To Drown : Westering
Music / Performance August 15, 2019
Nambé Mill House, Nambé, New Mexico
Two bodies move through the gathering crowd. The actors are dressed in the garb of the wild west. They assemble props into opposing altars: gingham, snakeskin, cotton, paperback westerns, a harmonica, a knife. The set-up of a shoot-out emerges. The audience is faced with an uncomfortable truth: this story could have happened here a century ago. And if it did- the actions of it were probably misremembered.
The performance opens with a recognition- we are on stolen land. The Nambé Mill House property belongs rightfully to the Nambé Pueblo peoples. The speech closes, and the actors are the characters from murder ballad, ‘Banks of The Ohio’. The outlaw and the damsel in distress are presented as caricatures, making their dissection possible as the play progresses.
Intermission asks the audience to pin texts onto a long piece of white fabric between the altars. These texts are culled from various sources such as: historic southwestern railroad advertising; the indigenous Tée-wah language; and a Santa Fe hotel’s recent review. The audience gathers around the fabric as the second act opens, acknowledging language used to sell and tell the west.
During a dueling version of ‘Oh Susanna’, the outlaw is destroyed by the damsel’s fiddle bow. The actors shed their western garb for simple black and white slips. We become ourselves: Melanie Curran and Molly Baker, accompanied by other musicians. We perform original songs, performing ourselves more than the sickening caricatures. As the play closes, we sing with our audience the simple refrain:
“Remember me not by my/your name”.
Western Female seeks to create an art to investigate how America has metabolized the horrors Native American genocide, slavery, and the subjugation women and the environment. We are sorry for any offense and division our performance caused. Next time, we will fully warn our audience that what they are about to see may disturb them. Inhabiting the trauma of our shared history is a sensitive but necessary act. May we have the strength to stand together on shifting ground.
With music by Melanie Curran, Molly B Baker, Westin Macdowell, and Michael Kott
Photography and Videography by Shayla Blatchford