Haskell University lands contract for summer theater program

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Seven university students are helping usher in a new era in American Indian theater this month at Haskell Indian Nations University.

The students are the inaugural class of a three-year Project HOOP workshop, a grant-funded initiative to establish American Indian theater as an integrated subject of study at tribal colleges, American Indian communities and K-12 schools.

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Melissa Lacey/Journal-World Photo

Participants in the Project HOOP summer theater workshop for students from tribal colleges work on an impromptu exercise at Haskell Indian Nations University. Pictured are, from left, Perry DeCory, Rosebud, S.D., Rhondelle Emery, Mission, S.D., Chuck Masoka, Washington, D.C., Lorene Brant, Sisseton, S.D., Sara Keeton, South Coffeyville, Okla., and Delinda Pushetonequa, Tama, Iowa.

The students arrived at Haskell Monday and will study scriptwriting, improvisation and acting through Aug. 3. Their experience will culminate in a performance at the new Haskell Cultural Center and Museum and the receipt of six hours of college credit.

"So far what we've been doing is looking promising," said Rhondelle Emery, a student from Mission, S.D., who attends Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. "We're getting to know each other, and we're hoping we will come away with more than we came with."

Most of the students said they are hoping to learn how to better control their acting and concentration when on-stage and improve their improvisational skills.

Perry DeCory, an aspiring filmmaker and student at Sinte Gleska University, has a different reason for attending.

"I wanted to see the limits of people," he said, explaining that he needed to learn more about acting and actors so he could be a better filmmaker.

Pat Melody, director of theater at Haskell, said American Indian theater is a fairly new discipline although it is rooted deeply in storytelling. American Indian theater was first defined in the 1960s.

When Melody came to Haskell about 28 years ago, she said there were only three American Indian plays and one American Indian theater company in existence.

"I watched it develop over the years," she said, adding that Haskell's Thunderbird Theatre is the oldest, continuously operating American Indian theater in the United States.

The Project HOOP workshop is funded by a grant from the Department of Education Foundation for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. Haskell has a $150,000 contract to provide the summer workshop for the next three years. The contract will be administered by the National Training Center at Haskell.

Expected to help instruct the workshop this summer are Hanay Geiogamah, professor of Indian studies and theater at UCLA and one of the founders of the American Indian Theater Ensemble; playwright Bruce King; Jaye T. Darby, an educator and author; and Mia Peck, a Haskell teaching assistant.

Student participants include Chuck Masoka, Washington, D.C.; Delinda Pushetonequa, Tama, Iowa; Sara Keeton, South Coffeyville, Okla.; Lorene Brant, Sisseton Wapheton Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota; and Sena Harjo, a student at the Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.