NET/TEN Shareback: Denise Uyehara - Indigenous Cycles: Research Phase for the Shooting Columbus Collective

2014-15 Exchange Grant Recipient

The Shooting Columbus Ensemble (Tucson, AZ) began The Indigenous Cycles, a series of dialogue, devising, and documentation sessions with Indigenous artists from the Southwest Region and The Herberger Institute at Arizona State University. The group discussed cultural sensitivity and risk-taking while simultaneously creating new work.  A subsequent “exchange circle” was open to the ASU campus and local Native American community.


Indigenous Cycles - Research Phase for the Shooting Columbus Collective

What to do when the themes are infinite?
Creating performance about Indigenous experience

What do you do when the project seems so big, and grows bigger the more you learn? Here our Collective shares how we chose to map it out, find the themes and through lines, and go deeper.  Here we share an exercise that really helped.

Shareback movie from Denise Uyehara on Vimeo.

Our Collective is comprised of five lead artists Adam Cooper-Teran (Yaqui, Chicano); Klee Benally (Navajo/Dineh), Rachel Bowditch (European American), Ryan Pinto (Hopi, Dineh, Omaha, Northern Ute), Denise Uyehara (Okinawan and Japanese American).  We each have definite roles in the group -- director, dancer, performer, accountant, video/audio artist, cultural competency person, writer, dramaturgy.

We’ve been working together since last summer, conducting research with Indigenous community members, visiting our partner, Fern Benally (Dineh) whose land has been devastated by the Peabody Coal Mines, interviewing Tohono O’Odham community members, and working in the studio.  But because we work as a collective, we wanted to rethink how build the work.   If art is about making choices, how can we decide?

Rachel, our director, expressed how the work and our research could potentially be infinite, but due to time, budget and deadlines, we had to focus ourselves.  We have conducted a large research trip to Dineh/Hopi land in last fall, and that, coupled with the knowledge in the room (three identify as Indigenous artists, two grew up on reservations) we needed to figure out a way to map out all of our ideas.  Having worked extensively in activist/anarchist communities, he suggested we do a large “mapping” of everything we had, and step back and take a look.

So we laid out several large butcher papers, taped them together, got out a box of children’s markers and began brainstorming (or “brain-writing”) everything that had to do with the research and production.  This took about 15 minutes.  Then we added branches to the main ideas with colored lines.   The great thing about working quietly together is we are all physically active as we work, and no one’s voice overpowers the others, and we have to make connections between our ideas, find themes and patterns.

Then we stepped back and looked for certain themes, and ideas that really spoke to us.  Some of these were:

• Beginning our meetings with a prayer 
• Blessings, Dances
• Sacred Earth and sacred sites; Resource extraction from the earth
• Elders and community, how to include their voices in the work
• Time, money, budget
• Empathy for one another and for those outside the collective: presenters, funders, colleagues
• How it be different if Columbus were assassinated?
• Adding Indigenous female voice to the Collective
• Etc.

From this, Rachel and I developed a series of themes and images that could be put into performance.  Some examples:

• Focus in corporate extraction of water, coal and land; and land from which Native people have been forced to leave
• Use colors blue, black and brown as themes that repeat throughout the space, mirroring water, coal and land
• Performance that follows a through-line but allows for multiple voices in immersive theater
• Allow for audience interaction to implicate viewers
• Coal as a large, outdoor installation
• Ryan dancing outside near the coal
• Voices from community, especially elders, layered onto the work.   Using Adam’s video interviews with community members, perhaps a video/audio room of just these voices.  Or viewing room of just the terrain in 360 degrees.

This is not an exhaustive list.  But the exercise helped us feel that we had surveyed all that we knew, aided us in identifying where to go deeper, and what we needed to explore more definitively. 

We also used butcher paper to map out (as a calendar) our six upcoming 3-day retreats, and then entering these in to our shared Google Calendar.   We also made a mini-score for our upcoming showing, although, in retrospect, getting up and creating the work was more important than writing it out first.  Still, our showing went well.  We will use what we’ve learned to develop work over the next year, premiering in Tucson in April 2017.


Indigenous Cycles Tumblr

Shooting Columbus Collective

Black Mesa Indigenous Support


Denise Uyehara, Project Director
(310) 991-3698

Rachel Bowditch, Performance Director

Posted by: 
Friday, June 10, 2016

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