The members of the Turtle Theater Collective frequently encounter misconceptions about their work as Native American theater artists in the Twin Cities.
“There’s a narrative in the Twin Cities theater community that there’s no Native theater,” said Marisa Carr, a founding member of Turtle Theater Collective and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. “That’s not true … Native theater has not been produced in the Twin Cities enough for Native theater artists to continue to develop our craft.”
Carr, Katherine Pardue and Ernest Briggs founded the Turtle Theater Collective. Its goals? Rewriting stereotypes about Native theater and providing opportunities for Native theater artists.
After workshopping a play Carr wrote, the company is opening their first full production on Friday — the U.S. premiere of “Almighty Voice and his Wife,” a play based on a true story of a Cree man in Canada who was arrested for killing his own cow.
“The Almighty Voice was a person, and he was murdered by the Canadian government, but only after … a two-year manhunt and then a standoff of a couple of days … That’s pretty badass,” said Katherine Pardue, the director of the production. “I think the play has had less than ten productions … at major theaters in Canada.”
“Almighty Voice and his Wife” is a dense play, rich with cultural references and questions about the theatrical form itself.
“The first act is this hyper-romanticized sort of view on stories … Then when you get to the second act … they go through and deconstruct how white people perform Indianness," Pardue said. "That means really confronting the very damaging legacy of minstrel shows."
Because of its focus on the history of the performance of Native characters, “Almighty Voice and his Wife” is a fitting choice for the Turtle Theater Collective’s first fully produced show.
“What makes it really appropriate for our first production is that it’s a play that, for me, is about gaze and narrative … and about who gets to tell what story and how it gets told,” said Carr, who is playing White Girl, Almighty Voice’s wife.
For the actors involved, “Almighty Voice and his Wife” is an opportunity to perform a classical work from the Native theater canon.
“I’m really looking forward to more opportunities for Native artists to try new things, elevate their work and try really dense content,” said Ajuawak Kapashesit, who plays Almighty Voice. “Having more opportunities like this would be excellent.”
The Turtle Theater Collective’s next endeavor is a production of “Our Town,” with leading characters played by Native actors.
“I think it is one of the only plays that asks the question ‘what is the meaning of life’ and has an answer to it … In terms of classic plays that I would want to present with a Native lens … this is the one that most came to mind because it’s about community and how we value community,” Pardue said.
Going forward, however, Turtle Theater Collective’s focus remains the same: providing opportunities for indigenous theater artists and leading a movement towards creating more.
“As a Native artist, if you walk into a rehearsal room outside of the Native community … I think that people feel as if they’re taking a big chance by letting you be there,” Carr said. “That’s a really hard space to be able to take risks, which is what you need to be able to do to make good art. So, I hope that we can create that space for Native artists where we can take risks and fail and try again."
What: “Almighty Voice and his Wife”
When: March 9-11
Where: The Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave S., Minneapolis
A previous version misstated the founders of Turtle Theater Collective. Marisa Carr, Katherine Pardue and Ernest Briggs are the founders.