Two major names in Native arts and culture to emerge in the 1990s were Marcie Rendon—who founded Raving Native Productions to produce Native American theater—and Mark Anthony Rolo, who made his bones editing The Circle. So the upcoming readings at the Minneapolis American Indian Center showcasing both their names make for a significant event.
Two evenings of readings introduce Rolo’s collection What’s an Indian Woman to Do? And Other Plays (UCLA American Indian Studies), for which Rendon wrote the foreword. She also penned the poem “What’s an Indian Woman to Do When White Girls Act More Indian Than Indian Women Do,” which he adapted to the stage as What’s an Indian Woman to Do?
As a producer and collaborator, Marcie Rendon has raised the profile of many Native actors, directors, and writers. When Rolo moved from editor to playwriting, it was at Rendon’s shop, Raving Native Productions. She has gone on to success as, among other things, a contributor to A Seat at the Drum (PBS) and an academic at the University of Wisconsin. After a staged reading at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2005, What’s an Indian Woman to Do? went on to the Los Angeles Theater Center in 2007. Rendon’s Song Catcher brought Native theater to the History Theatre in St. Paul.
A strong tenet of Rendon’s work is putting authentic images and depictions of Indian life before the public. “I try to create a mirror for Native people,” she told me. “A lot of writers attempt to explain native culture to non-natives [instead of] creating a picture of ourselves for ourselves.” Of Mark Rolo, she said, “Where many Native writers write to white audiences in order to fill the seats, Rolo finds a way to reach both audiences, and can still fill the seats.”
“What’s an Indian Woman to Do When White Girls Act More Indian Than Indian Women Do?” is a scathing send-up of slumming ladies who, in their passion for erotic exotica, practically paint a target on Native men, leaving Native women to stew in seething consternation. Asked how faithful to the spirit and sense of her poem Rolo’s play is, she referred to the book’s foreword, which reads, “Just what is an Indian to do when the history is so brutal one runs out of tears? Rolo’s answer is to write biting humor where we, Native people, are forced to face our egos on stage and laugh until the tears run. This is what he does in What’s an Indian Woman to Do? This play initially had a staged reading in Minneapolis prior to production by Raving Natives at Interact Theater in 2005. The reading was well attended by Native and non-Native folks alike. Native folks laughed uproariously at Belle as she tells the story of love lost to a white woman. During the feedback portion of the reading, non-Native audience members asked why Indians are ‘still so angry.’ The Indians responded, ‘What? This is funny!'”
Friday, September 24, 7:00 p.m.: What’s an Indian Woman to Do? followed by a discussion with the playwright. Saturday, September 25, 12:00 p.m.: The Way Down Story, Sweatlodge Pork, and Mama Earth Loves Lace. The weekend is free of charge.