The South Dakota Shakespeare Festival (SDSF) is proud to announce that it is being recommended for $10,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA’s Art Works program is funding SDSF’s “Shakespeare at Work: Stages of Change,” an initiative designed to mindfully integrate Native artists and perspectives into staging Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in summer 2019.
The Art Works category is the NEA’s largest funding category and supports projects that focus on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and/or the strengthening of communities through the arts. “The variety and quality of these projects speaks to the wealth of creativity and diversity in our country,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Through the work of organizations such as the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival in Vermillion, South Dakota, NEA funding invests in local communities, helping people celebrate the arts wherever they are.”
The collaboration engages key partners from Native communities, including accomplished stage director Madeline Sayet (Mohegan) and Jesse Bien, Shakespeare educator at Flandreau Indian School (FIS), South Dakota. By incorporating Native voices and perspectives into the theatre-making process, SDSF will open possibilities for creating a poly-cultural process and production that respects, reflects and explores the cultural geographies of the state of South Dakota, engages and resonates with broad populations, and begins to erode the chasm that often divides communities in our state, nation, and on our theatrical stages.
A director of new plays, classics, and opera, Madeline Sayet has been recognized as a 2016 TED Fellow and a member of the 2018 class of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Hollywood and Entertainment. Among her many awards and fellowships is the White House Champion of Change Award. Raised on traditional Mohegan stories and Shakespeare, her work as a director uses minimalist magical realism to interrogate questions of gendering, incorporate indigenous perspectives, and reimagine classic plays to give voice to those who have been silenced.
Madeline Sayet is pleased with the scope and breadth of this project’s potential: “There is a long history of making Native people feel unwelcome in Shakespearean theater. Native voices and opinions on Shakespeare are only now beginning to be heard. This places us in a unique time for creative play between Native identity and Shakespeare. Now Native people have the opportunity to interpret Shakespeare for themselves and contribute to the worldwide Shakespeare conversation. South Dakota Shakespeare Festival’s project will develop more Native theater artists and also more nuanced ways of thinking for audiences about our similarities as human beings.”
Among the elements of this unique project will be a continued and more integrated apprenticeship program with students at Flandreau Indian School, including the possibility of students taking part as actors, musicians, and in production positions. The project will involve a language consultant and cultural advisor, and additional Native theatre artists drawn from national markets and local communities. The South Dakota Shakespeare Festival and Flandreau Indian School are pursuing additional external funding to support a tour of the production to Flandreau, South Dakota.
Jesse Bien is excited at the prospect of being able to expand the collaboration between SDSF and FIS in meaningful ways for his students: “The life theatre can breathe into a community is immeasurable; it only takes one performance to pique the interest of an individual or community. The most crucial element theatre needs in order to create an impact is accessibility to the public. Shakespeare himself marketed his works to all members of society reaching audience members from all walks of life. The impact of this grant is immeasurable. At Flandreau Indian School, we have seen the impact theatre can have on our students. We see a transformation in our students. Self-esteem and self-efficacies begin to change and evolve. Students who would be disinterested would become fully engaged with the curriculum.”