Thunderbird Theatre

Haskell TheatreFounded in 1974 as the theatre production organization for Haskell Indian Nations University. The Thunderbird Theatre has been producing Native theatre and training Native theatre students for over twenty seven years.  The goal of the theatre is three-fold:

• To provide Native American theatre to both Native and non-Native audiences

• To explore and expand the direction and form of Native American theatre

• To initiate the training of Native American theatre professionals.

Thunderbird alumni direct and perform with Native American and Alaska Native and mainstream theatre companies, have written theatre, motion picture and television scripts, and work in all facets of the media from acting to television production.

Thunderbird Theatre is a non-profit  student organization.  All proceeds from performances are returned to Thunderbird Theatre and fund development of all on campus productions.  Since 1974 the theatre program has been structured as a teaching theatre and has had three components:

  • course work in which basic theatre history, philosophy and theory is taught and
  • on-campus production program to provide Haskell theatre students and audiences an opportunity to experience a wide-range of theatrical forms, both Native and non-Native, and
  • a touring program designed to give theatre students an in-depth theatre experience and Native and non-Native audiences an experience with Native theatre.

Thunderbird Theatre holds a national reputation for quality and excellence.

In addition to performances in its home theatre, at  Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kansas, the Thunderbirds have performed SONGS OF LIFE across the United States, from Portland, Oregon to Niagara Falls, New York; to audiences ranging from grade schools to universities, from theatre conferences to Native American spiritual gatherings.  The average elementary school audience is 250, while audiences at tribal gatherings have reached as high as 9,000.

In the twenty-seven years of Haskell theatre, beginning theatre courses have been taught as part of the humanities curriculum leading to the Associate of Arts degree, over one hundred plays from the Native and International theatre repertoire have been produced on campus, and Native productions have traveled at no cost to the college, to Oregon, Nebraska, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, New York, Connecticut and Washington D. C.  The student production organization has funded all productions materials since 1980.

The Thunderbirds are particularly proud of SONGS OF LIFE engagements for The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Millennium Stage series, the National Education Association's 1998 International Board of Director's Conference, the 1998 International Conference of the National Intercultural Education Association, the United Tribes International Pow-Wow in Bismarck, North Dakota, for the White Mountain Apache Night Performances on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona, and for the 1995 Earth Day Celebration in Washington, D.C.  Other representative performances include:  Yale University, The Kansas Theatre Association Conference, the Nebraska Arts Council Conference, and a spiritual conference in remembrance of Black Hawk in Grand Island, Illinois.  

Haskell TheatreHaskell Theatre Philosophy

At Haskell Indian Nations University, theatre is taught as one of the humanities.  This distinction is an important one, for in some colleges theatre is taught as one of the humanities, and in others it is taught as a fine art.  When theatre is taught as a fine art, it is considered to be primary training for a professional career in theatre, and courses are designed and taught to this end.  When theatre is taught as one of the humanities, it is taught as part of a curriculum designed to make students more human and more humane.  The emphasis, in this case, is on creative and critical thinking, communication skills, and the philosophical and historical place of theatre in the development and maintenance of various cultures.  Theatre, both in study and performance, allows students, whether as performers or as audience, to better understand the human condition not only in the cultures with which they are personally familiar, but also in cultures that may be distanced by time or location.

When theatre is taught as one of the humanities, the emphasis, in both classroom and production situations, is not only on the development of future theatre professionals, although courses serve as a basis for professional development, but also on the development of the humanistic scholar:  the scholar who, regardless of future career, is aware of the ultimate human impact of political, social, scientific, economic, and cultural actions.

Haskell Theatre awardProduction History

The first production of the Haskell theatre was  Skin of Our Teeth.  In the fall of 1979, the production company became known as the Thunderbird Theatre.  Since that first season the Thunder Theatre has produced over 100 plays in twenty-seven years, including national touring and on campus productions.  On campus productions include plays by Native playwrights such as Tomson Highway's Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, Owen LeBeau's Voice of my Father, Bruce King's Evening at the Warbonnet and Whispers from the Other Side, Annette Arkeketa's Hokti, and Vera Manuel's Strength of Indian Women.  The company has also produced Native American interpretations of Shakespeare's Mid Summer Nights Dream, and a Pueblo interpretation of  Antigone.  The Thunderbird Theatre also produced European and Anglo-American plays such as; Tartuffe, Gingerbread Lady, The Rainmaker, Crimes of the Heart, Taming of the Shrew, Look Homeward Angel and The White House Murder Case.

Artistic Director: Pat Melody, Theatre, M.A., University of Kansas

Pat Melody has been the director of the Thunderbird Theatre since its inception in 1975.  Ms. Melody did her undergraduate and graduate work in theatre at the University of Kansas, studying acting and directing with Lewin Goff and Jack Brooking, and doing her master's work in children's theatre under Dr. Jed Davis.  She acted and directed at the University of Kansas as a graduate student, directing both on-campus productions and a children's theatre touring production of ANTELOPE BOY, a dramatization of a Pueblo story.  She is currently a member of the speech and theatre department at HASKELL INDIAN NATIONS UNIVERSITY.

Ms. Melody is a former Assistant to the Director and Director of Research for the Children's Theatre Conference of the American Theatre Association.  She has presented papers and panels on children's theatre at CTC conferences, and papers on American Indian theatre for the American Association of Theatre Artists and Educators, the Nebraska Arts Council and other national and regional conferences.

Ms. Melody has directed productions at three universities including co-directing a national tour of JIM THORPE-ALL AMERICAN with Dr. Jed Davis: a production that was done cooperatively by the University of Kansas Theatre for Young People and the Thunderbird Theatre.

Technical Theatre: Anthony Higheagle, M.A., Washington State University      

Mr. Higheagle is a member of the Nez Perce Soup Dancer's Society.  While attending Lapwai High School he began studying pantomime and performing in district and state competitions.  Recruited by Washington State University Mr. Higheagle received his B.A. in Theatre Arts & Drama and is completing the requirements for a M.A., in Theatre Arts. 

Mr. Higheagle has taught courses in theatre, with an emphasis on Native American ceremonials, at Medicine Creek, Pierce and Northwest Indian Colleges.  Together with Yvonne Peterson formed the youth theatre troupe COYOTE CAST OF CHARACTERS which toured schools across the Nez Perce reservation.  Students learned to perform traditional Nez Perce stories and share them with other members of the community.

The focus of Mr. Higheagle's education and training has been working in Native American theatre, playwriting and directing.  A recent addition to  Haskell Indian Nations University Mr. Higheagle is excited to have the opportunity to continue his training and work with students in the finest Native American theatre companies in the country.