Art Creates Wealth

by Vickie Ramirez

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the blog salon curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2015 TCG National Conference: Game ChangeThe following questions will inform the final plenary session, “Artistic Leadership: How We Change the Game.”)

JACQUELINE LAWTON: What was the most game-changing production you’ve seen or created, and why?

VICKIE RAMIREZ: For me, it was Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing by Thomson Highway. My father loved to take us to theater, but it was usually fairly traditional – Shakespeare or Shaw, or touring Broadway Shows. Dry Lips was the first time I’d ever seen Native people onstage and unlike Native presence in film and television, the people up there were fully realized, contemporary people with emotions and opinions and a sense of humor. Blew my mind! Dry Lips is a story about a bunch of Native men struggling with their identity, independent females and a women’s hockey tournament off the Rez. Every voice that spoke, I recognized – I could cast that play with my family members. Best of all, even though the characters were struggling with lingering effects of colonialism, there were no outsiders involved in the story.  The entire cast was  Native. It was a revelation that one of our stories about us, by us and for us, could be produced onstage.

JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?

VR: Everyone in Native Theater. Just by being Native Theater artists, they are game-changers! Remember there was a deliberate and entrenched government policy to destroy our culture (residential schools) so every time a Native Artist steps onstage and identifies as Native, they are  game-changing. I also believe that this is why we’re often isolated. So let’s just list as many as possible; Spiderwoman Theater, The Colorado Sisters, Native Voices at the Autry and their entire ensemble, Amerinda, Bruce King, William Yellowrobe, Thomson Highway, Terry Gomez, Margo Kane, Diane Glancy, Thunderbird Theatre, Dianne Yeahquo Reyner, Rhiana Yazzie, Larissa Fasthorse, Vicki Mooney, Joseph Valdez, Alaska Native Playwright’s Project, The Eagle Project, Mixed Phoenix Theatre Group, Mary Kathryn Nagle, Darrell Dennis, Steve Elm, Madeline Sayet, and many, many others who deserve the shoutout

JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?

VR: Right now this country doesn’t value art the way it should. It weighs our value as a commodity. To me, theater and art at large is a necessary pressure valve for a society to vent its ills, share its triumphs, share its humor and its loves. This is how we come together; this is how we create our persona as a society. We know who we are as a culture because of our artists. This is the wealth we bring. Art can create monetary wealth, but that’s not its primary purpose – often when it is, the pursuit of wealth trivializes the art involved. Is there any way to solve this? Nothing specific that I can think of, other than embrace every opportunity to be involved in our communities outside of the theater. Think – school programs, talk backs, community organizing. Use each other as resources and not as competition. That is working in small but significant way for us in the Native Theater Community.

JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?

VR: Oh, heck, I have no idea. A lack of empathy maybe? Too much insularity? It’s odd that the internet has opened up a world of communication and platforms for people and yet studies say we’re lonelier than ever. I guess theater can help with small moments of connection. Each time you spend two hours in a room with people, sharing a story, it’s a communal experience. Maybe we can help somewhat by reminding people that they’re not alone, and even if the story is wildly opposite to anything in your own experience, that there is always a commonality, a human moment that we can all share.

Vickie Ramirez is alumnus of the Public Theater’s Emerging Writer’s Group 2009, Chukalokoli Native Theater Ensemble and Amerinda Theater. Plays: Smoke, Ashes, Standoff at Hwy#37, The Varlettes vs. the Space Rock, Case 24: Roswell, NM and Leona by the Bayou. Honors: 2009/2010 NYC Urban Artists Fellowship, 2010 NYSCA Individual Artist Award.  Her work has been developed and/or presented at The Public Theater, The Flea, ONU, Santa Fe Theatre Festival, Roundabout Theater’s Different Voices Program, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Mixed Phoenix Theatre Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center, Native Voices at the Autry and The 52nd Street Project.

Jacqueline Lawton_headshotJacqueline 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.