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Staging the Sacred: Corporeal Sovereignty, Survivability, and Salient Humor in Contemporary Native North American Drama and Performance, 1972-2022


Staging the Sacred examines relationships between and among Native North American concepts of the sacred to consider four perches: multi-vocal salients of humor, ecological protection, intertwinings in sexuality and corporeality, and ministering to community needs. These topics and their relationship to the sacred in Native drama enact crucial and interconnected discourses. The presence of the sacred underscores what Hanay Geiogamah calls survivability to foreground drama as a form given in and of service to the community. The sacred in Native drama opens possibilities for corporeal sovereignty to be asserted, as in Trickster and Two-Spirit sexualities. The sacred in Native drama also undergirds multi-vocal humor as a form of cultural expression that acts as a salient to incise, infiltrate, and destabilize colonial extinction narratives. These discourses are prevalent within Native North American drama and thus assert themselves as indispensable touchstones for engaging with this dramatic tradition. Expounding on the role of the sacred in Native North American theater cultivates an alternative hermeneutic to map the surrogate didacticism of theater’s participatory hierarchies by drawing upon multiple Native American and Indigenous studies scholars, activists, and artists. Instead of treating Native drama as a secular dramatic tradition or in a ceremonial/traditional and secular/contemporary dichotomy, this project proposes a hermeneutic for reading and analyzing the variegated—nuanced—stagings of the sacred: defiant and ritualized. Such readings abrogate and chafe at representation in the static symbolic. Performance studies contribute the theoretical fundament for recognizing and engaging physical incarnations of “absence incarnate.” The action of gathering disparate pieces to form a living whole, “bone gathering,” animates this process. Staging the Sacred engages plays, performances, and essays (1972-2022) from well-known and emerging artist-scholars to illumine the multiple resonances and functions of the sacred in dramatic literature, theatrical stagings, and performative interventions. This archive includes canonical and lesser-known texts by such playwrights as Tomson Highway, Muriel Miguel, Diane Glancy, Drew Hayden Taylor, and a network of playwrights from the Native Voices new works festivals (2017-2021). This activist spectrum also includes performance interventions such as those emanating from the No Dakota Access Pipeline movement. These playwrights and practitioners embed their plays and performative interventions with ritual, ceremony, and didactic resonances that invoke the sacred as a force to strengthen community relationships, aid healing from the continuing traumas of genocide, and reclaim Native North American subjects as agents of history in the present. This approach challenges the colonizing role of the secularization of the arts, culture, and academy by illuminating how sacrality is not separate from Native identity and therefore factors prominently in literary, artistic, religious, feminist, historical, and social expressions of indigeneity.

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