Spiderwoman Theater

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Spiderwoman Theater
TypeTheatre group
Artistic director(s)
Muriel Miguel

Spiderwoman Theater is an American, Indigenous women's performance troupe that blends traditional art forms with Western theater. Their mission was to present exceptional theater performance, and to provide theatrical training and education in an urban Indigenous performance practice. Spiderwoman theater was an early feminist theatre group that sprung out of the feminist movement in the 1970s. They questioned gender roles, cultural stereotypes, sexual and economic oppression.[1] It was founded in 1976, the core of the group is formed by sisters Muriel Miguel, Gloria Miguel, and Lisa Mayo. It was the first Native American women's theater troupe and is named after the Spiderwoman deity from Hopi mythology.[2]


Muriel Miguel developed a piece with Lois Weaver based on three stories of the Hopi goddess Spiderwoman teaching people how to weave. Miguel's sisters, Lisa Mayo and Gloria Miguel, joined the group.[3]

Spiderwoman Theater was founded in 1976[2] and the group premiered their first work, Women in Violence, at Washington Square Methodist Church. The play combined the actors' stories of violence, contrasting serious subject matter with slapstick and sexual humor. For the piece they created a simple lighting design and a backdrop made out of Native American quilts. They toured the play in the United States and Europe. At a theatre in Nancy, France, the women refused to sweep their performance space before their show. Hecklers gathered at the performance, upset that a male producer had to sweep the floor. Organizers of a later performance in Bologna, Italy cancelled it for fear of riots.[3]

Spiderwoman Theater debuted their second play, The Lysistrata Numbah!, in 1977. The production melded Aristophanes' Lysistrata with group members' stories.[3]

Schisms developed in the group that led to the theater dividing in two in 1981. The offshoot lesbian performance troupe Split Britches included Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, and Deb Margolin.[4] Spiderwoman Theater continued on with the three sisters and shifted its focus to Native American issues that year with the play Sun, Moon and Feather.[3] Spiderwoman Theater's Winnetou's Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City is a satire of the European and particularly German fascination with Native Americans. The play parodies the characters of dime-store novelist Karl May, New Ageism, and individuals who pretend to be Native American. The play includes a phony shaman workshop where white people are transformed into Indians for a weekend for $3000.[5] According to the troupe, it was an act of resistance meant to reclaim their identity as real Native Americans.[6] After Winnetou's Snake Oil Show, the sisters had enough remaining material they had been working on to have a new show, Reverb-ber-ber-rations.[5]

Performance Documentation of the pieces "Women In Violence" (1976) and "Lysistrata Numbah!" (1977) were included in the WACK! Art and Feminist Revolution Exhibition, organized by Cornelia Butler and presented at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, March 4-July 16, 2007.[7] Additionally, Spiderwoman founder Muriel Miguel was the subject about a short documentary by Theatre Communications Group in a series about theatre companies about people of color.[8]

In 1997, a repository for Spiderwoman Theater, the Native American Women Playwrights Archive (NAWPA), was created. It contains promotional and personal documents associated with the theater troupe and also holds a collection of manuscripts and related items pertaining to Native American women in theater.


Spiderwoman Theater was founded by sisters Muriel, Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo (born Elizabeth Miguel). They are of Kuna and Rappahannock ancestry and were born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. The sisters' mother and maternal grandmother also grew up in Brooklyn, but their father, a Kuna Indian, was a born in the San Blas Islands near Panama. According to Muriel, their father struggled to provide for his family via conventional means, and so the family would perform dances and snake oil shows for money. The three sisters were embarrassed by these performances and decided they would rather associate with more professional types of theater as opposed to being "spectacles of cliché." [9]

Muriel Miguel is a founder of the Native American Theatre Ensemble at La MaMa.[3] She is a choreographer, play writer, actor, educator, and Two-spirit woman. She gathered a diverse group of women including both of her sisters Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo, thus creating the Spiderwoman theater.[1] She also taught theater at Bard College. In addition to Spiderwoman Theater, she was a founding member of Joseph Chaikin's Open Theater.[10]

Gloria Miguel studied drama at Oberlin College.[9] She has worked extensively in television and theater with the Spiderwoman, she has toured throughout New Zealand, Australia and Europe. She was a drama consultant for the Minnesota Native American AIDS, she was also a drama teacher at the YMCA eastern district in Brooklyn.[11] she is also the mother of Monique Mojica, another playwright and actress.

Lisa Mayo (1924-2013) was trained as a mezzo-soprano at the New York School of Music. Mayo also studied dance and musical comedy.[9] She has written and performed in more than 20 plays that were produced by The Spiderwoman Theater, and toured New Zealand, Europe, Australia, China, United States and throughout Canada. She has created two one-woman shows The Pause That Refreshes and My Sister Ate Dirt. Mayo contributed to the Minnesota Native American AIDS by teaching theater crafts to young people. She served on the Board of Directors of The American Indian Community House from 1998-2007.[12]


Of the many plays by Spiderwoman Theatre, the following plays have been printed in anthologies:

  • "Sun, Moon, and Feather" in Contemporary Plays by Women of Color: An Anthology. Kathy A. Perkins and Roberta Uno, editors (London: Routledge, 1996. Republished in 2006).
  • "Power Pies" in Seventh Generation: An Anthology of Native American Plays. Mimi D'Aponte, editor, (New York: Theatre Communications Group, June 1998).
  • "Winnetous Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City" in Playwrights of Color. Meg Swanson and Robin Murray, editors, (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, Aug. 1999).
  • "Sun, Moon, and Feather" in Stories of Our Way: An Anthology of American Indian Plays. Jaye T. Darby and Hanay Geiogamah, editors, (UCLA American Indian Studies Center: Jan. 2000).
  • "Reverb-ber-ber-rations" in Staging Coyote's Dream: An Anthology of First Nation Drama in English. Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles, editors (Playwrights Canada Press: Sept. 2002).
  • "Winnetou's Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City" in Keepers of the Morning Star: An Anthology of Native Women's Theater. Jaye T. Darby and Stephanie Fitzgerald, editors (UCLA American Indian Studies Center: Jan. 2003).
  • "Winnetous Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City" in Footpaths & Bridges: Voices from the Native American Women Playwrights Archive. Shirley A. Huston Findley and Rebecca Howard, editors (University of Michigan Press: 2009)
  • "Trail of the Otter" in Staging Coyote's Dream: An Anthology of First Nation Drama in English, Volume 2. Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles, editors (Playwrights Canada Press: Sept. 2009).

Other works include:

  • "Red Mother," a one-woman play produced for 2 nights at the Museum of the American Indian.[13]
  • "Persistence of Memory," a play about the healing aspects of story-telling as well as stereotypes surrounding Indigenous expressions and the challenges Indigenous performers face as a result.[14]
  • Women in Violence 1977
  • Lysistrata Numbah! 1977
  • The Trilogy of: My Sister Ate Dirt, Jealousy and Friday Night 1978
  • Cabaret: An Evening of Disgusting Songs and Pukey Images 1979
  • Oh, What a Life 1980
  • The Fittin' Room 1980
  • Material Witness, 2016
  • Fear of Oatmeal, 2018: The day after "Fear of Oatmeal" closed, Muriel Miguel was named a recipient of a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award of $275,000.[15]


  1. ^ a b "About Spiderwoman Theater". Spiderwoman Theater. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b Farris, Phoebe (1999). Women Artists of Color: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook to 20th Century Artists in the Americas. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 93. ISBN 978-0-313-30374-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e Fliotsos, Anne; Vierow, Wendy (2008). "Muriel Miguel". American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 288–293. ISBN 978-0-252-03226-4.
  4. ^ Peterson, Jane T.; Bennett, Suzanne (1997). Women Playwrights of Diversity: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 318–319. ISBN 978-0-313-29179-1.
  5. ^ a b Burns, Judy; Hurlbutt, Jerri (January 1992). "Secrets: A Conversation with Lisa Mayo of Spiderwoman Theater". Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 5 (2): 166–183. doi:10.1080/07407709208571158.
  6. ^ Spiderwoman Theatre (1999). “Winnetou’s snake oil show from Wigwam City”. Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library.
  7. ^ H., Butler, Cornelia; Calif.), Museum of contemporary art (Los Angeles (2007-01-01). Wack! : Art and the feminist revolution : exposition présentée à Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art, du 4 mars au 16 juillet 2007. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0914357995. OCLC 421897194.
  8. ^ http://www.tcg.org/TheNext50Years/EDIInitiative/Legacy/News/MurielMiguelScreening.aspx
  9. ^ a b c "NAWPA: Spiderwoman Theater | Miami University Libraries Steward & Sustain Department". spec.lib.miamioh.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  10. ^ ipl2. "Muriel Miguel on Native American Authors". www.ipl.org. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  11. ^ "About Muriel Miguel". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  12. ^ "About Gloria Miguel". Spiderwoman Theater. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  13. ^ Douglas, Carol Anne (2008). "Spiderwoman's "Red Mother"". Off Our Backs. 38 (1): 79–80. JSTOR 20838935.
  14. ^ Huhndorf, Shari M. (2009). Huhndorf, Shari M. (ed.). Mapping the Americas. Mapping the Americas. The Transnational Politics of Contemporary Native Culture (1 ed.). Cornell University Press. pp. 105–139. ISBN 9780801448003. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt7zg33.9.
  15. ^ "Muriel Miguel and Rosalba Rolón to Receive 2018 Duke Awards". 26 June 2018. Retrieved 15 November 2018.

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