NEW?ULM - A performance focusing on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 will be presented by a locally based theater group during August as part of the week-long commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the conflict.
The play - "Dogs in the Hot Moon or Behind the Barricades " - will examine the conflict from the vantage point of children.
Paul Warshauer, executive director of New Ulm Actors Community Theater, (NUACT) will create and direct the show using improvisation. Warshauer has been improvising in the theater since fifth grade. Over the years, Warshauer has taught theater classes in California, Oregon, Illinois and Nebraska, always using improv. He has also created hundreds of plays, all of which were also largely improvised. He calls it "set improvisation" where the actors create dialogue based on scenarios that Warshauer gives them.
Warshauer will be using those improvisation methods to create "Dogs in the Hot Moon or Behind the Barricades." There will be only have four days of workshopping and rehearsing with the cast before giving three performances.
"Improv is king when you have a short time to create and rehearse a show," Warshauer explained. He will be working with producer Judy Sellner, and directing intern Keara Roberts, as well as technical director Josh Menzel and apprentices Rowan Andersen and Cheyenne Kruse.
The show's two titles portray the two sides of the 1862 conflict. "Dogs in the Hot Moon" is a phrase that was used by Chief Little Crow to describe the warriors who came to him and told him they wanted to go to war with the settlers. Little Crow was against the idea of attacking, but he was forced to lead the men into battle.
"Behind the Barricades" is a phrase that many settlers used because they built barricades to keep the Dakota out.
"So, the play is two parts, and there's a whole shade of gray in the middle. It's not all about the Dakotas; it's not all about the settlers," said Warshauer.
The production will focus more on the themes of the issue rather than the actual historical events. "We're not attempting at all to dramatize the very serious events that occurred because we're not qualified," said Warshauer. "Instead, we want to focus on themes such as justice, reconciliation, restitution, forgiveness."
To achieve that focus, Warshauer decided to look at the conflict through the eyes of children. "What we're going to do is pretend we're in a classroom, and the kids are given an assignment," said Warshauer. "The kids are going to be played by both kids and adults." Warshauer made a list of 10 possible questions for kids who have little knowledge of the conflict with the Dakota might ask. These questions include: Was their God better than our God? How do the Indians view the ownership of the land? What happens when people break promises? The cast will discuss these questions and create scenes that will become the play.
In order to equally represent both sides of the conflict, Warshauer and his assistants will be meeting with Chief Wabasha and his wife of the Lower Sioux Indian Community. "It's a very important meeting because when we first introduced the idea, the chief was very against it, but when we brought up the fact that we want it to be fair and balanced and show both sides of the conflict, he was willing to meet," said Menzel.
The chief will decide what to include about Little Crow and the Dakota side of the issue. American Indian children and adults will be encouraged to participate in the play to equally represent both cultures.
All cast members will be dressed in jeans and T-shirts with the 150th Commemoration logo. The set will be minimal with platforms and boxes. "Because the issue to me is not black and white, the set is gray," Warshauer said.
Because the entire issue of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 is complicated, Warshauer admits that it will be his most challenging play to date. Even the most basic things are questioned."The terms 'Indians' and 'Americans' are erroneous," he said. "What is 'Indian?' What is 'American?' And even the terms for this period are not clear. Is it the Sioux Uprising? Rebellion? A war? What the heck is this? And that's part of the first question - What do we call this?" he said.
A slideshow will also be used during the play that will include artistic images as well as excerpts from Little Crow's speech. "A lot of people are going to be coming here from out of town. They're not going to know anything about it [the conflict]. If we have some pictures that help show what's really going on besides just having people acting it out, that'll act as a visual aid," said Menzel.
Warshauer is very much aware of the impact the 1862 conflict had and still has on more people than just New Ulm. "This is a regionally important program. It deals with a big issue," he said. "There's still some bad blood about what happened."
However, he also wants to show that it is not about whom was wronged and who started the fight. "The settlers were defending their homes. And the Indians were defending their homes. So, is there a right and wrong? Of course not. And that's hopefully what we show," said Warshauer.
Warshauer emphasizes that the show is not a historical pageant or reenactment of what happened 150 years ago. "There's going to be a whole week of history here in town. If people want history, there are people that will be lecturing and talking around town. This is a dramatic presentation, a piece of theater. We don't want to do a pageant," he said.
Auditions will be held July 17 and 19 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the New Ulm Public Library Meeting Room. There are parts for 10 adults and 10 children. No acting experience is necessary. "We are really hoping that families will come to audition," said Warshauer.
The cast will be appearing in the Bavarian Blast Parade with a float on Sunday, July 22 to promote the show. Rehearsals will be Aug. 19 to Aug. 22 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. The performances will be in the DAC auditorium on Thursday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. and Friday Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
In the end, Warshauer is hoping to find some sort of understanding of the conflict that took place 150 years ago. "Ultimately, I think what we want to take away from this is, 'What is history?' said Warshauer. "We know all the technical things that occurred. I don't think it's our place in the theater to examine those. I'd rather examine the universal themes of justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness."
For more information call 507-359-9990 or visit www.newulmact.com.