Meet the Playwright: Justin Neal

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Justin Neal (Squamish)
"So Damn Proud" 2015 Playwrights Retreat

What is your favorite thing about playwriting?
When you hit that moment in dialogue writing where it's a conversation between characters that I merely feel like a vessel of some sort, that the characters have a life of their own and I'm merely a scribe. So, then, to see the actors embody these characters, with a director's vision and guidance, and together they make them these completely new spirits—that this character and story is a gift we all get to share together with the world at large.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting?
Knowing that the story I want to tell has to fit within a comfortable amount of time, so creating the structure and the outline may be the least "fun" thing to do, it can then be the place to create and have the freedom to explore within that structure.

What is your favorite play?
Although Johnna's role I felt was greatly trivialized in the film, and I have never seen a production of it, but when I first read August: Osage County I was absolutely blown away by that story.

What’s the best cure for writer’s block?
Perhaps I am showing off a level of naivete here, but I don't believe it exists. When I went through periods of not writing I relied on substances (weed, booze, etc.) for inspiration. After moving beyond that through years of hard work and help from amazing people, I now find that I don't get stuck (knock wood) and when I am paused on a particular moment I know I have to put some thought about these characters and the world they live in, so I don't try to get anywhere in my thinking but rather take multi-hour long walks, or shoot baskets, or throw a baseball around, or sit in a bathtub, all things that will help me meditate on them and possible places I would like t
hem to go to. But not getting stuck on those places either, being open to other outcomes. Much of the time happy accidents—something random I witness in life, or I conversation I hear that informs some particular action. I then have faith these ideas are good and start writing away. And if not I ruminate some more until it's time.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life?
Keep Coming Back

What play do you wish you had written and why?
When I was 20 or so (a long time ago) I saw Raisin in the Sun in Seattle and I had only known a fairly generalized version of African-American history growing up with liberal parents in suburban Seattle with a minuscule Black population. This was the play that opened my eyes to a history I had never experienced, and empowered me to look closer at my own family story, and hence the struggle of other people of color—to write a play with that kind of impact, and create such a profound level of empathy is incredible.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
Childhood, work environments, people I admire, the lives I've lead.

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival?
Definitely the culmination of all our collective efforts focused into the staged reading performance.

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Spotlight on First Look Series: Measure for Measure

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Our FREE staged reading of Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy is this Thursday, October 24th at 7:30pm at the Autry. Click here for more details

Excitement is in the room as we begin our second First Look Series workshop of the season. Described as "Blazing Saddles meets Shakespeare," Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy is Native Voices founder and artistic director Randy Reinholz's adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, Measure for Measure. The original Shakespeare piece, written around 1603, deals with Catholicism's contradictions and asks serious questions about who should have moral authority. Who gets to decide right from wrong? And moreover, are the morally and spiritually righteous actually immune to the very same earthly, human impulses that get the rest of us into trouble?

Reinholz's adaptation is set in the American Old West, where the law is still in flux. Puritan Christian authority struggles to excercise control over late 19th century Genoa, Nebraska. Here, diversity and entrepreneurial opportunity flourish in form of the female-owned-and-run saloon and brothel, The Stewed Prunes Saloon. In direct contrast, however, the Indian Industrial School of Genoa strives to "Kill the Indian, Save the Man" by assimilating Native youth into the Christian belief system. A part of American history often left out of textbooks, the Indian industrial schools (or boarding schools) of the 19th to 20th centuries have been described by many as a system of cultural genocide.

The problem of cultural assimilation becomes apparent when a young Native man, Momaday, impregnates his Irish fiancee, Caitlin. The town's conservative authority figure, Angelo, refuses to recognize Momaday and Caitlin's marriage because it was done in the Indian way, rather than as a Christian ceremony. Momaday is sentenced to death for getting a white girl pregnant, and the townspeople converge to save him from an unjust fate.

Despite the depth of the ideas and themes in this adaptation, the play is outlandishly funny. As Reinholz describes it, "This issue [Indian boarding schools] rouses deep emotions even today. A play about this subject seems to want some kind of theatrical distance– so I chose comedy." Raucous, bawdy scenes of broad comedy are juxtaposed with Shakespeare's heightened poetry. Women have a stronger part to play in the resolution of this play than in the original text, too.

Below is a Q&A with Randy Reinholz about his adaptation and about the process of workshopping a new play.

Is this your first pass at playwriting/adapting a play? What made you decide to adapt this play, Measure for Measure, now?
As a director, I have often come up with concepts about where and when a Shakespeare text should occur. Early in my career it was about choosing a time and geographic region that would serve the aesthetics of the play. Then, with all the university work I did, it also became important that productions introduced students to the lives and values of people of various periods and regions of the world.

Through the years, I became more confident using Shakespeare's story structure and changing character motivations to redirect the audience's focus and reveal other worlds of the play. Looking at Measure for Measure– which I have always loved– I thought I could make some simple changes to the text. I wanted to shift the focus of the story to the Old West, and substitute the examination of the institution of Catholicism to the brutality of Indian boarding schools. So few Americans know of this institution, its “moral” value system and the long-term cultural damage done by people of faith. Measure for Measure is both extremely funny and potentially tragic in the way the characters both abuse power and abdicate the responsibility for true governance. 

What was fun about adapting the play?
The women, they provided a depth of strength and comedy and vulnerability in the text. Shifting the focus of the action from men and women responding to conflict, to women responding to, then driving the action and eventual outcomes of the conflict was a great joy. I really look forward to hearing the text this week to see how to improve this aspect of the play. I think having a woman (Chris Anthony) direct is such a gift. She is a wonderful Shakespeare scholar and a dream in the way she works with actors.

What was challenging about adapting the play? 
Deciding what to keep and what to let go of from the original text. It must be similar to what a screen writer experiences, or a filmmaker’s process in distilling a big story for the screen.

Left to right: DeLanna Studi (Isabel),
Kenneth Ruthardt (James McDonald),
and Chris Anthony (Director)
What part of the writing workshop this week are you looking forward to most? 
I look forward to having the actors in the room, both making the text fly and hearing what causes them to stumble. That will be tricky – because so much of the “new” text is in heightened verse, so I have to be patient to hear if the dialogue is not working or if it just takes the actors time to unpack the language. About half the cast is familiar with heightened text, and the others will be new to the process. I have some AMAZING actors who can really lift Shakespearean text, too! 

Come see our FREE staged reading of Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy, this Thursday, October 24th at 7:30pm at the Autry. Click here for more details


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Write a Short Play! (4 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 2 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 3, click here!
FAQs About our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival
Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines

Great news! Our deadline for short play submissions has been extended. Submissions for our short play festival are now due on August 8th, 2013

Now, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You have an extra week to write and submit a short play to Native Voices! We’re really excited to see what you come up with.

If you’ve been following our short play writing exercises, you’ll also be glad to know that it’s time for the fourth and final exercise: write the darn play!

Exercise 4: Write Your Short Play

For this exercise, it’s important to remember that there is an eraser on the end of your pencil (or correction fluid for your pen, or a backspace button on your keyboard). In other words, don't worry about getting your short play perfect the first time. Longtime Native Voices friend and award-winning playwright Rob Caisley reminded us of this saying:

“Don’t get it right, get it written!”

What you write today is just a first draft of many. Playwright, teacher, and Native Voices friend Julie Jensen emphasizes that each draft is “just an experiment. Nothing to fear, nothing to worry about.” You can always rewrite it. In fact, you should rewrite as part of your process.

“The difference between a so-so play and a good play is REWRITING,” Rob adds. “The difference between and good play and a great play is REWRITING. But until you've got a first draft, you've got nothing to improve.”

With this advice fresh in mind, return to your main character and antagonist. In the last exercise, your antagonist came up with 10 different ways to thwart your main character in his/her struggle to achieve their goal. In my example, Joe was doing everything he could to stop Jane from breaking up with him. His efforts included destroying his phone to avoid break-up texts, and physically chasing Jane down if she tried to run away. A crisis was ready to erupt between Jane and Joe. Time to write a confrontation!

Try writing a short play with your main character and antagonist. It doesn’t have to be very long (a short play can be as few as 5 pages long to submit to Native Voices).
  • Use at least three of your main character’s tactics to get what they want, and have your antagonist make at least three countermoves. 
  • Make the two characters worthy opponents– both should have something to gain, or something to lose (ex., Jane wants to gain freedom, while Joe doesn’t want to lose comfort/love/security/etc.). 
Once you have written your short play or scene, REWRITE it! Shake it up! Find a way turn it on its head. 
  • If your main character won what he/she wanted, then rewrite an ending where your antagonist gives one last, lethal blow, preventing the main character from attaining happiness. 
  • If your main character lost what he/she wanted, rewrite an ending where he/she gets a burst of potent energy and finds a way to achieve their goal. 
I won’t post the full script of Jane & Joe (Don’t) Break Up here. Be thankful! This literary assistant is happy to stick to reading plays, not writing them.

With an entire week left to write your short play, I hope to have plenty of reading to do when August 8th arrives. Remember, you can submit up to three (3) plays in each category, short or full-length. So send them in! Happy writing!

The deadline for short play submissions is now August 8th, 2013. For more info about our annual call for scripts, click here
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Write a Short Play! (3 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 2 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
FAQs About our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival
Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines


By now, you should have thought of
  • A character
  • Something he/she is going to do, and 10 different ways to do it
If you're like me, you have Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" stuck in your head, too.

Ready for part 3?

Exercise 3: The Antagonist

Conflict is central to most plays. As Julie Jensen, playwright, playwriting teacher, and friend of Native Voices says, "Someone wants something, someone else is in the way. Write that exchange, that negotiation, that argument."

Your main character wants something, but... someone is in the way: the antagonist. Think Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Harry Potter and Voldemort. Aragorn and Sauron!

Who is standing in your main character's way? And moreover, what does this antagonist need from your main character? It could be an item or object– something physical and tangible– or it could be an emotion (respect, love, admiration, etc).

What will the antagonist do to try to get this thing from your character, or to keep it? List 10 different ways your antagonist will counteract your main character. For each of the 10 ways your character pursued an action in the previous exercise, come up with 10 realistic ways for your antagonist to stop them.

In my example for Exercise 2, I decided that Jane wanted to break up with her boyfriend. Today, her boyfriend, Joe, needs her to stay. He desperately loves her and won't take no for an answer!

Joe must keep Jane from breaking up with him. He can...

1. Fake having bad reception on his phone so that she can't break up with him by phone call
2. Break his phone on purpose to avoid receiving the break-up text
3. Ignore all of his emails, or set his inbox to recognize Jane's mail as spam
4. Take Jane to a very crowded, public place on Valentine's Day, where it will be difficult and embarrassing for her to break up with him
5. Fall asleep or run out for dessert immediately after dinner to avoid a post-dinner break up conversation
6. Whisk Jane away on a romantic vacation to someplace she's always wanted to go, so she can't pack her bags and leave
7. Refuse to leave, because the apartment, furniture, and dog belong to him, too
8. Undertake a missing persons search, including pictures on milk cartons and ads, and a private investigator, so that Jane can't easily fake her own death or simply disappear
9. Be the best boyfriend ever, so that Jane's attempts to make him break up with her go awry
10. Put on his sneakers and literally chase Jane down the street if she tries to run away from him

As you might imagine, Jane is going to get very irritated with Joe. Joe is probably very upset with Jane. Yikes! It seems inevitable that my protagonist and antagonist will have some kind of argument or altercation.

Who is your antagonist, and what does he/she want? What are 10 ways he/she will get in the way of your main character? What kind of argument or confrontation are they likely to have?

Revisit the blog soon to try Exercise 4: The Short Play!

For more info about our annual call for scripts, click here.
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Write a Short Play! (2 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here

Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines

Did you manage to think of a great character over the weekend? Ready to do something with him or her? Excellent! Let's go...

Exercise 2: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Your character might be leaving their lover, or running for office, or both! Now that you have a character, what action will he or she take?

Once you've thought of something your character does, think about how many different ways your character can do this thing. Think of the song, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."


Make a list of 10 different ways your character can do the action you've thought of.

So, for example, Jane is breaking up with her boyfriend. She can:

1. Call
2. Text
3. Email
4. Wait until Valentine's Day
5. Have a compassionate conversation with him after dinner
6. Pack her bags and leave
7. Tell him to leave
8. Fake her own death
9. Force him to break up with her first
10. Put on her sneakers and literally run away

The list could go on, with a little creative thinking.

Obviously, some of these options merit explanation or justification if you plan to use them in your short play. (Take #8 for example. You're probably thinking, "...Seriously?" I know, I know. This is why yours truly is just a literary assistant, not a playwright. You're the brilliant ones!)

You'll have to think about the circumstances that surround what your character does, as well as the believability of your character's actions. Why does he or she want to do this thing? What consequences will he or she face if she takes any of these actions? Is it likely that he or she will be successful?

Naturally, your next impulse may be to decide what's getting in his or her way. Jane wants to break up with her boyfriend, but... what? You'll have to visit the blog again to find out!

Make a list of 10 ways for your character to take an action, and come back for Part 3!

To find more information about our annual call for scripts, click here. 

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Write A Short Play! (1 of 4)

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Want to write a short play, but don't know where to start?

Not a problem! We'll give you four easy exercises to get your writerly brain juices flowing. Check it out...

Exercise 1: Think of a Character

We're starting with something simple. Choose a character– but not just any character. Choose a character you can see doing something. This character is someone who's going to take action. In other words, this is your protagonist, your main character, your activist.

He or she probably wants something. He/She must want it badly, too! Whatever he/she desires, they're going to do whatever they can to get it.

So, for now– A character, who is likely to do something, because he/she has a strong want.

What is your character going to do?  Stay tuned for part 2 to find out!

Parts 2, 3, and 4 coming soon!

Follow this link to guidelines for our annual call for scripts.



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FAQs About Our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival

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Here are the answers to some common questions we've received about this year's Short Play Fest.

For our complete submission guidelines, click here!

1) What is this year’s theme?

This year’s theme is “Legal Briefs: Lawmakers and Activists,” for which we invite a wide range of short scripts.

2) What should my play be about?

Plays can explore a wide range of stories about how the American legal system, the law, and our daily lives are shaped by Native American identity and culture and the lawmakers and activists it has given us. How do Native Americans uphold and honor, question and investigate, or create and change law within our society? Plays do not need to be biographical or autobiographical. Use your imagination!

3) Does my play need to be about an actual person or event?

No. You can create a fictional character and event to tell your story. Remember, an activist is not necessarily just a famous face or politician. When we say “activists,” we think of all kinds of people who are working to do big things in Native American communities. An activist can be a teacher, a respected elder or community member, or even a young person. An activist is anyone who is striving to make a positive change.

4) How long should my play be?

We ask that short plays be 5 to 16 pages long.

5) Do I have to be an experienced writer to submit my short play to Native Voices at the Autry?

No. In fact, short plays can be a great opportunity for someone who has never written a play before to give it a try. Anyone can write and submit a play, no matter what age or how skilled they are. Mostly, we are looking for good stories rather than perfect playwriting technique!

6) If I have submitted plays to Native Voices in the past, am I still eligible to submit a short play this year?

Of course. We encourage writers who have worked with us before to continue submitting scripts to us. Also, this is a great opportunity for experienced writers to work on an idea without committing to a full-length, 60+ page script. We sometimes even receive excellent revisions of scripts that began as short plays.

7) How many characters can I use?

We ask that you use four characters or less in your script.

8) How many locations can I have in my play?

Technically, you can have as many locations as you like. But keep in mind that we have to stage the play in a theater– that means we don’t have the luxury of multiple locations. It is recommended that you use one or two settings to keep your short play clear, simple, and stageable which will also allow for multiple plays to be staged in a festival performance.

9) Are there any guidelines for writing a short play online?

Actor’s Theatre of Louisville offers a quick and simple guide for their New Voices Ten-Minute Play Festival that you may find helpful. It’s geared for young writers - but these tips apply to all writers. You should check out the submission guidelines for their Ten-Minute Play Festival, too! Their submission deadline is October 31, 2013, and there’s a $1,000 cash award for the winner of the festival. Write and submit to both Native Voices and ATL!

Actor’s Theatre of Louisville’s “The Art of the Ten-Minute Play”

Actor's Theatre of Louisville Submission Guidelines

10) Feeling Stumped?

Try this: Make a list of 5 different conflicts, 5 “clocks,” and 5 settings or places. Pick one from each category at random, and see where your imagination takes you. Here are some examples below. Feel free to use these, or create your own lists!

Example: 5 Conflicts

1. A teacher/coach confronts the system for the good of her/his students.
2. An unlikely leader seeks better healthcare for their community.
3. A child is taken from its family/tribal community.
4. A young man discovers a poisoned watering hole.
5. A young woman is forced to choose between tribal law and US military law.

5 Clocks (*Remember: these are things that add a sense of urgency, excitement, or pressing need to your play)
1. The day of a public hearing
2. The end of a loved one’s battle with disease
3. The morning of a ribbon cutting ceremony
4. The day of the big championship
5. The last day of the year

5 Settings or Places
1. A Taos pueblo
2. A city/community hall
3. A kitchen
4. In a moving car
5. A tribal council

Our short play deadline is August 1st, 2013. We're excited to see your work! 

For complete submission guidelines, click here
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The Law of the Land: Spotlight on 2013 Writers Retreat & Festival of New Plays

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The plays chosen for this year’s Retreat & Festival dive headfirst into current polarizing political issues. For example, Vickie Ramirez’s play, Stand-Off at Hwy#37, deals with conflict between the National Guard and Haudenosaunee protesters on a reservation in upstate New York. Where Have All the Warriors Gone? by Darrell Dennis features political activism and tribal law in North America as major themes.

Check out this quick guide to some major ideas, people, and events that are referenced in this year’s Retreat & Festival plays…

Tribal Sovereignty
The U.S. Government officially categorized Native American tribes as “domestic dependent nations” in 1831. Tribes are sovereign entities; they make their laws and rulings independently of the U.S. Government. States may not impose regulations on tribes. However, the power of tribal governments is not absolute. Congress may intervene or overrule tribal law in the event of incidents that involve non-Indians, for example, as in Oliphant vs. Saquamish Indian Tribe, 1978. For more explanation, see this helpful page from the Native American Caucus of the California Democratic Party. See also: “Tribal Sovereignty and State Authority,” and “Tribal Sovereignty and Jurisdiction: It’s a Matter of Trust."

The Oka Crisis
[Source]
This famous standoff occurred in the summer of 1990 in Oka, Quebec, Canada. Mohawk protestors challenged the construction of a golf course over traditional burial ground. When construction crews came into the disputed area, Mohawk protestors put up barricades against the bulldozers. The Quebec Police and Canadian Armed Forces were sent in to control the situation. Construction was permanently stopped, but it came at the cost of a 78-day standoff, police brutality, and one death. For more information and video, see the CBC Digital Archives. See also: Warrior Publications' blogpost, "Oka Crisis, 1990", and the Global Non-Violent Action Database.

Wounded Knee
In the late 1960s, the American Indian Movement was founded to fight injustice against Native Americans in the legal system. Led by Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks, to name a few, AIM also fought against poor living conditions on reservations. In response to corruption and mismanagement in the tribal government, AIM and Oglala Lakota occupied Wounded Knee in 1973. U.S. Armed Forces blocked roads and cut off supplies to the area, putting Wounded Knee under siege for 71 days.
[Source]
During and after the siege, hundreds of arrests were made, though few people were convicted of any crime. Unsolved disappearances and harassment of Native people by police also followed the siege. AIM leader Leonard Peltier was accused in the shooting of two FBI agents in a gunfight in 1975. Peltier was sentenced to prison for life in a much-contested trial. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner who should be released. His supporters maintain his innocence and continue to fight for his release.

The most recent news about Wounded Knee is a controversial plan to sell a piece of the historic landmark. See Native American Times. For more research about Wounded Knee, see The History Channel on Wounded Knee; see also "Wounded Knee Siege: 1973."

Idle No More
A contemporary movement, Idle No More is an organized protest group comprised of First Nations and other aboriginal people of Canada. They oppose the encroachment of the Canadian government on treaties and agreements made with First Nations people, in an effort to protect environmental resources and rights. Idle No More's members have organized protests on a volunteer basis worldwide. To follow the activities of Idle No More, see their Facebook page, or their official website

To learn even more about these issues and events, come check out our Festival of New Plays at The Autry in Los Angeles, or at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, now through June 1st!

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Getting to Know Lori Favela

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Getting excited for this year's Festival of New Plays? Want to know more about the plays? Here is an inside look at Lori Favela's take on playwriting.  And don't forget to make reservations for the readings of her play The Healer's Remains on Wednesday, May 29 in Los Angeles, and Saturday June 1st in San Diego.


Q&A with Playwright Lori Favela (Yanton Sioux)

What is your favorite thing about playwriting?
Playwriting offers me the opportunity to be creative.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting?
There are hurdles to overcome with characters, etc., which are challenges, but there’s nothing about the process that I dislike.

What is your favorite play?
I am a big fan of Culture Clash, a Latino writing and acting trio. They weave politics, history, and current events into very witty, poignant, and humorous productions. To me they represent the landscape of L.A. My favorite play, so far, has been Water & Power.

What’s a production that you’ve seen recently and think everyone should see?
End of the Rainbow just finished a run at the Ahmanson Theater. It’s about Judy Garland making a comeback toward the end of her life (she died in her late 40s from a drug overdose). The play successful balanced her immense singing talent while revealing the destructive nature of her drug and alcohol addiction.

What’s the best cure for writer’s block?
Take a break and clear your head.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life?
Unfortunately, I live a very ordinary existence so there would be no need for a play or movie to be based on my life.

What play do you wish you had written and why?
I’m fortunate in that I am writing the play I wanted to write!

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
A few years ago, I attended a screenwriting event for Native Americans. It was mentioned that after the success of the movie, Smoke Signals, there was an expectation that there would be a wave of native films that would emerge, but unfortunately, that never materialized. That always stuck with me because I know Native people have important and interesting stories to tell. Knowing that we haven’t told our stories keeps me striving for that goal.

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival?
I’m ready to meet my assigned dramaturg, Julie Jensen, and literary associate, Jessica Ordon, since we’ve shared so many conference calls over the past few weeks. I’m so grateful that Julie was there for me and my play. I’m looking forward to the feedback and the continued improvement of this play at the workshop.


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Spotlight on Playwright Vickie Ramirez

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Are you excited for the upcoming Festival of New Plays at Native Voices? I interviewed one of our playwrights whose work is featured in the Festival, Vickie Ramirez (Tuscarora, Six Nations of the Grand River), who wrote Stand-Off at HWY #37.  See what she has to say about writing! 

What is your favorite thing about playwriting? I love telling stories, always have but the amazing thing about playwriting is that you start with your story, share it and then watch as other artists take the story and create their own stories on top of it.  It's like a great big game of telephone.  Love it.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting? Never being satisfied.  You know no audience will react the same way every day but when a line that got huge laughs the night before falls flat, I hate that desperate reflex that makes me want to run up onstage with pages and a red pen, saying "here, try this one instead."  But I also secretly love that too.  (I'm a masochist).

What is your favorite play? Soooooo many - anything by Tompson Highway, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Caryl Churchill, Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Streetcar Named Desire, Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers, The Baby Blues, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Goat or Who is Sylvia, The Cherry Orchard, Hamlet (not ashamed)...I could go on and on and on...

 What’s a production that you’ve seen recently and think everyone should see?Really excited about Larissa Fasthorse's "What Would CrazyHorse Do?"  But warning, gird your loins!  It's a tricky one.

What’s the best cure for writer’s block? Dancing 

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life? Not a clue...actually...yep - that's the perfect title!

 What play do you wish you had written and why? Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing - first Rez play I saw and it blew my mind.  Poetic and lyrical, it took the voices of the folks I grew up with - folks I had taken for granted -  and reflected them back as magical and lyrical.  I went back home and took a second look at my family after that, and started seeing the complexity and beauty.  I only wish I could get one quarter of that beauty in my work.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work? family, stories my grandfather told, stories my mother told, stories my father tells, the people and places I see and experience, scifi and fairy tales... (food too...)  Could go on and on and on....

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival? meeting new folks, sharing new stories, checking out the west coast ndnz and west coast theater peeps and ....sunshine...really desperate for some sunshine...
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Journey for Diane Glancy's "The Bird House"

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The greatest trick of Theater is making it appear effortless. When the audience arrives the set is built, the costumes sewn, lighting designed, sound cues set, actors rehearsed and dialogue written. If they only knew of all the late rehearsals, the toil of the designers and the long nights re-writing the script. And all of this is only for an actual production.
 
If we rewind to October 2010, when "The Bird House" first came to Native Voices for its First Look Series, it is apparent that this has been two and a half years of hard work for Diane Glancy. "The Bird House" has also been developed twice in Native Voices' New Play Festival, where a staged reading is presented after a week of workshopping the play. As a new addition to Native Voices' staff, I have only seen the transformation from June 2012's New Play Festival to Opening Night. I will say, however, that  in that short time, the play has come a long way.

As I playwright, I am familiar with the fact that plays are much like people. They develop over time, some things change, while other remain the same. One thing that Diane has kept through all of her drafts is the magnificent language. Lines like "he's the taste of gasoline in my mouth" really hit me. They are so beautiful, so poignant and also, so true. And, while character development, plot points and scene sequence have improved over each draft, the heart of the play- its themes about family, religion, the environment, etc. and Diane's unique voice stick.
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Emergency Management: Spotlight on Playwright Jason Grasl

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There are many actors that become writers.  It's natural to want to tell a story in your own words - to work on so many projects for other people, only to have a spark of inspiration in your own brain.  But Jason Grasl is no ordinary actor-turned-writer.  Jason probably doesn't know this, but he was one of the most involved playwrights that submitted last year.  He emailed me, a lot.  Now I say this not because this is the reason why his play Emergency Management, was chosen (by no means is this some kind of criteria).  I say this to highlight that Jason is thorough, attentive, and detail-oriented.  He was excited about his play, and you knew he worked hard on it.  You could tell it had been gestating in his head for a long time and he was passionate about it.  And well, in turn, we became passionate about it too.

POLITICAL SMARTS (and SECRETS)

Staged reading of Dawn Jamieson's On the Mangled Beam

The first time I met Jason Grasl was at the 2010 Playwrights Retreat.  He was cast in the workshop of On The Mangled Beam and at that point I had only known him as an actor. Later, I once asked him about his headshot, and he told me that he "broods".  And that often he gets cast as the "jerky ex-boyfriend or broody professional".   But like most actors, he hopes to play a range throughout his acting career (see his reel to below), venturing into maybe darker roles in plays like Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, or being able to work on some of his favorite shows on TV, like Boss, The Newsroom, or Homeland.

And with shows like those on his mind, it's clear to see where he got his inspiration for Emergency Management, a play about rising political star, Lanford Walkerton (played by Robert Vestal), on the eve of his announcement as a Flagstaff mayoral candidate.  Along with his sister Mena (played by Marisa Quinn), he was adopted into a non-Native family, and struggles with issues of identity, belonging, and family.  But if TV political dramas have taught you anything, it should be that everyone has a secret and the stakes are high, and in the case of Jason's play, it's life or death. 



Marisa Quinn
Rob Vestal
It is certainly an exciting play, with characters that are unique and complicated but down to earth at the same time.  You might see someone you know in one of these characters, or might even see a bit of yourself in them.  It's a compelling story about a specific cast of characters in Flagstaff, but the themes are universal and all the nitty gritty information doesn't go over your head.  As Jason says, "While it involves a lot of politics and hopefully sheds some light on issues that might not be as well known, ultimately, I think it’s about how these people deal with their own personal politics and issues and how that ends up affecting the greater community politics at large."

Jason Grasl is a really smart talented individual (in part probably due to his beautiful wife, Jessica Rieder, who is a fabulous writer as well, and has encouraged him throughout the process).  He's well spoken, well informed, and humbly executes both his crafts always trying to do his very best.  He really fleshed out his characters, has stepped into their shoes and explored their psyche.  And, from my point of view, it has been exciting to see how these characters have changed over time.  But I wanted to learn more about Jason's psyche (maybe even his deep dark secrets), so I was delighted when he agreed to answer a few of my questions.  And he sent them back to me, in record time (like all of his paperwork).  Although there were no skeletons in his closet revealed (this time), it was interesting to hear what this new writing process was like for him.


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Of Whales and War: Spotlight on playwright Jaisey Bates

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Jaisey Bates  and her inspirations for The Day We Were Born

It is safe to say that whatever Jaisey Bates (Longhouse Huron, Algonquin) does, she goes above and beyond.  Not only is she an actress (she's performing in the reading of her play as well!) and playwright whose work has been performed all over LA and NYC, but is also the founder of The Peoplehood, a multicultural nomadic theater company “committed to working as an ensemble in the performance of original work celebrating diversity”.  It is any wonder she had time to write and submit her full-length play The Day We Were Born to us, complete with background material and on gorgeous letterhead. 

But these weren’t the chief reasons we chose this play to be presented during the First Look Series this SeptemberThe Day We Were Born is an incredibly poetic play, wrought with compelling characters and emotions as we follow Benny and Qi, two Iñupiat boys who are activated as part of the 3-297th for service in Iraq, the first call-ups of the Alaskan National Guard since WWII.  Even the play’s settings are intriguing, taking us from Barrow, Alaska, to the sweltering heat of Iraq, and through time and memory, seamlessly blending history and her imagination, where real life events seem mythical and the mythical seem real. Because there were so many layers to this story I asked her to explain a little bit about some of her inspirations.  I got a flurry of fascinating information and research and it would take multiple blog posts to share all of it with you, so here’s just a small peek into Jaisey’s methodology.

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Spotlight on DISTANT THUNDER

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About a year and a half ago Shaun Taylor-Corbett hand delivered a version of the book and music for Distant Thunder to The Autry. Excited and trepidatious all at the same time to look over a Native American musical, I immediately popped the cd into the computer to just take a peek at what this new team of writers and composers had submitted.  I quickly fell in love with the music and am excited to see the result of all of the hard work writing (and mother and son) team Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Shaun have done this past week at the Playwrights Retreat.  It has been a daunting task working with a cast of 15 people who help to tell the story of Darrell Waters, a half-Native-half white attorney raised in Chicago, who returns to his tribe only to find himself in the midst a tribal crisis. The story is multi-generational, funny, dramatic, and spiritual.  Scroll down to learn more about the extensive cast and crew of Distant Thunder and witness all of their acting and singing talents this Saturday, June 2nd @ 7:30 p.m. for the staged reading!


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Spotlight on THE HUMMINGBIRDS

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Remember the 2010 hit play ?

So do we!  Well three of the ladies are back in town and this time they're not just acting, but also Co-playwrights of their new play The Hummingbirds. This innovative new play is an interactive, multimedia experience in storytelling, which involves the audience through layers of social media.  (Yes, that means the audience will get to take out their cell phones. In a theatre.  During a show.  In fact, the ladies will insist on it.)  The story follows Kat, Willow, and Adosha (performed by our Frybread Queens), three Indigenous sisters from Santa Fe who work various jobs during the day and play the local music circuit at night.  After they enter a competition for a major recording deal, the girls are launched into an all-out race for fame and fortune that forces them to walk the precarious tightrope between art and commerce, social networking and exhibitionism, family and band.  During the performance the audience will get to submit questions, comments, and photos via Twitter and Facebook, turning the Internet into a stage as well, where the actresses will respond and improv as the play progresses.

You don't want to miss this during the Festival of New Plays! Friday, June 3rd @ 7:30 p.m. and stay after for a lively talkback with our team below!  Make your reservations soon!
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Spotlight on THE BIRD HOUSE

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It's that time of year again!  This week we will kick off another Playwrights Retreat, where we will be workshopping three plays and getting them ready for staged public readings at the 14th Festival of New Plays.  Here's a spotlight on the creative team for one of the plays: The Bird House by Diane Glancy (Cherokee).  Now you may be familiar with this one, as we first featured it at last year's Festival.  Since then the play has gone through many changes, most notably the addition of two new characters.  Though, at the core, the play still tells the dramatic story of an evangelical preacher and his timid sisters as they sort through the snarls of their past and face an uncertain future.  Scroll down and you'll see some familiar faces, including Native Voices Artistic Director as the actor playing Reverend Hawk, for whom the role was written for.  As well as the writer and performer of the latest Native Voices Equity productions of Walking on Turtle Island and Ghostlands of an Urban NDN, Robert Owens-Greygrass.  And Native Voices veterans Carla-Rae and Ellen Dostal reprise their roles in this reading as well, playing sisters forced to move into a fledgling church.

Don't forget to catch the staged reading on Saturday, June 2nd @ 2:00 p.m. and stay after for a riveting talkback with Diane and the rest of the team!  Make your reservations soon!



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2012 Playwrights Retreat - Writing Is...

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This year at the Native Voices Playwrights Retreat and Festival of New Plays we will be working with 6 talented playwrights, each coming from very different backgrounds and with incredibly unique voices.  In an attempt to dip into the minds of these playwrights we asked them to complete the statement "Writing is..." and tell us how they develop their stories and what they hope for them.  This post we feature NV veteran, Diane Glancy, who often unearths powerful and haunting stories about family, history, and the human condition in the face of adversity.  We also have here Shaun Taylor-Corbett, a newcomer to NV, who is an accomplished Broadway actor and musician and co-wrote with his mother, Tony nominated choreographer and director Lynne Taylor-Corbett, a richly fun and beautiful musical which brings into question what "home" really means.

And stay tuned for more posts and words from our esteemed playwrights!


Diane Glancy (Cherokee)
writer, The Bird House
Writing is a journey.  A field of horses.  If lightning strikes, they run everywhere with possibility.  Writing is a rock outcropping with many stories in its layers.  Writing is a hunger.  A harvest table set with bowls of different foods combined in different orders.  Writing has many voices and dialogues within.   I just read Ronald Takaki’s A DIFFERENT MIRROR—  about the many nationalities that make up America.  But he didn’t mention the mixed-blood—the many voices within the one voice that writing is.  Writing is a cocklebur.  A bramble.  A briar.  You walk in the woods hoping one will catch.


Meet Diane and see her poetic and poignant story come to life on Saturday, June 2 @ 2:00 p.m. when we present a staged reading of her play The Bird House





co-writer, Distant Thunder
I have recently discovered that writing is a release for me.  It is an extension of my imagination, which comes to life in a tangible way on the page.  To then hear the words spoken aloud, and see the story come to life through real people on a stage is a dream come true.

I've written songs before, but writing a musical is new to me.  I feel responsible to the characters in the show to make sure they are being portrayed in a real and human way.  They feel like family, especially because they are also Blackfeet; they are also Native American.

I know the power of writing can change the cultural and economic progress of a nation.  If we find the right balance in music and book, as well as how the characters develop and interact with each other, we will inspire real change with DISTANT THUNDER.

Meet Shaun and experience the music and cultural exploration of Distant Thunder, Saturday, June 2 @7:30 p.m.




We want to hear from you too!  What does writing mean to you? Complete the statement "Writing Is..." in our comments below!  Or feel free to respond to what our playwrights say!






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Putting the Pieces Together: An Interview with Playwright, Larissa FastHorse

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"Writing is like having a box of a million puzzle pieces then needing to figure out which thousand fit together to make one picture."

Each season Native Voices presents our First Look Series: Plays in Progress. For our first of the year we will be holding a public staged reading of Hunka by Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota Nation), a gritty, funny, and poignant story that explores notions of family, teen pregnancy, adoption, and responsibility. Not only is Larissa an accomplished playwright but also inspiring and generous in spirit. I had the opportunity to see Larissa's creativity in action during one of Native Voices' recent writing workshops and was excited to hear that we would be bringing one of her plays to our stage. So to help us peer a little bit into that artistic brain of hers, Larissa took some time out of her busy schedule to participate in a Q&A with us about her writing.

Read on to find some interesting tidbits about Larissa FastHorse as well as some nuggets of wisdom for aspiring writers!

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2011, What Will You Remember?

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It certainly has been an eventful year - from the hit production The Frybread Queen by Carolyn Dunn, to our Playwrights Retreat and Festival of New Plays in the Summer, to our very first and very successful Short Play Festival in November. We'd like to thank all of you who work with us, lend us your talents, and that support us, give feedback, and participate in our audiences. Without you, Native Voices would not be the premiere Native theatre company that it is. So as we head off into 2012, here is a quick (30 second) review of this past year with Native Voices. See you next year! And feel free to share with us your favorite 2011 Native Voices memories in the comments section!



Artist: Florence and the Machine
Song: Cosmic Love

Photos by Steven A. Soria, Kimberly Norris Guerrero, and NV Staff

Make your own slideshow with music at Animoto.

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Getting Started: 5 Tips on Writing Your First New Play

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Have a story to tell? Well, let’s get started.

We all have stories to tell. Some of them compelling and exciting. Some of them are about the dry toast I had for breakfast this morning. Either way, it’s in our human nature to tell stories and what better way than on stage! At Native Voices we produce and develop new plays, some from seasoned playwrights, but many from new writers who just have something to say. We want to see new voices from Native Americans reach a wide number of audiences, and the way to do that is to have people like you write!
Writing your first play may seem like a daunting task, and I’m not gonna lie. It is. It is a lot of hard work, but it will pay off tremendously in the end. There’s no other feeling like hearing actors reading your lines for the first time. But if you find yourself sitting in front of your computer staring at a blank Word document or keep thinking “I’ll just start writing after this episode of The Sing-Off, and do the dishes, and close my eyes for just a little…” don’t worry. First step in a long journey is always the toughest, right? Here are a few tips to help you get over that hump.

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BLOG INTERIM…..and WE’RE BACK!

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It's been awhile since we’ve had a post on the blog at Native Voices. We’ve been tucked away at the Native Voices offices in Los Angeles and San Diego getting ready for our 2011-2012 Season and preparing for the many submissions we are about to receive during our Call For Scripts. We’ve got some exciting new programming around here coming up (including a Short Play Festival during the Autry American Indian Arts Marketplace!) and can’t wait to read through all those wonderful plays that are going to pass our desks.

http://www.standard1320.com/Stories/1320Stories.html

And we are now also ready to rev up our blog engines, so check back here soon for our first official blog post of this new season to see some sneak peeks, special behind the scenes info, and simply talk about the state of Native American theatre.

See you soon!

Sincerely,

The Native Voices Staff

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new chapter...

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photo by altf photography
as many of you know, my time with native voices at the autry has come to a close. it's been a great ride and i'm pleased with the work i'm leaving behind me. thank you for being such loyal followers of this blog and for accompanying (and indulging) me along my journey through native voices' literary processes. i'm sure the company's next blog manager will have an even more exciting perspective to share and i, like you, eagerly await the next post. in the meantime, i wish you all the best in your endeavors. may our cyber- paths cross again.
- carlenne
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Spotlighting our Actors for BIRD HOUSE and THE WOMAN WHO WAS CAPTURED BY GHOSTS

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The Bird House
By Diane Glancy
 
Randy Reinholz (Choctaw) is the Producing Artistic Director and Co- creator of Native Voices at the Autry as well as the Director of the School of Theatre, Television, and Film at San Diego State University. He has directed over fifty plays in the US, Australia, Mexico and Canada. As an actor, his theater credits include roles at Pennsylvania Centre Stage, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Heartland Theatre Company, The Hanger Theatre in New York, and numerous roles at The Old Globe Theatre. He was a series regular on Days of Our Lives, and had roles on Pensacola, China Beach, and Tour of Duty, and the sci-fi film Dead Space.
 
Ellen Dostal is thrilled to be part of Diane Glancy’s new play The Bird House. For Native Voices, she has appeared in productions of Jump Kiss (also by Diane), Serra Springs, and The Berlin Blues, which toured NY and Washington D.C., plus a number of developmental workshop readings. Other L.A. credits include Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Interact Theatre Co.), City of Angels (NoHo Arts Center) and Eastern Standard (Coast Playhouse). Regional/ Tours: The Big Deal (Theatre Museum, London in collaboration with Mercury Musicals), Sour Grapes (Copake Theatre, NY), Seesaw, Private Lives, Night Watch, Midsummer Night’s Dream. As a founding member of the Academy Repertory Company she has workshopped and performed roles in many new musicals like Bonnie & Clyde, At Home in Mitford, Idaho the Musical, and The Water, all part of ANMT’s reading series at The Colony Theatre. AEA/SAG/AFTRA.
 
Carla- Rae (Seneca, Mohawk) has done some form of acting for many years, though only during the past six years has she has focused entirely on her acting career. Her most recent theatre work has been in staged readings of Tombs of the Vanishing Indian by Marie Clements and The Bird House by Diane Glancy at Native Voices at the Autry. She also has had the privilege of working with the NYC off-B’way theatre group the Liguorian Players, founded and directed by Lenny Delgado. She played Angustias in The House of Bernarda Alba by Frederico Garcia Lorca and Hannah in Edith Stein by Arthur Giron. Her indie film feature role of Rebecca Stonefeather in the award-winning film Imprint won her a Best Supporting Actress Award from the American Indian Film Institute. Her most recent TV episodic guest star roles are in the ABC network series Scoundrels with Virginia Madsen and David James Elliot, PBS’s docudrama We Shall Remain: Trail of Tears, HBO’s Taking Chance, and the FOX series pilot of New Amsterdam, directed by Lasse Halstrom. More recently she and her husband have been creating web videos of her storytelling and children's story reading, with another web series soon coming, of her Quiet Time Words by Carla-Rae, a compilation of daily devotional words of encouragement. Originally from upstate New York, she now resides in L.A.

The Woman Who Was Captured by Ghosts
By Julie Pearson- Little Thunder
 
Kimberly Norris Guerrero (Colville, Salish-Kootenai, Cherokee) is a native Oklahoman and graduate of UCLA who has appeared on stage in Steel Magnolias (Circle Players/Nashville), Canticle of the Plains (Tapestry/Wichita), and in August: Osage County which she performed in Chicago, on Broadway, at the National Theatre in London, the Sydney Theatre Company in Australia and The Old Globe in San Diego. She recently joined Native Voices in the World Premiere of The Frybread Queen at the Autry in Los Angeles. Her film/TV credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Taking Chances, The Sopranos, Naturally Native, Hidalgo, and Seinfeld to name a few. In addition, she works with youth in tribal communities across North America utilizing creative expression as a tool to promote personal and community development.
 
Mary Mora Cordova (P'urhepecha, Yaqui, Luiseno) is a cancer survivor who has enjoyed performing in Native Voices' productions of Buz'Gem Blues and Teaching Disco Dancing To Our Elders; staged readings of Kino and Teresa; and various metaphoric characters for their Young Native Playwrights project. She has also performed leads in original works on stage such as  Katsina, based on the autobiography Sunchief (Herberger Theatre, AZ); St. Augustine's Confessions (PerrisChief Theatre); End Town (Hollywood Moguls Theatre). She played the matriarchal Senora Morena and years earlier played the flirtatious Margarita in California's Official State Outdoor play Ramona (Hemet, CA). Her favorite TV credits include recurring roles on Unsolved Mysteries. Her recent film credit is with writer/ director/ actor Charles S. Dutton in The Obama Effect. She would like to thank her husband Art, family, and her Autry friends for their continued support. Blessings!
 
Carla Nell (Chickasaw) has over 16 years experience acting and directing in the San Diego theatre community and is the artistic director of InnerMission Productions. She is an SDSU graduate with a BA in Theatre Arts. While at SDSU she was featured in the KPBS special documentary: Trial by Fire, The Making of a Theatre Professional. She is also a member of the Pasadena Playhouse Directors Lab West.
 
Michael Drummond is honored to return to Native Voices, where he was last seen as Carbon in Carbon Black. Other favorite roles include Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Old Globe Theatre), Young Macduff in Macbeth (Old Globe Theatre), Randolph in Bye Bye Birdie (Welk Resort Theatre), and Orson in An American Christmas over the past six holiday seasons (Lambs Players Theatre). Television credits include Victorious, iCarly, America's Most Wanted, Everybody Hates Chris, Veronica Mars, and several commercials. In addition to acting, he enjoys photography, surfing, and scuba diving. 

Patrick J. Duffy is a performer, sound designer, and as an avid life learner - he is very excited for his first experience with Native Voices. Performance credits include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Ion Theatre), Smoke on the Mountain, Joyful Noise, Fantasticks, Angel's Arms, Voysey Inheritance, An Ideal Husband, Rehearsal for Murder, Cold Comfort Farm, and South Pacific (Lamb's Players Theatre); Good Doctor, West Side Story (Moonlight/Avo), West Side Story (Limon Carr Prod.), Can Can, Guys & Dolls, West Side Story (Welk Resort Theatre); Scarlet Pimpernel, Good News (Starlight Theatre); Death and the Maiden (Stone Soup Theatre).  Sound Design credits include Smoke on the Mountain, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Godspell, Fantasticks, Boomers, Light in the Piazza, Secret Garden, American Rhythm (Lamb's Players Theatre). "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."
 
Huma Ahmed-Ghosh is a professor in the Department of Women's Studies at San Diego State University. She is also on the Advisory Committees of the Asian-Pacific Studies Program, Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies, and the International Security and Conflict Resolution Program. She has done extensive research in Afghanistan having visited the country six times since 2003. Her research in Afghanistan focuses on how Afghan women-run NGOs strategize women's rights within an Islamic state. She has published on immigrant Muslim women to the USA, women in Afghanistan, gender and Islam in Asia, Islamic and secular feminisms in the Middle East, and on issues of ageing and widowhood in India. She has also conducted Study Abroad Programs for SDSU students to India, China and Turkey. Some of the courses she teaches are on feminist theory, women in cross-cultural perspective, gender and Islam, and gender, war and peace.
 
Javier Guerrero is a native San Diegan who has been performing professionally since 1998. He studied acting under Randy Reinholz at San Diego State University for two years and then under Jim Wise for one year at Penn State Graduate School of Acting. He has worked for many professional theatre companies in San Diego and Los Angeles including Playwrights Project and Native Voices. He appears in many industrial videos, web ads, and commercials as well as the bad guy in a re-enactment on America's Most Wanted. He also performed the lead in the Station Master which debuted at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town San Diego. Represented by the Shamon Freitas Agency in San Diego.
 
The Playwrights Retreat kicks off in San Diego this Saturday, May 28 with the Festival of New Plays beginning next Thursday, June 2 at La Jolla Playhouse. For more information about our events or to purchase your tickets now, please visit our website.
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