Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Theatre and Dance

Committee Chair

Bernadette Sweeney

Commitee Members

Jere Hodgin, Kathry Shanley


Copper Thunderbird, drama, Healing, Marie Clements, Native American Art, Native American Theater, Norval Morrisseau, play, theater


University of Montana


The idea of the healing power of theater reaches back to Aristotle and his concept of catharsis. Greek philosopher states that tragedy “with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions.” The process of catharsis is interpreted as purification or purging of the audience members’ strong emotions as a response to the dramatic action taking place on stage. Today very few western theater practitioners mention that particular aspect of theater in their artistic manifestoes. Yet in Native American theater narratives of illness and healing are ever present. The need for change, and faith in the power of theater to achieve it, fuels many Native American manifestoes, plays and scholarly works. In this thesis I focus on the process of emotional, spiritual and physical healing in native communities. I specifically concentrate on the role of theater in the process of healing. I use the play Copper Thunderbird by Marie Clements, a Metis playwright, as a case study. Copper Thunderbird is based on the life and art of Norval Morrisseau, the renowned Ojibway painter referred to by critics as the "Picasso of the North". Morisseau was not only a talented artist, but also a Great Shaman and a student of the traditional stories of his people. Marie Clements portrays Morrisseau as someone who moved native art from museums to art galleries. Yet the playwright also boldly portrays the weaknesses and addictions of the painter, as well as his broken relationships with his family. Clements captures in her play Morrisseau's moral struggle of whether or not white people even deserved the opportunity to purchase his paintings.



© Copyright 2012 Anna Dulba-Barnett