Sequoia Hauck Is Decolonizing the Performing Arts

25August 2021

Prior to COVID-19, you could’ve seen Sequoia Hauck at their monthly arts showcase Good Night at the Southern or, in the winter months, on the ice as the production co-lead for Lake Mde Unma’s Art Shanty Projects. Since the pandemic, they almost seem to have popped up more, albeit virtually, as the director or creator of seven films (including Never Turn Your Back on the Wave: The Travis Jordan Story), a member of the Jungle Theater’s inaugural artistic cohort, a co-host of The Collective Perspective podcast’s first season, and more.

Hauck readily admits that as a multidisciplinary freelance artist, they’re used to saying yes to everything to keep food on the table at home and for their two cats. Lately, though, they’ve been lucky enough to be able to take a couple steps back and reflect on what they want to put their energy toward and how they want to bring their art—made for their Native community—into the world.

“It started as an intentionality, like, OK, I’m going to do Native theater,” says Hauck, whose family is from the White Earth Nation and Hoopa Valley. “And I think [in the beginning] as an 18-, 19-year-old, I needed that specificity to say I was going to create something, but as I’ve sort of started creating work and doing stuff, it’s been more in relation to, like, ‘Oh, my films will be about art or about the inaccessibility of water with Native people, or about the resiliency among my community,’ or things of that such.”

Doing away with white-washed theater

Hauck grew up steeped in theater, going to Anoka Middle School for the Arts and then the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, but by the time they got to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 2015, they were considering moving onto something else. What relit the fire was an American Indian studies class that made them realize they could merge Native ways of storytelling into art and theater.

Over the years, Hauck has not only built Native-based art but intertwined it with decolonizing practices. “In non-BIPOC spaces, in white theater at least, I feel like there’s a lot of coldness and harshness,” they say. “At least for me as a Native person, I feel like I can’t ever fully bring my full self to these places. Maybe it’s just being young or also because I’m femme and a girl. […] But a lot of those aspects, when I’m in BIPOC spaces, are celebrated and appreciated and welcomed and encouraged.”

Pramila Vasudevan of Aniccha Arts was one of the first people who showed Hauck what a decolonized space could look like during The Parking Ramp Project, a 2018 installation where Hauck was involved in one of 40 performances conveying ideas around transience, migration, and stability. Despite the large number of diverse people, Vasudevan made space for each person.

More recently, Hauck says, an eight-day Belwin Conservancy residency led by the Taja Will Ensemble demonstrated how little choices can transform a creative space. Hauck was there as the director of photography for the ensemble’s film Lineas de Sangre, but they felt so taken care of and supported beyond the task itself.

“It’s sort of like grace notes, like little small details of the practice or drinking tea or sitting down or even stretching at night every time we did meet. And food, we each cooked a meal every night. Those things, I think are things overlooked in other places. It’s just so beautiful to know that those are the first thoughts in these BIPOC spaces, to know that they’re thinking of people as a whole.”

Evolving as an artist and as a community

Hauck’s daily schedule varies (minus the perpetual email correspondence). The week I chatted with them included a Jungle cohort meeting, filming an American sign language interpretation of the theater’s latest virtual production Words + Music, and reviewing the latest cut of her forthcoming documentary series They Didn’t Deserve to Die, which confronts police brutality against the indigenous community.

Perhaps because of the busy-ness, Hauck started to be more deliberate about making time for the things that nourish them, applying the self-care of their residency with Will to their everyday life. Time for eating, watering their plants, and watching TV are so easy to let slip away, but they’re also all ways that Hauck shows themself love. Recently, they had a morning with no commitments and spent the whole time reading just because they could, and while it’s just a small thing, the delight in Hauck’s tone was more than evident.

Looking ahead, Hauck hopes that the good that did come out of 2020—the outdoor and nontraditional performance venues, the advocacy for social justice—continues to take root in the Twin Cities art community.

“I hope—not that you can print this, but fuck capitalism. I hope we are able to think of more equitable ways to make theater that are more accessible for everybody in terms of ticket prices and content and representation,” they say. “In terms of Native people, what I hope for is Native folks start making theater and seeing theater as avenues that they can claim.”

Theater isn’t limited to what people have seen or what people think they can do, continues Hauck. For instance, one of their directorial credits is In the Midst of Things: In Media Res, a 15-minute opera with An Opera Theatre about distance learning. Hauck never imagined having a hand in opera. But here’s the thing: Opera doesn’t have to be the product of its stigma, Hauck says. It doesn’t have to be sung in Italian; it doesn’t have to be an all-white cast.

Hauck rattles off other social barriers, like “only Hollywood can do film, and only people who danced their entire lives and did ballet as a child can dance,” and I can almost hear the air quotes and the eye roll. “I have nothing against those models, but anyone can dance or do theater, film, opera,” they say. “I would love to see people doing art in general, even if it’s something they do, not to feed their families but to feed their soul.”

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