By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
A space that illuminates the human condition, celebrates cultural differences and promotes human rights is leading two groundbreaking projects with funding in part by First Peoples Fund’s Our Nations Spaces (ONS) grant program. Pangea World Theater of Minneapolis has worked with artists from many communities locally, nationally and internationally to create new aesthetic realities for an increasingly diverse audience.
Founded in 1995 and led by Dipankar Mukherjee and Meena Natarajan, Pangea is a progressive space for transformation. Collectively, their work serves 8,000-10,000 youth and adults annually. Apart from producing and presenting plays, Pangea has created four series and two community-based programs that speak to minority and immigrant cultures and that serve a broad and diverse (both ethnically and generationally) public. Pangea’s education program works with teachers and students to build leadership and capacity for young people, and creates authentic spaces for real conversations.
“We start with acknowledging the land we’re on and its ties to the local Indigenous people,” Meena said. “We start with acknowledging the land we’re on and its ties to the local Indigenous people,” Meena said. With support from their Our Nations’ Spaces grant from First Peoples Fund, they are “Foregrounding First Nations Voices” with a youth theater project and an institute for Indigenous directors.With support from their ONS grant, they are “Foregrounding First Nations Voices” with a youth theater project and an institute for Indigenous directors.
Indigenous Peoples Task Force’s Ikidowin Youth Theater Project
Powerful. Honest. A scene brought to life on stage by Ikidowin youth, a scene set in the reality of their friends and peers that handles the difficult subjects of teen pregnancy and teen parenthood. Pangea World Theater took the opportunity of hosting the opening reception of the 2017 First Peoples Fund fellows convening to showcase a scene from “Wait.” The audience was moved by the young peoples’ emerging talent and courage.
With guidance from Pangea, this play was developed and written by Indigenous Peoples Task Force’s (IPTF) Ikidowin Peer Educators and Acting Ensemble. Supported by First Peoples Fund’s Our Nations Spaces program and in partnership with IPTF Ikidowin youth, Pangea is also developing a new play around the issue of water.
“We believe this particular program with Indigenous youth is very important because, in spite of their challenging background, the youth have come through as strong participants and creators,” Meena Natarajan said. “We are engaging with the youth with the current water project, advising on script, helping with staging, directing, writing some of the scenes, dramaturging and also planning a future piece. It’s a ground up program — we are activating and creating original work with youth over a period of time so that we see the growth of these youth into leaders engaged in finding their own voice. More importantly, these shows are seen by other Native youth in different reservations and high schools which is impactful both for them and the communities they perform in. Some of these communities — both in urban and reservation settings — have never seen Native youth perform their own stories.”
The roots of Ikidowin began in 1990 when executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF) Sharon Day started a young peoples theater (Ogitchidag Gikinooamaagad). The theater is still going strong as Ikidowin Peer Educators and Acting Ensemble. This led to a longstanding and sustained relationship with Pangea World Theater, and recently, Sharon, who also serves on Pangea’s board of directors, invited Pangea to teach the IPTF’s Ikidowin youth theater skills and to create a play.
The Ikidowin youth — 12 to 18 years old — are Ojibwa, Lakota, Dakota, and some have parents indigenous to Mexico. The youth are often inspired to apply for Ikidowin when they see their peers and the older students perform. They see the way they are treated, how they are accepted.
The program affects their lives in many ways, a catalyst for opportunities and future careers. The long-term impact from this program shows in former students who are now filmmakers, national poetry slam winners, actors, and a children’s hospital innovator. Even as youth, they are sought after in the community when organizers need young adults to be involved in presentations, speaking, and poetry readings. They are exposed to professional artists and creative people from dance to painters.
Their plays are not skits — they are theater performances. Their diverse audiences of youth, parents and community members number up to 500. With the Ikidowin plays, Natives began to realize theater is for them after all, that it’s simply another form of storytelling.
Sharon says she loves working with Pangea, now collaborating with them for the First Peoples Fund’s Our Nations Spaces program to write and perform an original play with the IPTF’s Ikidowin youth.
National Institute for Directing and Ensemble Creation
This summer, Pangea will launch the National Institute for Directing and Ensemble Creation as part of their Our Nations’ Spaces grant. An important focus of the project is bringing together Native directors to begin to build a curriculum for Indigenous artists and offering scholarships for Native Next Generation participants in order to strengthen the voice of First Nations directors and ensemble leaders.
Circles of Transformation
“This has been a year of working with Indigenous community in our space,” Meena Natarajan said. Pangea believes in impacting in circles of transformation, to build relationships that are transformative — socially, politically and culturally, and to impact the times.
On the Ikidowin youth play and work with Indigenous people, Meena added, “In that circle, First Peoples Fund’s leadership and presence shapes our thinking and artistic grounding. Over the years, Lori Pourier has been an advisor and we feel that we have built this relationship based on mutual respect. We are honored to have this close relationship and learn from FPF’s practices and share what we know and have done. We are grateful that FPF has stepped in to resource this imperative work we are doing with Ikidowin youth.”