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American Voices

ONU's ninth annual International Play Festival seeks to enlighten.


Native Americans have contributed greatly to American culture, yet few people understand or are even aware of the issues that still trouble this seemingly familiar cultural group today. Through the universal language of theatre, Ohio Northern University’s International Play Festival seeks to not only entertain audiences with insightful stories centering on the lives of contemporary Native Americans, but to correct the common misconceptions and inaccuracies that haunt this iconic population.

"I would say the fact that native peoples have historically placed such importance on an oral culture as a way of passing down history, legend, and cultural identity has affected the theatre," said Joan Robbins, festival manager and lecturer in communication arts.

ONU has invited guest artists Eric Gansworth, Vickie Ramierez and Gloria Miguel of the Iroquois Confederacy to perform at this year’s festival. The ONU theatre community has also welcomed director Steve Elm from AMERINDA, American Indian Artists, Inc., an organization that seeks to “empower Native Americans, break down barriers, and foster intercultural understanding and appreciation for Native culture,” according to their web site.

Rabbit Dance
Native American author Eric Gansworth tells the story of two white teenagers who encounter two Native Americans selling beadwork in Niagara Falls Park, something that Tuscarora women have done for centuries. Gansworth is an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation and has published nine books. He is a professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.

Standoff at Highway #37
Playwright Vickie Ramierez details a land dispute near the New York/Canadian border, which has been an ongoing conflict for native peoples for more than 200 years. In the play, the government attempts to build a highway across reservation land, and the Native Americans stage a protest. When the National Guard is called in, a Native American guardsman is forced to fight against his own people.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Instead of the regular festival plays, Saturday night’s performance will feature a performance by Gloria Miguel of her one-woman play, which was directed and co-written by Steve Elm. In 1975, Miguel co-founded the Spiderwoman Theatre, a feminist, Native American theatre in New York City. Now more than 80 years old, Miguel is a respected elder of the Native American community.

Elm was trained in London at Rose Bruford College and has worked regularly on both sides of the Atlantic as an actor, director and teacher. He has recently been published in the AMERINDA anthology Genocide of the Mind where he discusses the hardships he has faced in theatre and how he has worked to break stereotypes and address urban Native issues.

This year’s festival, while focusing on making Native American culture more accessible to its non-native audience, has also created strong personal bonds between the Native American guest artists and the student actors.

"The students are having a blast and learning an enormous amount about Native American culture," said Robbins.

With the help of professional actors Monique Mojica, Kateri Walker and Jake Hart the students are learning to better understand the unique art that is Native American theatre. This interaction along with research into Native American films, fiction and essays consumed the company’s time for more than a week as they prepared to give the most accurate, captivating performance possible on a culture that most people know little about.

"Native American culture has always been an interest of mine, and so combining this interest with the goals of the International Festival, including the exploration of cultures other than our own American mainstream culture, seemed like a great idea," said Robbins.

Ohio Northern University's Freed Center for the Performing Arts presents the ninth International Play Festival from Wednesday, April 6, to Saturday, April 9, at 8 p.m., along with 2 p.m. shows on Saturday, April 9, and Sunday, April 10. A preshow discussion will be held on Wednesday, April 6, at 7:15 p.m., and a post-show discussion will take place on Friday, April 8.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for non-students and seniors, and $9 for children. The Freed Center box office is open Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Phone orders are accepted with American Express, MasterCard, VISA or Discover by calling 419-772-1900. Tickets also are available online at

—Justine Anderson
Senior, professional writing major
Beach, Va