Timothy White Eagle's The Indigo Room event preview | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Timothy White Eagle's The Indigo Room event preview 

Finding ritual in a recurring myth

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Creator/performer Timothy White Eagle - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Creator/performer Timothy White Eagle

As performance artist Timothy White Eagle relates it, one of the most common myths around the world is the "swallowed man"—tales, like the Biblical story of Jonah, that recur in every culture, telling of emergence from trial into rebirth. It's fitting then, that The Indigo Room, which explores that particular mythology, was itself born from a time of confinement and fear.

White Eagle—a University of Utah theater department graduate now based in Seattle—traces the origins of The Indigo Room back to the aftermath of an earlier installation piece called The White Room. Inspired in part by White Eagle's upbringing as a person of Native American ancestry adopted into a white Latter-Day Saint family, it found him offering individualized one-on-one experiences with visitors exploring "what we're taught as children that isn't true."

"It was based on the LDS temple celestial room—an inner sanctum where only the most pure of heart can attend," White Eagle says. "I wanted to reclaim the idea that I wasn't pure, but I made myself a priest of that room."

It was from a viewing of The White Room that someone in Seattle offered White Eagle the chance to develop a show—which was about to go into technical rehearsals when COVID hit in early 2020. "My collaborators and I [on The Indigo Room] continued to meet virtually every week," White Eagle says. "I asked them, 'What is the ritual performance we want to go to when this is over?' One of them was an elder who worked in a nursing home; he wasn't even allowed to go out of the building. So it had this really intense development period."

Out of that development period came The Indigo Room, an immersive theater experience with ritualistic components and audience participation. While much of White Eagle's artistic journey has been informed by his own rediscovery of this Native roots in his 20s, he emphasizes that The Indigo Room isn't a show built specifically on Native ritual traditions, which could have been seen as a kind of cultural appropriation for a non-Native audience.

"From the beginning, it's intended to be a universal space," White Eagle says. "That's part of why I tell the story I tell, because it's so universal. All of the stories I tell have roots in old stories, but they're new versions that I've altered, or changed, or completely imagined. They're actually brand-new stories. I know sacred songs, but I would never sing them for a ticketed audience; I specifically have a way of being with my voice inside a performance space that is not relying on something I know from Native ceremony space. So it's crafted for its universal accessibility."

For White Eagle, that idea of attendees knowing what The Indigo Room is—and is not—is clearly important. He notes, for example, that the show contains queer content, which is something that some previous audiences have found unexpected, and in some cases unwelcome. "Some people come expecting a stereotype of a Native American, and when they confront a complex contemporary being, they're offended," he says. "I'm not your fantasy of a Native storyteller."

Similarly, he believes it's important for potential attendees to come aware of the immersive component, which he considers a key to the deepest level of connecting with the experience. "When people arrive at the theater ... they're first confronted with a requirement of them to create something together," White Eagle says. "That's literally the buy-in to the show. What it is, is a ritual; I'm inviting people in. In order to do that, you don't just drop your $40 and come on in. If it's a real ritual, you have to buy in. You have to participate before you come into the room."

The Indigo Room consequently can be something that pushes attendees from their comfort zone—and marks White Eagle's ongoing attempts to push himself, as well. With much of his initial training consisting of stage design and other behind-the-scenes theater work and later, creative avenues like photography, being on stage has been a different kind of artistic expression.

"It's becoming more part of my comfort zone," he says. "I consider myself a storyteller; that's what I'm good at. I'm not trained as an actor. I keep getting offers to be an actor, and so far I've turned those offers down, because I like the freedom of storytelling—the freedom to change the language or the structure a little bit each night, depending on the audience. I know how to be present, and that's important, and I know how to tell the truth."

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About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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