When the actors in the productions of N.A.P.S. and Shinnob Jep
took center stage, it wasn't about the accolades they might receive.
It was more about connecting with the Native American culture
and sharing a few laughs that they know best about.
Two plays, N.A.P.S. and Shinnob Jep, were performed on Wednesday,
Dec. 7, at the College of Menominee College in Keshena. A second
performance was offered on Friday, Dec. 9, at the Norbert Hill Center
One of the main actors in Shinnob Jep was Jamie Funmaker, a
Ho-Chunk member who is attending classes at the college, who played
Al Treebark, a role that resembles Alex Trebek on the show Jeopardy.
Jamie is a Natural Resources major who took the Theater production
class as an elective.
"I had fun. I like the humor. There is no better situation than
being teased, as natives like to do," Jamie said.
Director Ryan Winn is faculty member at the College of Menominee
Nation and instructor of the Theater Production course. The plays
are part of the curriculum of that course.
"Every fall we produce a professionally written show," Winn
said. "In the spring we write a new play and we produce it the last
week of July. The two plays we're currently producing have never
been produced together before."
The plays offers a way to link with the students, like they
understand and can identify with them.
"The students connected well with the plays. The first play's
questioning 'ghost hunting' as a form of entertainment hit home
with many people who believe that those who have passed on should
be allowed to rest," he said. "The second play's use of humor engaged
our students as well, but I think the message of accepting one another
and working well together resonated beyond the rapid-fire jokes."
The first performance, called N.A.P.S., which stands for Native
American Paranormal Society, is about investigators who check out
reports of spiritual activity, which occurs mostly around the local
The Native American Paranormal Society play is a view into the
present paranormal craze. Ghosts and spirits have always existed
in literature and spirituality is a strong theme in some Native
American literature as well.
The author of the play, William S. Yellow Robe Jr., takes a
look at the departed, who are disturbed by the arrogance of the
living. Set in an abandoned bingo hall of a casino, the current
residents are those who have lost their lives within the building.
During the play, two ghosts hover around the stage, unseen to the
actors doing the investigation. But mostly, the actors discuss odd
occurrences that have happened around the premises, indications
of paranormal activity.
"For N.A.P.S., my favorite part was about the tribe discontinuing
use of the bingo hall after the couple passed. The main actor said,
'That's the hardest part to believe. That our tribe give this place
to them,'" Winn said.
In the play Shinnob Jep, short for Anishinabe Jeopardy, game
show host Al Treebark conducts the game with contestants Franklin
Lake, Tradish Ikwe and John Johnson Jr.
Question categories include "Ricing," "Powwow," "Tribal Councils,"
"Higher Education," "Casino Gaming," "Race Relations," "U.S. History,"
"Trick or Treaties," "Trick of Treatment," "Body Language," "Sugar
Bush," and "Rez Cars."
Each of the questions and answers offered a slice of Native
American humor. For instance, in the category "Rez Cars," the question
is "Will a Ford wheel fit on a Chevy?" The answer is "Yes, if you
have a big enough hammer."
Under the category "Casino Gaming," a question was "Should you
hate someone who hit the jackpot on a slot machine you just left?"
The answer is "Yes, but only for a little while."
Throughout both plays, the performances would be halted for
a short time to offer a commercial of a product that would hit the
funny bone, such as "War Pony Tours" and "Boogid's Wild Rice Tools."
Toward the end of the play, the final round was played, where
each contestant wrote down the answer on a card and the amount wagered.
The contestants shared their answers with each other while writing
and, in the end, the game ended in a three-way tie.
"My favorite part is, after the game ends in a three way tie due
to them helping each other solve the final question, they said,
'When we work together, everybody wins,'" Winn said.
The course, and the plays, places the students in front of audiences,
which may not seen natural to them, but in the end it boosts their
self-esteem, Jamie said.
"It takes you out of your comfort zone different than
a traditional classroom setting. We had to memorize lines which
makes up our homework grade for our final grade," she said. "The
production uses humor to connect Native Americans together, regardless
of their backgrounds and tribes."
Jamie said she has no acting experience and was shocked to be
given the scripts to the two plays on the first day of class.
"He said, 'By the way, these are the two plays we're putting on.
I'm pretty sure he knew on the first day what parts he wanted people
She is glad she took the class, which made her grow in confidence.
"This class has been fun and quite the learning experience,
and I definitely recommend this class to anyone with a sense of
adventure," she said.
Another actor, Sabrina Hemken, from the Menominee tribe, was
raised off the reservation, came to the college to receive an education
but also to connect with her Native American heritage. She played
the role of John Johnson Jr., a contestant on Shinnob Jep.
Sabrina is pursuing a double major in Public Administration
and Digital Media, and it was her second time for acting in the
plays, having been part of the class last year, but volunteering
to fill a role this year.
"It's entertainment and it gives students experience in public
speaking so0mething they otherwise shy away from. Humor is
part of our native culture. We use humor and then we throw a moral
in to send a message."
The plays are important aspect in their lives, a time when art
programs are being cut from public schools because of financial
"I never thought I would be in a play. I feel fortunate to be
able to do so," Sabrina said.
Audience members chuckled through both plays.
"The reaction has been wonderful," Winn said. "For most of my
students, this is the first production they've been involved with
and it's been a glowing success. We're humbled by all of the praise
and thrilled that we're able to share our art with the community."
Although the actors and audience gave indications of approval
with laughter and a thunderous applause at the end, more benefits
will be realized in years ahead.
"Honestly, for me, the best aspect is seeing the look of wonder
on the faces of all of the future actors in the audience," Winn
said. "I'm most excited about the fact that CMN's current students
are inspiring its future students simply by succeeding on the stage.
I love it when someone comes up to me after a show and says that
in a few years they'll be acting in one of our shows."