One of the most aggravating excuses that exists in theatre is that certain stories (whether that be about women, gay, disabled, minorites etc) are not told because there are not enough bodies of work being produced by those groups of people nor are there enough people to tell those stories. These are outrights lies that somehow got spread in the theatre community. For some reason people are under the impression that there are audiences who are not interested in learning and watching these stories unfold. This is another untrue sentiment.
Over the course of this year I have been exploring and searching for plays written by, and about those voices not typically heard on the vast but narrow broadway stages. More specifically I have been exploring Native American voices in the United States and how culture clashes with our modern era. I myself have Seminole and Cherokee heritage and quite honestly do not know enough about my native ancestry. Over the past year I have been researching not only my family tree and my families heritage but that of other Native American tribes and educating myself on the culture as a whole. In my research I have learned the many beautiful stories, traditions, customs of a people who are so diverse they cannot possible be forced together as one.
In the article “The Current State of Native Theatre” Randy Reinholz discusses not only the need for more Native American stories throughout the United States but the importance for people who identify as Native American to hear their stories told. Reinholz now in the rehearsal process for Off the Rails, a story of Native American boarding schools and it’s implications on society. The play is it’s on twist on Shakespeares Measure for Measure through a Native American lense. Reinholz goes on to discuss Native Voices and it’s mission of spreading the stories of written by and about Native American people. For a people who were forced into boarding schools by whites in the 1800s to rid them of their cultural heritage a rediscovering of who as a people they were and who they are now is extremely important for all American’s to hear. The genocide of the Native American people is a wound that as the United States we are still tentative to address.
“When power is allowed to run amok, the oppressed will do whatever they must to survive it. In the photos from the boarding schools, I see an attempt at cultural genocide. People stripped of their traditional dress. People stripped of their language. Their drums are taken away, literally and metaphorically. But we know the powers of the day did not ultimately win. Native Americans survived and that’s why we tell the story. That’s why Native Voices exists.”
Native Voices of Autry is the only Equity house committed to sharing Native American stories by using Native American actors. The company was created in 1994 with the sole purpose of gathering support and interest in Native American life.
“When Native Voices began in 1994, a handful of published plays by Native Americans were available to theatre artists, producers, scholars, and patrons. Now hundreds of Native plays exist. The growth in the field has led to a deep talent pool of Native actors and experienced Native theatre artists across the United States. Yet there’s still more to do. More grassroots support is needed, more collaboration with tribal communities, arts organizations, and universities.”
By creating a space in which native American artists can get together to produce work it has encouraged and supported more stories being told and more actors, playwrights, directors etc. I would love to see a production by Native Voices and see how I meet the stories that are told. I also have a strong desire to hear more of these stories told not only here in Boston but in every city in the United States. Yes, there are certain regions in America where there may be a larger population of Native people but that does not mean these stories do not need to be told in every city. Here on the east coast we also have a rich native population and we as theatre artists should be seeking out material and sharing these stories.
Professionals who claim not to be able to find Indians in theatre or in their cities are displaying grand ignorance, not proclaiming “the state of affairs” within the American Theatre. Today there are more experienced, informed Native American theatre artists working in the US and Canada than ever before. They are writing and acting and informing scripts written by others. We are creative, passionate, and dedicated to our craft and stories, yet agile enough to tell any story. Google “Native American theatre” and you’ll get more than 32,000 results
I believe it is our job as theatre artists to give voices to those that are not often heard. To tell stories that give new perspective, and to make unknown voices known.