Prior to the Feminst Movement, the theatre community continuously faced a lack in representation of indigenous women in a white washed industry. In 1976, Spiderwoman theatre blossomed from the Feminist Movement and was introduced to the world by Muriel Miguel, Gloria Miguel, and Lisa Mayo. In 1975, Muriel organized a workshop consisting of Native and non-Native American women at the Washington Square Methodist Church in Manhattan.
This workshop was based on the Hopi Goddess or SpiderWoman, who wove men and women to life and taught them how to weave. At the start of the workshop, the sisters taught the audience Native American hand games. It is metaphorical to what the workshop consisted of since it experimented with the weaving of stories, images, songs, poems, experiences, feelings, music, spaces, and bodies. The actresses structured and developed the basis to their stories, they collectively used improvisation in order to bring life to their pieces. One of the women would become SpiderWoman while finger weaving her story to life as another performer wove their own story into the first one. Musicians also participated in improving through playing gongs, bowls, rocks, saw, flutes, hand made instruments, etc.
The process they created included collaboratively expressing themselves through their stories and writing it down in order to eventually create a solidified script through the process. The original members of the ensemble of the Spider Woman workshop dissolved a week after it occurred but Muriel put together a new ensemble by June consisting of her sisters (Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo) and two non native women named Pam Verge and Brandy Penn. Their first performance/workshop together was titled Women in Violence. Muriel’s purpose in this was to work with the anger and feelings that have been boxed in, regards to the Indian situation, current Indian Movement, and her own violence as a woman and an Indian.
After the debut of Women in Violence, Spiderwoman Theater’s existence was solidified with 70 performances in New York and Boston within a year. Spiderwoman Theatre is now known as the longest running feminist performance group in existence. After Women in Violence, debuted in 1976, Spiderwoman theatre has continuously produced more theatrical works including;
- The Lysistrata Numbah (1977)
- Sun, Moon, Feather (1981)
- The Fittin’ Room (1981)
- I’ll Be Right Back (1984)
- Reverb-Ber-Ber-Rations (1990)
- Hot ’N’ Soft (1992)
- Hot ‘N’ Soft II (1993)
- Power Pipes (1993)
- Voices from the Cross Bridge (1994)
- Daughters From The Stars: Nis Bundor (1996)
- Winnetou’s Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City (1999)
- Indian Summer (2006)
- Persistence of Memory (2007)
- Red Mother (2010)
- Oops, Bloody Bloody, Oops (2011)
- Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue (2011)
- The Elder Project (2011)
- Women in Violence II (2012)
Over the years, the troupe has continuously pushed barriers and questioned gender roles, cultural stereotypes, and sexual and economic oppression. The sisters created a voice for indigeneous women internationally. On their website spiderwomentheatre.org, their mission statement states, “Our mission to present exceptional theatre performance and to offer theater training and education rooted in an urban Indigenous performance practice. We entertain and challenge our audiences and create an environment where the Indigenous, women’s and art communities can come together to examine and discuss their cultural, social, and political concerns.” Some of Spiderwoman Theatre’s accomplishments also include an honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts for their life contributions to the theatre presented to them by Miami University in 1997, being apart of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2005, and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 from the Women’s Caucus for Art. Spiderwoman Theatre still continues to spread its mission and be a proud representation for Indigenous women to this day.
“About.” Spiderwoman Theater, https://www.spiderwomantheater.org/blank-mpvle.
“NAWPA: Spiderwoman Theater.” Walter Havighurst Special Collections University Archives, https://spec.lib.miamioh.edu/home/nawpa-spiderwoman-theater/.
Spiderwoman Theater and the Tapestry of Story. http://www3.brandonu.ca/cjns/16.1/abbott.pdf.
“Spiderwoman Theater.” Contemporary Playwrights of Color, https://sites.google.com/nyu.edu/contemporaryplaywrightsofcolor/spiderwoman-theater.
Staff, ICT. “An Appreciation of Spiderwoman Theater.” Indian Country Today, Indian Country Today, 7 July 2005, https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/an-appreciation-of-spiderwoman-theater.