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CMN to Stage Traditional Pageant Aug. 3
in Menominee Woodland Bowl

 

In 1937 the Woodland Bowl in Keshena, Wisconsin, was constructed to host theatrical productions. The shows were called the Menominee Pageants, and they were produced by a loose but inclusive group of community members who formed a theater troop known as the “Pageant Players Guild.” The shows ran for decades, with the last performance in the 1960s. On Wednesday, Aug. 3, the College of Menominee Nation will revive one of the original pageants as part of the week celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Menominee Nation Contest Powwow.

 

The production is the culmination of a project CMN faculty member Ryan Winn undertook at the request of Menominee elders. This spring Winn was able to complete the research for the production with the help a Wisconsin Arts Board grant that funded both student interns and contributed to the production’s budget. With the assistance of CMN students Melinda Cook and Lloyd Frieson, Winn led community discussions on the CMN campus. Winn says these gatherings produced much laughter, reminiscing, and led to Grace “Bea” Wilber donating the files of her father, James G. Frechette, to the S. Verna Fowler Academic Library/ Menominee Public Library on the CMN campus. Frechette was the first technical director for the original shows, and when the founding writer/director Joseph Anthony Keshena passed, Frechette honored the wishes of Joseph’s mother, Nell, and took over writing and directing the pageants himself.

 

The pageant CMN is producing was originally staged in 1954 and is titled “The Gems of Yesteryear.” In playwright Frechette’s words, the show is a collection of “beautiful scenes” from the guild’s first seventeen years. This summer’s showing will transport its audience back to the hundredth anniversary of the Menominee Reservation. Frechette’s original narration also discusses the changes that were forthcoming to the community as a result of both the tribe’s federal termination and the formation of Menominee County.

 

Menominee Pageants are a mixture of pantomiming, live music, and dancing. This means that 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 pageants also served as an exhibition of dances, and this show will showcase the Dance of Welcome, The Friendship Dance, The Green Corn Dance, The Swan Dance, The Snake Dance, and an Intertribal Dance. As was the case in the past, all dancers are welcome to join the production on the night of the show, but should check-in with the lead dancers, Thomas Pecore and Jamie Awonohopay, prior to the show.

 

The pageant will begin at dusk. From 6:30 p.m. until sunset, the production’s attendees will be treated to recordings made by members of the original Pageant Players Guild. The show runs around two hours, with an intermission where food and beverages will be sold by local vendors. The pageant is perfect for all ages.