Historic Theatres and Native American Storytelling

Hennepin Avenue at night

Article written by Tim Carroll, Hennepin Theatre Trust Archivist

Over 100 hundred years ago, the Orpheum and State theatres opened on Hennepin Avenue in the midst of a thriving entertainment area. With the Pantages, and many now long-gone theaters, Hennepin Avenue became the second largest Vaudeville circuit in the country outside of New York.

But the Hennepin Theater District already had a rich history of theater. Since the 1850s, Hennepin Avenue has been home to amusement halls, gathering spaces and theatrical prosceniums. For example, the Pence Opera House (1864) brought professional musical and dramatic entertainment to the district and opened the door for hundreds of performing spaces.

And we know that the history of storytelling in Minneapolis reaches even further back, before white settlers ever came upon the area. Hennepin Avenue was once a Dakota trail that wound from the St. Anthony Falls (Owámniyomni) to Bde Maka Ska. There is a centuries long tradition of Native American storytelling. Native American storytelling, songs and epic narratives included the use of intonation, rhythm, gestures and body movements in dramatizing stories. These presentations were handed down orally through generations until the 18th century, when they began to be written down. Today, there is a large and rich culture of Native American scholarship, novelists, playwrights, lyricists, musicians and dancers that continue to contribute to the pantheon of theatrical representation.

Over the next month, the public has two opportunities to engage with Native American storytelling with Hennepin Theatre Trust programming.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Hennepin Theater Trust is hosting a special Patrick’s Cabaret as part of our LGBTQIA+ celebration for our Heart of Hennepin centennial programming. Chris Stark (Anishinaabe and Cherokee) will read from her second novel, Carnival Lights, about two Ojibwe teen cousins who leave their fictitious northern Minnesota reservation for Minneapolis in 1969. Carnival Lights was a 2022 Minnesota Book Awards finalist and Kohl Miner (Ho-Chunk Nation) will perform A Queer Elder, a coming-of-age story.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Welcome to Indian Country is an evening-long celebration of Native culture through music and storytelling. A world class five-piece musical ensemble will be joined by storyteller and Washington State Poet Laureate, Rena Priest. Together they weave new compositions and songs with witty, wise and poignant poetry and satire to honor the elders and ancestors. Their performance unearths the depth, joy and solidarity that Native people find in their community, culture and family. For this presentation, All My Relations Arts, The Cedar and Hennepin Theatre Trust are combining their efforts for a mini-residency with community programs leading up to the final performance on Thursday, August 11, 2022.
Please join us in celebrating a centennial milestone as we honor the rich history of native storytelling and envision a future that is inclusive for all.

Further reading

Early Minneapolis Theaters


Native American Theater: A Concise History