New Native Theatre finds the humor of '2012: The Musical!'

It's not everyday you get a Native American rock musical about the end of the world. That's what is on the table starting this weekend at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre with the opening of 2012: The Musical!

The show, a co-production between New Native and Bedlam theaters, had its start two years ago as part of Bedlam's annual 10-minute play festival.

"We thought it would just be a lot of in jokes. We didn't think about how it would do outside of the [Native] community. It was extremely well received. We got so many laughs, it was amazing," says Rhiana Yazzie, the founder of New Native Theatre. 

That version was akin to a trailer for the full show. The idea riffs on the end of the Mayan calendar, and what that could portend for the world. In New Native's vision, the elders -- aliens -- return to the Earth, shaking up the lives of a number of characters living along Franklin Avenue. 

"It is very very Minneapolis and Franklin Avenue orientated," Yazzie says. "It is something that Twin Cities audiences can relate to. There are so many local references. The humor is satirical and self-deprecating. Not all of the humor is at the expense of the white man."

There's a lot of general silliness along the way. The main antagonist, for example, is a rogue powwow announcer. Two patrol members of an AIM-like group are named Edward and Jacob.

For the second version, singer-songwriter Marisa Carr wrote a pair of songs. That has been expanded to half a dozen numbers for the full-length version of the show.

"We wanted a rock-opera type feel; a Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Little Shop of Horrors meets Tommy. We wanted to show that as Native people our identity is important, but the music is not all flutes and powwow drums. It is still Native music because we are writing it and singing it," Carr says.

Yazzie started New Native as a way to engage the local community in theater. "When I came here in 2006 on a Jerome Fellowship and was doing new play development, I couldn't get Native actors. I've been slowly nurturing a group of people to do what was unheard of six years ago," she says.

"Rhiana is building and working with people who don't have acting experience and creating a community around the theater," says Maren Ward, one of the leaders of Bedlam Theatre. "I think that we are both interested in making theater that can be performed as an event. We are interested in finding awesome people and stories that are in our midst and bringing them to the stage."

"The way I run the theater, there is an open door. Whoever in the Native community is interested in joining our projects can," Yazzie says.

The first version was made with an all-female ensemble. This year, several men have joined the group and have parts in the show. The main work for the full-length script was completed over the summer. From the humble 10-minute origins, the company has a "full two-act musical, created by Native authors, music by a Native composer, and nine Native actors," Yazzie says.

2012: The Musical!
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

For tickets and information, call 612.721.2535 or visit online