(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog.)
TCG Online Conference Salon: Diversity and Inclusion Program Arc–Native Theatre series
JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.
RR: I am the Founder and Producing Artistic Director and Jean Bruce Scott is the Founder and Producing Executive Director of Native Voices at the Autry, the Resident Equity Theatre Company at the Autry National Center. In 2014 Native Voices will celebrate its 20th Anniversary of developing and producing new plays by Native American playwrights.
Native Voices at the Autry is the country’s only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to developing and producing new works by Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nations playwrights. The company has been hailed by critics as “a virtual Who’s Who of American Indian theatre artists,” “a hotbed for contemporary Native theatre,” “deeply compelling,” and “a powerful and eloquent voice.” Native Voices, which provides a supportive, collaborative setting for Native theatre artists from across North America, was founded in 1993 and became the resident theater company at the Autry National Center in 1999. It is widely respected in both the Native American and theatre communities for its breakthrough plays and diverse programming, which highlight unique points of view within the more than 500 Native American nations in North America. Deeply committed to developing new works by beginning, emerging, and established Native playwrights and seeing them fully realized, Native Voices has produced twenty-two critically acclaimed new plays, including 15 world premieres; 10 playwrights retreats; 20 new play festivals; and more than 180 workshops and public staged readings of new plays. Native Voices is led by Founder/Producing Artistic Director Randy Reinholz (Choctaw) and Founder/Producing Executive Director Jean Bruce Scott. The theatre maintains successful long-term relationships with New York’s Public Theater, Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT), Washington’s Kennedy Center, the National Museum of the American Indian, The Alaska Native Heritage Center, Montana Rep, Perseverance Theatre, and La Jolla Playhouse. Native Voices at the Autry is a member of Actors’ Equity Association, LA Stage Alliance, and the Dramatists Guild, and is a Constituent Theatre of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre.
JL: How do you identify in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?
RR: I am an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
JL: How has this identity impacted your ability to work in the American Theatre? Have certain opportunities been made available to you owing to “who” you are? Have certain doors been closed to you?
RR: I am a theatre artist who is also a Native American. / a Native American who is also a theatre artist. I received my training as an actor at William Jewell College in Liberty, MO, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA.
JL: Do we need racial, ethnic and gender based culturally specific theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community?
RR: We need Native American stories on the American stage. We need Native American theater artists employed by American theatres. Native American stories depict a distinct and unique point of view that has a rightful place on the American stage.
JL: What is the current state of Native Theatre? (This can address recent offences and/or great accomplishments.)
RR: I have seen Native Theatre grow exponentially over the past 20 years – everything from more Native American plays and playwrights to more actors, directors, dramaturges, and mentors. This is heartening – but we still have a long way to go. We are still under-represented within the overall make-up of theatre artists in and on the American Stage.
JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?
RR: Hmmmm… serve a larger and more inclusive community? Be more proactive in seeking out Native American playwrights and Native American stories. Cast Native American Actors in both Native and Non-Native specific roles. Hire Native American Directors to direct both Native and Non-Native plays.
Randy Reinholz (an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) is co-creator and Producing Artistic Director of Native Voices at the Autry the nation’s only Equity theater company dedicated exclusively to the development and production of new plays by Native American playwrights. He has directed and produced Urban Tattoo, Jump Kiss, Stone Heart, The Red Road, The Buz’Gem Blues, The Berlin Blues, Please Do Not Touch the Indians, Carbon Black, and Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light. He also executive produced The Frybread Queen, Kino & Teresa, SUPER INDIAN, Teaching Disco Square Dancing to Our Elders, Tales of an Urban Indian, Walking on Turtle Island, Ghostlands of an Urban NDN, Cikiuteklluku: Giving Something Away, and The Bird House. He is a tenured professor at San Diego State University, where he served as Director of the School of Theatre, Television, and Film from 2007-2012. In 2012 he was named Director of Community Engagement and Innovative Programs for the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at San Diego State University.
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com