Spiderwoman Theater is the longest continuous running Native female performance group. Comprised of three Kuna/ Rappahannock sisters from Brooklyn, New York, Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel, and Muriel Miguel, the group has travel all over the world giving performance, lectures, and workshops. Named after the weaver in the Hopi creation story the sisters "storyweave" their message in a variety of formats including poetry, dance, theater, and song.
Spiderwoman Theater was founded in 1976, when Muriel Miguel gathered together a diverse company of women which included both of her sisters. They were of varying ages, races, sexual orientation, and worldview. The collective sprang out of the feminist movement of the 1970s and the disillusionment with the treatment of women in radical political movements of the time. They questioned gender roles, cultural stereotypes, and sexual and economic oppression. They took on issues of sexism, racism, classism, and the violence in women’s lives. Their weaving of humor with popular culture and personal histories along with their sometimes shocking style excited the hearts and spirits of the women (and sometimes the men) in their audiences, in the United States, Canada and all over the world.
Spiderwoman Theater broke new ground in using storytelling and storyweaving as the basis for the creation of their theatrical pieces. The performers wrote and performed personal and traditional stories and with Muriel as the “outside eye”, they were organically layered with movement, text, sound, music, and visual images.
In the early 80’s, Indigenous communities in New York and nationally and internationally identified the women of Spiderwoman Theater as a powerful voice for their concerns and so the company emerged as a leading force for Indigenous women, artists and cultural artisans. Sisters and elders Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel, and Muriel Miguel, who are from the Kuna and Rappahannock nations, currently form the core of the company.
Spiderwoman Theater’s work bridges the traditional cultural art forms of storytelling, dance, and music and the practice of contemporary Western theater. Born in Brooklyn, their work springs from their own lives and experiences as “city Indians”. As the grandmothers of the Indigenous theater movement in the United States and Canada, they are mentors to the upcoming generation of Indigenous performers, writers, and educators. In addition to presenting their own work, they are collaborating with and incorporating the work of these artists into the company. The women of Spiderwoman continue to move forward in their ambition of creating an artistic environment where Indigenous arts and culture stands on its own as a vital element of the larger arts community.
They have been honored with many awards over the years. They were the founding contributors to the Native American Women Playwrights Archive at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where they received honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts in 1997 for their life’s work and contribution to the theater. In 2005, Spiderwoman Theater was honored as part of an exhibit, New Tribe, New York, at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. In 2010, they received The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.
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