Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

AlterTheater Expands Arts Learning Project For Native Youth, Hires Tanis Parenteau

The company has hired Tanis Parenteau as its new Tribal Liaison and Outreach Coordinator, joining Education Director Teresa Melendez.

AlterTheater Expands Arts Learning Project For Native Youth, Hires Tanis Parenteau

AlterTheater will expand its Arts Learning Project for Native Youth, safely adding in-person summer programming according to COVID protocols in some reservation communities, while expanding virtual programming. To help with the expansion, the company has hired Tanis Parenteau as its new Tribal Liaison and Outreach Coordinator, joining Education Director Teresa Melendez.

"I'm excited about working with Native youth and giving them opportunities to perform and explore different areas of the performing arts," says Ms. Parenteau. "I think it's important to offer opportunities to kids who have limited access who might not otherwise get these opportunities."

A key design point of AlterTheater's program is to provide networks and build long-term, lasting relationships among Native youth and professional Native artists working in the performing arts. The Lead Artists teaching the workshops are working theater professionals, and include Tara Moses, Dillon Chitto, Blossom Johnson, and Vickie Ramirez, who are all currently under commission to write new plays for AlterTheater.

An award-winning actor with credits in film, tv, and stage, Tanis Parenteau will shepherd the theater's relationships with tribes, and maintain ongoing programs with current students and alumni. "It's really important to AlterTheater that we work in partnership with tribes, helping to address the needs of each

community. That will be the focus of Tanis's work," says AlterTheater Artistic Director Jeanette Harrison. "I'm thrilled to have her working with us."

In AlterTheater's first workshop, designed and taught by Vickie Ramirez, youth explored three-dimensional storytelling, with each kid writing a monologue during the weeklong workshop. On the final day, professional Native actors performed the students' work. One of the students, Riatta Palmer (Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe), went on to win a special youth award in her age category from Yale's Indigenous Performing Arts Program's monologue contest.

"What's exciting is seeing the world open up for these youth. They're suddenly aware that we're interested - people want to hear their stories. That realization brings confidence, and then these shy, awkward kids are claiming the space and owning their voice," said Ramirez. "The transformation is amazing to watch."

As IllumiNative and other Native activists and advocacy organizations highlight the need for more accurate representations of contemporary Native people, it's important to hear authentic stories from Native people themselves. "I think it's a big disconnect in the entertainment industry. Geographically, it's an uneven playing field if people can't leave the reservation to go to places where these programs are normally offered," says Ms. Parenteau. "And they deserve these opportunities just as much as anyone who has the ability to move to an urban area where there is usually more access. There's talent all over, and that talent is going undiscovered because they haven't been able to partake in opportunities such as these workshops, and building relationships with the theater professionals that we have leading these workshops."

Originally designed around Common Core standards for home schooling during COVID, the program has settled into an arts enrichment program with scaffolded learning. "Workshops can be taken independently, in any order," says Teresa Melendez. "And what's really neat is that the students' interests help set future workshops."

The workshops predominantly run during students' school breaks. "We're thinking of adding an ongoing drop-in class, for students who still want to stay connected, in between workshops," says Melendez.



Related Articles View More San Francisco Stories


More Hot Stories For You