AlterTheater hires Tanis Parenteau!
AlterTheater will expand its Arts Learning Project for Native Youth, safely adding in-person summer programming according to COVID protocols in some reservation communities, while expanding virtual programming. To help with the expansion, the company has hired Tanis Parenteau as its new Tribal Liaison and Outreach Coordinator, joining Education Director Teresa Melendez.
“I’m excited about working with Native youth and giving them opportunities to perform and explore different areas of the performing arts,” says Ms. Parenteau. “I think it’s important to offer opportunities to kids who have limited access who might not otherwise get these opportunities.”
A key design point of AlterTheater’s program is to provide networks and build long-term, lasting relationships among Native youth and professional Native artists working in the performing arts. The Lead Artists teaching the workshops are working theater professionals, and include Tara Moses, Dillon Chitto, Blossom Johnson, and Vickie Ramirez, who are all currently under commission to write new plays for AlterTheater.
An award-winning actor with credits in film, tv, and stage, Tanis Parenteau will shepherd the theater’s relationships with tribes, and maintain ongoing programs with current students and alumni. “It’s really important to AlterTheater that we work in partnership with tribes, helping to address the needs of each community. That will be the focus of Tanis’s work,” says AlterTheater Artistic Director Jeanette Harrison. “I’m thrilled to have her working with us.”
In AlterTheater’s first workshop, designed and taught by Vickie Ramirez, youth explored three-dimensional storytelling, with each kid writing a monologue during the weeklong workshop. On the final day, professional Native actors performed the students’ work. One of the students, Riatta Palmer (Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe), went on to win a special youth award in her age category from Yale’s Indigenous Performing Arts Program’s monologue contest.
“What’s exciting is seeing the world open up for these youth. They’re suddenly aware that we’re interested - people want to hear their stories. That realization brings confidence, and then these shy, awkward kids are claiming the space and owning their voice,” said Ramirez. “The transformation is amazing to watch.”
As IllumiNative and other Native activists and advocacy organizations highlight the need for more accurate representations of contemporary Native people, it’s important to hear authentic stories from Native people themselves. “I think it’s a big disconnect in the entertainment industry. Geographically, it’s an uneven playing field if people can’t leave the reservation to go to places where these programs are normally offered,” says Ms. Parenteau. “And they deserve these opportunities just as much as anyone who has the ability to move to an urban area where there is usually more access. There’s talent all over, and that talent is going undiscovered because they haven’t been able to partake in opportunities such as these workshops, and building relationships with the theater professionals that we have leading these workshops.”
Originally designed around Common Core standards for home schooling during COVID, the program has settled into an arts enrichment program with scaffolded learning. “Workshops can be taken independently, in any order,” says Teresa Melendez. “And what’s really neat is that the students’ interests help set future workshops.”
The workshops predominantly run during students’ school breaks. “We’re thinking of adding an ongoing drop-in class, for students who still want to stay connected, in between workshops,” says Melendez.
ABOUT ARTS LEARNING PROJECT FOR NATIVE YOUTH
When AlterTheater canceled its tour of Pure Native by Vickie Ramirez because of the pandemic, LucenTree’s Brian Melendez of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Tall Tree Indigenous Education Consulting’s Teresa Melendez (Potawatomi) reached out to ask if there was anything that AlterTheater could do virtually with RSIC’s students. The reservation was shut down, and there were no summer programs or anything else for youth. Parents were looking for options. With the artists from Pure Native unable to travel to RSIC, AlterTheater created a series of virtual theater workshops, holding the first one in August 2020.
Designed not just to teach theater skills to Native youth, the Arts Learning Project focuses on building relationships among professional Native artists and Native youth. Each workshop has featured a Lead Instructor who is a working theater professional, team teaching with Teresa Melendez, an Indigenous education specialist, and other Native artists. “With the team teaching approach, content experts have the ability to translate information to students in a fun and engaging way that also activates deep learning because we’re integrating modern teaching techniques and best practices,” says Ms. Melendez. “Not only are the workshops engaging, but we incorporate group work and small group activities which ensures one-on-one interactions with instructors and with peers.”
MORE ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Tanis Parenteau is an actor/producer and enrolled member of the Métis Nation of Alberta (Cree). She has guest starred on Billions, FBI: Most Wanted, Designated Survivor, and House of Cards. In New York she has starred in plays at The Public Theater, Signature Theater, 59E59 Theaters and regionally at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Tanis does voice over work and narrates audiobooks for Penguin Random House, Audible, Hachette and Simon & Schuster. She is on the Red House Studios team developing a series titled Red House and has a podcast called "Not Invisible: Native Womxn on the Frontlines", in which she is co-host. Tanis is also on the SAG-AFTRA National Native Americans Committee. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from The New School for Drama. www.tanisparenteau.com
Teresa Melendez is an enrolled citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Nation from Southwest Michigan and a descendant of the turtle clan. As a grass-roots organizer, Teresa does her part to find Indigenous solutions in the areas of social justice, climate change, and academic advocacy for the next seven generations. Teresa has over 20 years of experience in the Indian Education arena and is the founder and CEO of Tall Tree Indigenous Education Consulting. She has a master’s degree in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education; a bachelor’s in Sociology; and certificate in Ojibway language and instruction. Teresa is master trainer, highly versed in college preparation and success, and professional student development. Language and culture revitalization, youth leadership, and arts education are often central aspects of her work within Tribal Communities. She is also the founder of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Pow Wow Club, a champion fancy shawl dancer, and pow wow dance instructor.
AlterTheater’s playwright residency program, AlterLab supports three to five writers in a yearlong program where each playwright writes a new play, supported by their fellow writers. In addition to Vickie Ramirez, Tara Moses, Dillon Chitto, and Blossom Johnson, this year’s AlterLab also includes Latinx writer Diana Burbano.
Previous AlterLab playwrights include Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota), who was twice commissioned by AlterTheater, and whose plays LANDLESS and COW PIE BINGO premiered with AlterTheater. Larissa went on to become the first Native playwright produced off-Broadway (The Thanksgiving Play, Playwrights Horizons), and is a MacArthur “genius” fellow. In 2019, playwright Laura Shamas (Chickasaw) completed her AlterLab residency with AlterTheater, and the company premiered her play CIRCULAR.
For more than 15 years, AlterTheater has been producing new and contemporary work in community spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area, mostly in San Rafael. In 2009 AlterTheater began a new play commissioning program, and in 2011 added a playwright residency program, AlterLab. AlterTheater plays and playwrights have gone on to off-Broadway and some of the largest theaters in the country. Founded on Indigenous principles of consensus-based decision-making and ensemble collaboration, AlterTheater tells stories in places where people are. The company’s latest offering, audio play Br’er Peach by Andrew Saito, begins a nationwide tour in June with Dallas’s Bishop Arts Theatre Center. The tour wraps up in AlterTheater’s home community, then the play will be available as a podcast through producing partner The Parsnip Ship’s podcast platforms.