats why they left, with the idea to write a theatre piece.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.