Menil and Her Heart

CALIFORNIA — Isabella Madrigal has written, directed and starred in a play that tackles the obstacle of telling a story that highlights missing and murdered Indigenous women.

She has won scholarships and awards for her work, which includes a national Girl Scout award and has since spoken at the United Nations.

All at the age of 17.

Madrigal, a Cahuilla Band of Indians tribal member, created “Menil and Her Heart,” a play inspired by ancient Cahuilla stories. It follows two sisters — played by Madrigal and her real life sister, Sophia Madrigal — one of whom goes missing.

Since bringing the play to the Dorothy Ramon Learning Centre in Banning early this year, the cast has performed at the University of Redlands and Sherman Indian High School in Riverside. Upcoming performances will take place Nov. 17 at California State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus and in the near future at the California Genocide Conference in San Diego.

Madrigal, who is a junior at the Orange County School of the Arts and was featured on the Today Show as a National Gold Award Girl Scout before appearing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City for the 2019 International Day of the Girl Summit. She spoke out against violence against Indigenous women and girls, shared Native Storytelling’s part in this advocacy and called global leaders to action.

Madrigal, a 2019 National Gold Award Girl Scout, and was named as the OC Girls Scout Celebrate Leadership Honouree and now stands behind Native Storytelling.

“When you get a bunch of people on stage to tell a story and the audience is there to absorb it all, you’re creating this incredible connection and sharing ideas in a way that will truly stay with people,” she said to “Witnessing events unfolding right in front of you—experiencing them, rather than reading them in a book or hearing about them some other way—gets to a deeper part of your soul and makes you really think about the issues at hand.
One problem I noticed in theatre, though, is that there still isn’t enough diversity in terms of whose stories are being told and who’s telling them. Telling the same few stories over and over isn’t just less interesting but also detrimental to society, because it leaves out so many other perspectives and experiences that need representation.”

“There was one issue in particular that I knew needed to be brought to the stage—one that affects people in my own culture. More than eight in ten Native American women have experienced physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their lives, and the rate of missing and murdered women on some reservations is ten times higher than that of the rest of our country’s population. Nobody’s talking about this, though, and it’s devastating.”

She later won the Dragon Challenge with her sister Sophia Madrigal and the play is being requested and funded up and down the state including Arcata Playhouse in Humboldt County, the California Genocide Conference at San Diego State University, Cal Poly Pomona, Can State University San Bernardino, and Claremont University to spread awareness regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The play has been seen by over 700 people so far and will be performed in over five new venues this next year.

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