CLOQUET — The Northland is getting a taste of the Big Apple.

New York-based Spiderwoman Theater is bringing its feminist, Indigenous-led vision to Cloquet this week.

An actor wearing a boa and makeup gestures at the camera.

Imelda Villalon in Spiderwoman Theater’s 2022 production of “Misdemeanor Dream” at La MaMa Experimental Theater in New York City.

Contributed / Lou Montesano

After hosting a series of workshops, the 16-person ensemble will perform its original work,

“Misdemeanor Dream,”

at 7 p.m. Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2, at Cloquet High School, 1000 185th St. Tickets are $25.

To have a professional theater out of NYC that’s run by elderly Native women is really exciting and a big undertaking, said Lyz Jaakola, local musician, educator and an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.

Jaakola was at Spiderwoman Theater’s 2001 “Persistence of Memory” performance at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

“I grew up on the reservation, to see they were making professional theater at the level they were … to see these women come and put on this show that was Indigenously conceived, the performance practice was rooted in Indigenous storytelling and to have these wonderful women up there is powerful for me,” she said.

Four players perform in costume on a theater set.

Henu Josephine Tarrant, Imelda Villalon, Matt C. Cross and Gloria Miguel in Spiderwoman Theater’s 2022 performance of “Misdemeanor Dream” in New York City.

Contributed / Lou Montesano

Muriel Miguel founded

Spiderwoman Theater

with her Kuna/Rappahannock sisters, Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo, in 1976. (Its name is a reference to the creation spirit, she said.)

“We were very angry, all the stuff happening, women being beaten, women being raped. … When I gathered the group together, we gathered stories about that,” Miguel told the News Tribune.

A woman performs over a red set.

Henu Josephine Tarrant performs in Spiderwoman Theater’s 2022 performance of “Misdemeanor Dream” in New York City.

Contributed / Richard Termine

Miguel is known as

“a grandmother of the Indigenous theater movement in the U.S. and Canada.”

Spiderwoman’s “story weaving” process is communal and ensemble-driven, and one the troupe invites community members into through interactive workshops.

Families get stories from under the kitchen tables as kids listen to elders, said Miguel, and the way we tell stories is important.

“Misdemeanor Dream” explores the Indigenous oral tradition, magic and language — spoken, danced and sung — as well as contemporary and historical stories from the ensemble, who are joined by otherworldly tricksters and shapeshifters aiming to reconnect after generations of silence.

“Misdemeanor Dream” premiered at La MaMa Experimental Theater in New York City in March 2022 before shutting down due to COVID-19.

During that time, the troupe and Miguel’s family lost two members, Kevin Tarrant and Tyree Giroux.

“My son-in-law passed away and you have that feeling of, Where do they go? and Do they talk to you? Do you talk to them? and how important is it to know where they are?” Miguel said.

An actor gestures with their arms outstretched.

Imelda Villalon and Matt C. Cross in Spiderwoman Theater’s 2022 production of “Misdemeanor Dream” in New York City.

Contributed / Lou Montesano

“The feeling of spirit, that’s what we were trying to send out,” Miguel said of their current performances.

The play is based on William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but “as a Native person would look at it,” she said.

“Many nations talk about the little people and talking to spirits. …. That’s important to the culture. Spiderwoman wanted to do something about the world, where do spirits go, where do angels go,” Miguel said.

Spiderwoman is halfway through its Midwest tour, which started at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and wraps next week in the Twin Cities.

A native individual wearing a hat poses for a picture.

Sequoia Hauck.

Contributed / Sam Malm

Sequoia Hauck, St. Paul director and Hoopa Valley Tribe and White Earth Nation member, has been helping coordinate Spiderwoman’s workshops and residency in southern Minnesota.

Miguel and the Spiderwoman Theater ensemble have been thinking about how to Indigenize theater for decades, said Hauck.

And, it’s a mindfulness Hauck brings into their work by approaching theater as they would a ceremony: smudging the space, ensuring it’s welcoming for two-spirit individuals and inviting in the Native community.

“Folks from the past, they had to leave their Indigeneity behind, and I want us to bring everything that we are into this space and be fully who we are,” Hauck said. “That’s what feels radical about this and Spiderwoman Theater, is to come in and be Native first.”

Jaakola hopes Spiderwoman’s presence in the Northland will get people thinking more about supporting Indigenous performance.

There are folks with vital stories who haven’t always felt encouraged or invited to share through theater, art, music or dance. “As an aging performer from a reservation, I would love to encourage more people to do it,” Jaakola said.

  • What: Lecture demonstration led by Muriel Miguel and ensemble members
  • When: noon Thursday, Feb. 29
  • Where: Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, 2101 14th St., Cloquet
  • Cost: Free
Melinda Lavine

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 17 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014 as its features editor, and today, she writes about the people, the heartbeat of the community.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

In 2006, she earned bachelor’s degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota, and that summer, she started her career as a copy editor and page designer at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, a Forum Communications Co. sister publication. In 2012, she helped launch the Herald’s features section, as the editor, before moving east to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346,

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