NET/TEN Shareback: Roadside Theater & Edward Wemytewa - Challenges with Engaging Zuni Youth

2013-14 Exchange Grant Recipients

Roadside Theater (Norton, VA) partnered with Edward Wemytewa, Director of Idiwanan An Chawe (Zuni, NM), to conduct an exchange between Appalachian and Native American performance artists and youth in Zuni, NM and Whitesburg, KY, resulting in a youth-created bilingual play and media and the mentoring and development of young artists in Zuni and Central Appalachia.


“The Lonely Thing” is a tongue-in-cheek video of a site specific script created by Appalachian and Zuni youth. It tells of a lonely monster who lived in the desert close to the Zuni sacred mountain, Dowa Yalanne.  The work conveys the loneliness of being young and “different.” Creating the video allowed the work to be shown for multiple audiences, both at the time of the physical exchange and after it ended.

The Lonely Thing from Appalachian Media Institute on Vimeo.

Challenges in Engaging Zuni Youth


Zuni youth participation was less than expected because:

• In the past, Idiwanan An Chawe Director Edward Wemytewa was employed by the Zuni Public School’s Zuni Enrichment Program, a program that integrated Zuni culture and art into the school curriculum. When the Program was eliminated, there was no such entity to take its place within the school system.

• Idiwanan An Chawe mistakenly thought, that after a number of years without the Enrichment Program, the theater could dive back into youth work at the same level at which it previously operated.

• Idiwanan An Chawe artists are now grandmothers and grandfathers, so there was, as well, now an age factor that affected the connection to youth.

To compensate for diminished youth participation:

• Roadside Theater connected to Appalshop’s Appalachia Media Institute (AMI) program, which provides opportunities for young people in Central Appalachia to explore their home communities, address local issues, and become engaged citizens through the process of place-based media making.

• AMI students and their young (in their 20’s) instructors participated in the project, connecting both Appalachian and Zuni youth in a way that older Idiwanan An Chawe artists could not.

A quote from Edward Wemytewa, Idiwanan An Chawe Director, “As elders, we have a very important role in teaching and affirming our Zuni cultural traditions with our youth. And, young instructors have the technical skills and the experience of youth that plays an important role in bridging the age gap. Together our two age groups can do a better job of working with youth than either could do alone.”

The Result:

Idiwanan An Chawe learned that:

• It cannot build a youth program in the schools, leave it to be continued by the schools, and expect to come back and pick up where it left off.

• Continuous focus and deliberate efforts are needed to make sure the baton is passed from one project to the next.

•Consistency and reliable funding are vital.

Idiwanan An Chawe is now working to build a new infrastructure, including rebuilding its pool of Zuni public school educational resources.



Roadside Theater
Facebook: Roadside Theater:  Art in a Democracy

Posted by: 
Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Add your voice

Site design by Design for Social Impact