The Voice: Summer 2003
Senior Laura Groen stages Ghostdance, a one-person show
By: Sally Jongsma
Most senior theater arts majors direct a show as a concluding senior project.
Laura Groen wrote, acted, and directed her senior show, Ghostdance.
At times Ive thought I was crazy for having done this, but Ive
definitely grown to have a passion for the story, says Groen. She also
sees it as the first step in what could be developed into a
Groens one-woman show focuses on the Ghostdance, a dance but also a religion
that spread throughout Native American tribes in the second half of the nineteenth
century. The story of its spread is told by Groen largely through the
eyes of Elaine Goodale, a school teacher from the East who went out
West to teach on an Indian reservation.
Groen draws from a biography of Goodale, who later in life became an
official in the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., to tell the story
of the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. But Groen also wanted to
show more than one perspective on the event, so she created five characters,
all based on real people: a general, a young Indian woman, a settler
woman, a private in the army, and Wovoka, the Indian prophet who began
the Ghostdance. Groen plays them all.
Everything in Ghostdance is based on historical events, says Groen, who worked on
researching and writing the show from last May until December. She learned about
the struggles of the Sioux Indian people who were suffering from hunger and
poverty because their nomadic way of supporting themselves did not mesh with that
of white settlers who were homesteading the land they had used to hunt.
She learned about the Indian prophet Wovoka who, building on exposure the Native
Americans had to Christianity through missionaries, began what came to be known as
the Ghostdance religion.
There are really many parallels to Christianity, Groen says. Wovoka traveled to different
tribes preaching the good news that Jesus was coming backto take away the
white people, bring back the buffalo, and return the land so they could
once again feed themselves. Performing the Ghostdance would hasten Jesus return. So every
six weeks each tribe would purify themselves and, in fervor and anticipation, dance
for five days.
Tribes all over the west were adopting this religion, says Groen. The five-day
dances sprang up all over. And so did fear in the settlers and
the United States government. They did not understand the dance and felt deeply
threatened by the rising pitch of emotion. More and more troops arrived to
protect the settlers. In that tense setting, one shot set off a massacre.
Groen became deeply involved in the story of Wounded Knee, but has also
become convinced that the incident speaks more broadly than just to the Native
American-white settler conflict. What it has to say about communication between communities of
people and governments may have implications for situations in todays world, too, she
believes. Groen was originally alerted to the story by English Professor James C. Schaap.
He told me that if someone was looking to do a one-woman show,
Elaine Goodale would be a good subject, says Groen. After reading Goodales biography
and delving into the story, she agreed. In fact she found the stories
so compelling that most of the script is taken from direct quotes by
the variety of characters Groen chose to tell the story.
Groen credits Anna Dever Smith, someone who makes her living by doing one-woman
shows, as giving her the inspiration as well as the direction and format
she could use to effectively tell her story. She met weekly with Theater
Arts Professor Simon du Toit to hone the script, rearrange monologues, put in
voice-overs, and tighten up the prose. She wants to do it rightnot just
to tell the story but to help the audience grapple with the issues
and form opinions and ask questions about the events that took place and
their relevance for other situations.
Ive never considered myself a writer, Groen says. Thats partly why she opted
to do a very historical show. My strength and interest has always been
in acting. But being part of every aspect of the process from conception
to writing and editing to scene and costume design, blocking, directing, and acting
has given her a breadth of experience that shes found challenging and invaluable.
Its tied together so many things about theater that Ive learned at Dordt
Collegeand all a week before graduation, she says. But she still considers it
essentially a first draft, something she can build upon and possibly develop into
a traveling show at some point.
Groen is grateful for the variety of shows and genres shes been able
to learn in the theater program. The department intentionally picks works that give
actors a broad range of characters and styles in their resume. Shes also
grateful that they dont only choose crowd-pleasing material. We deal with big questions
while we have supporting Christian faculty around us, she says. That is why
she now feels prepared to look for a position in professional theater. She
says shed like to act, but shell look for an administrative job in
a professional company first, hoping to earn an opportunity to audition for an
Im not looking to head to New York and be a starving artist,
but I do hope that at some point in my life I can
be involved in theater, even if Im in another job and do community
theater, she says.
Theater has always been her main interest. Its a great art form in
which to serve the community. It asks provoking questions; it entertains; its exciting,
she says, adding that the world needs more good Christian artists focused on
using their gifts and fine-tuning their skills to be able to create art
that serves the community.
Christian artists have a good basis to start from, she says. We believe
that God said This is mine to every square inch of creation. Theater
is part of that.