LOOKING TOWARD WAUPAU

LOOKING TOWARD WAUPAU
By: 

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Menominee Chief Tomow is presented a medal by British Officer Frederick Haldimand in a scene from “Waupau,” a pageant being recreated by the College of Menominee Nation. Shown in this scene are, from left, Daynelle Grignon, Bruce Wilber Jr., Bea Corn, Karen Ann Hoffman, Bryan Wilber, Mike Hoffman, Tom Seidler, Adam Schulz, Nell-Lee Hawpetoss, Richie Plass and Ron Bowan Sr.

The Menominee Tribe, decades ago, told grand and glorious stories through pageants at the Keshena Fair.

The fair is no more, but the pageants are making a comeback through the College of Menominee Nation. On Aug. 1, the college’s theater department will present “Waupau,” a pageant produced by James Frechette Sr. and directed by James Frechette Jr. in 1959.

Ryan Winn, who teaches English and theater at CMN, is back for a third consecutive year to direct the pageant, which begins at dusk, while Melinda Cook marks her third time as stage manager.

“Waupau” is set in the 1700s, during the time when the Menominee first encountered French settlers and later the British, who many Menominee refer to as the English. “Waupau” is the Menominee word for “tomorrow.”

The Keshena Fair in 1959 included a number of tourists, and the pageant’s message implored attendees to consider the tribe’s point of view.

The college is getting some additional effects and props from the Wisconsin Historical Society, including images and the provenance for the medal the British presented to Menominee Chief Tomow in 1778.

Like the previous presentation of “Waupau” 59 years ago, there are members of the Frechette family involved. Bea Corn, the daughter of James Frechette Sr., had the copies of the original pageant script in storage and provided them to Winn, while Bruce Wilber, Corn’s son, will be one of the actors in the show.

“Three years ago, people had been mentioning to Ryan … that he should do one of the pageants,” Corn said. “They were looking for scripts or whatever anybody knew about the pageants. My dad had a box of scripts and all different things to do with the pageants.”

Wilber is eager to be part of the family tradition, remembering the original pageants he saw as a boy.

“I don’t know how old I was when they had them,” Wilber said. “I remember them advertising the pageant. I remember them rehearsing one at the old Legion Hall and doing the recording of the play. I don’t remember the year, but the Keshena Fair was still going on.”

Like in the early days, the pageant’s oration will be recorded and enhanced with sound effects, while actors speak their lines along with the recorded track. The Menominee pageants include a mixture of pantomiming, live music and dancing.

Wilber said that, when he heard CMN was reviving the pageants, he went to Winn and said he wanted to play the parts his grandfather played.

“I always admired my grandfather when I had seen him talking, and when he was MC’ing a powwow,” Wilber said. “The first time that we redid a pageant at the (Woodland) Bowl, I was standing where he was standing, and the nighttime just reminded me of him. In the dark, it looked just like it did back then.”

Wilber said he was glad that the oration would be recorded for fear that he might become too emotional with memories of his grandfather.

“The first time we did this, I started to feel emotion, so it’s a good thing we were recording,” Wilber said. “We’re pantomiming to our own voices. That’s just the way they did in those days.”

Corn recalled that almost all of the actors were Menominee, but when there were non-Menominee characters, like the French soldiers in “Waupau,” others were invited to participate. All of the dancers and drummers in the pageants were Menominee, she said.

For Corn, being able to share her father’s pageants is like reliving history.

“I had this box from my dad, and it had all these scripts in there,” Corn said. “The original scripts, he had five of them.”

Corn noted that Winn has put in many hours to bring back the pageants, researching newspaper archives and digging up anecdotal information about how they were done in the past.

Wilber said Corn has been part of the rehearsals to make sure the stories are portrayed the same way they were almost 60 years ago.

“Every meeting, every rehearsal, she’s there,” Wilber said.

Other descendants of past pageant performers will be part of “Waupau.” Daynell Grignon learned her grandfather performed in the pageants after seeing last year’s show, and an aunt she’d never met also took part.

“Then Ryan talked me into helping out,” Grignon said. “I feel kind of nervous to do this, but I’m also proud to be asked to do this. I think it’s pretty cool to keep this going in the family.”

Winn said that the pageants keep increasing in attendance, with 1,000 coming to last year’s performance of “The Legend of Spirit Rock,” also written by Frechette Sr.

“There’s just an excitement in the air,” Winn said.

The excitement is not just limited to the Menominee. Adam Schulz, who lives on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation, sees members of his tribe also looking forward to this year’s pageant.

“Some of the elders have been invited to the Woodland Bowl to see this,” Schulz said. “I see more (CMN) students are talking about it on campus this year.”

Schulz hope the tribe’s youth come out to see “Waupau” and learn more about their rich history.

“They’re going to be the ones to sustain this reservation and our way of life, so it’s awesome to see the youth come out,” “They’re seeing that, as natives, we had our own plays, and they can relate to it.”