CMN performing traditional pageant

History, theater project in its 2nd year

Photo by James Kelly Dancers showcase one of their traditional dances under the lights of the Woodland Bowl at CMN’s re-creation of a traditional Menominee pageant in 2016. The college is presenting another pageant in August

Photo by James Kelly Shannon Wilber performs a scene during last summer’s CMN pageant at the Woodland Bowl.

The College of Menominee Nation Theater Department will produce a traditional Menominee pageant for a second straight year.

The pageant, titled “The Legend of Spirit Rock,” will be held in the Woodland Bowl at sunset on Aug. 2. The project is led by CMN faculty member Ryan Winn, who continues to honor a promise to Menominee elders by both staging a traditional Menominee pageant before the tribe’s annual contest powwow and creating an archive for pageant artifacts in the S. Verna Fowler Academic Library.

Winn’s research found that the Woodland Bowl was constructed in 1937 to host theatrical productions. The shows were called pageants, and they ran for decades. The last of the original performances was in 1971.

Last year, CMN staged a revival production to a full house at the Woodland Bowl, and this year, CMN, the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Menominee Nation Contest Powwow and Menominee County will again showcase this traditional form of Menominee theater.

“The Legend of Spirit Rock” was written and staged by Joe Keshena in 1948. The script was then adapted by James G. Frechette and produced in both 1960 and 1966.

The show brings to life some powerful depictions of the great hardships that the Menominee People have endured. Since humor is also an integral part of Menominee history, the production includes a play-within-a-play titled, “The Raccoon and the Blind Men.”

Menominee pageants are a mixture of pantomiming, live music and dancing. The show’s oration will be recorded, enhanced with sound effects and then performed with the actors speaking their lines along with the recorded track.

The production will showcase the vocal talents of the late Petronell Keshena Martin. Pet, as she was known, had a speaking voice unequaled in Northeastern Wisconsin. Through digitizing original reel-to-reel recordings, CMN is able to share her gift with the community once again. This year’s production is dedicated to her memory.

The pageants also served as an exhibition of dances. All dancers are welcome to join the production, but should check in with the lead dancers, Jamie Awonohopay and Thomas Pecore, prior to the show.

The Woodland Bowl is located on Fairgrounds Road in Keshena. The show runs around two hours, with an intermission where food and beverages will be sold by local vendors. Admission is free, but any donations received will be used to fund next summer’s production.