A Playwright's Inspiration

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The Hotel Eden by Joseph Cornell
From the moment I met playwright Diane Glancy, I have been fascinated by what inspires her to write. From old photographs, to a heart-shaped rock, to a car ride down Highway 2, the stories behind her plays are just as interesting as the plays themselves. Next week, we will begin workshopping our fourth play by Diane, The Bird House, which features a role written specifically for Artistic Director Randy Reinholz. 

So, we put our frybread-filled thoughts on pause for a week or two and turn our attention towards Ropesville, Texas where the heat consumes you, the poverty overwhelms you, and hopelessness is a way of life. It's a grim play but, at the heart of it, is the sense that we will be able to overcome anything that's thrown our way.

Below, in her own words, is what inspired Diane to write the play that will kick off our 2010 First Look Series and it's my hope that these words will inspire you to join us as we begin our journey into The Bird House.
My work usually comes in the process of travel. I was on my way from Kansas to San Diego in 2008. I stopped at my son’s in Texas. The landscape description comes from his place— the ground dried and cracked, the alkali traces, the short, brittle weeds. There’s always baggage to the land. If I stand in a place long enough, situations occur to me.
At the end of the play, I have the following:   
Gratefulness to Native Voices at the Autry for the Naomi Iizuka workshop during the LMDA Conference from which the idea of two women living in a church came.
The idea for the eventual use of videography in the play came from the video work in Craig Wolf’s The Merry Chase, which I saw at the LMDA Conference in 2008. In fact, it was the genesis of the play along with a conversation with Randy Reinholz.
The title came from the actual bird houses on Jean and Randy’s back patio. It was where Randy and I talked one morning about aging, stroke, and puzzlements of the Christian faith— issues probably no one wants to look at.
At the moment, I’m interested in miniaturist theater, an invented term that means a play constricted in a small space. Nailed down. Distilled. For what purpose? Artistic exploration? The downturn of our economy? The way the term, cutback, continually is in the news? The way aging seems to hedge one’s life? (I can’t do what I used to).
I don’t mean miniaturist theater in terms of a short play. The Bird House is a regular one-act. But a miniaturistic play. Though not stated directly, its undercurrent is Native American heritage, a minority culture small in number in relationship to others. It also often is confined to a reservation.
For this play, I’ve been influence by Joseph Cornell, an American assemblage artist of small boxes with a proximity to Surrealism. He’s the author of contained worlds. I want to make a contained world of words.
I want large moments contained in smallness— I want to get as close as possible to the claustrophobic while maintaining a play with very large issues— abandonment, poverty, stroke, death.
I want a rowdy play. A small, quiet, rowdy play with huge, noisy, oversized issues.
I want it to seem the actors hardly can move. I want them hemmed with the smallest stitches by the sharpest needle.
Pierre Reverdy defined surrealism as “a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities.” In this play, I want the distant realities to be not two but three characters who have enormous distances, yet live together on one small stage.
I want to see their restricted movements. (Even if this play grows with development, I hope it remains a minimalist piece on some level, meaning movement and action take place within a small space that is no space, to maintain the undercurrent of restriction in which the limitation and compression spark a dramatic friction).
I want it to seem like dialogue contained in small boxes of metaphor, with the largest issues held in the tiniest containments— as if the characters were tied together with very short ropes. I want to see the word, diminishment, as a lovely horizon.
In the end, as I travel, I try to catch the flocks of words that lift from passing fields.
The Bird House will be presented at the Autry National Center on Thursday, October 7 at 7p. It will be directed by Stephan Wolfert and feature dramaturgy by Bryan Davidson with a cast that includes Carla-Rae, Ellen Dostal, and Randy Reinholz. For more information, please click here.
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On the Road with our Executive Director

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As you know, our beloved Frybread Queen began her reign at Montana Rep last weekend and, of course, our Artistic Director, Executive Director, and Managing Director (Randy, Jeannie, and David) all made the trip to Missoula to witness her debut. Caroline, Jenn, and I didn't want to be left out so we insisted that Jeannie send us a few pictures from the road (to the left you'll see one of the yummy lunches she made us drool over) and give us something we can share with all of you. Her entry is below. Enjoy the read!
What an opening!
First of all, Carolyn has written an extraordinary play – a love story, a ghost story, a story full of surprise twists and turns that kept the audience on the edge of their seats. The characters are deep, their relationships complex, and the secrets they keep – dark and powerful!
We’ve had such a wonderful time working with Carolyn over the past three years as she’s shaped and crafted her story (originally a novel) into this play. We’ve had numerous workshops and staged readings with exceptionally talented actresses, directors and dramaturges providing Carolyn with the opportunity to hear her words in workshops and with an audience. Getting the play up on its feet was the next step in our development process so we asked Carolyn to continue her work revising her play with Jere Hodgin as director and Robert Caisley as dramaturg. 
One of the main things we wanted to explore was the presence of the dearly departed son, father, husband and lover – Paul – who we never see on stage, but who is there from the beginning. All four of the women feel him, see him or are possessed by him. This developmental co-production would give us the opportunity to fine tune the script and, for the set, lighting, and sound designers, to create those things that would make Paul real not only for the actresses but for the audience as well.
Jere cast the play with four superb actresses. Jane Lind gave a tour de force performance as Jessie, the tough Navajo grandmother who's left to pick up the pieces of her life while trying to protect her granddaughter Lily who was played with rebellious glee by Tiffany Miewald. Lily Gladstone as Carlisle, the good Cherokee auntie with the sweet façade, tries to console the devastated Lily and keep the peace while Arigon Starr as Annalee, the stepmom and outsider, clashes with Jessie over who’s to blame for Paul’s sorrows. Possessed by her own demons and regrets, Annalee, an Oklahoma Creek lawyer who is dying of lung cancer, desperately clings to life and her claim on Lily, determined to rid the family of its ghosts. Each of the performers was pitch perfect. Their interactions with each other were honest and truthful and their reactions to Paul’s presence made him all the more real to the audience.
Scenic designer Johanna Josephian gave us a realistic set complete with a creaky screen door, a comfy old rocker, a wobbly picnic table and an old fashioned two-seater glider that moved on its own whenever Paul wanted to make his presence felt. She was aided by lighting designer Mark Dean and sound designer Jayson L. Ferguson who continued to up the ante each time Paul was “on stage” with swirling lights, a flicker, an ominous glow and the sounds of breath, wind, thunder, a slamming screen door or subtle music. It all worked and it all made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Judging by the way the audience leaned forward in their seats whenever they felt Paul’s presence - Paul was definitely in the theater and on that stage!
I’d like to thank everyone involved with this production from its earliest readings to this wonderful production. I’d also like to congratulate Montana Rep and the University of Montana for their commitment to Native theater and the Native voice. We are proud to have had the encouragement and support of UM President George M. Dennison, Provost Royce C. Engstrom, Dean Stephen Kalm, and The College of Visual and Performing Arts.  
We are especially thankful to The School of Theatre & Dance and its Director Mark Dean, and to Montana Rep and its Artistic Director Greg Johnson. We’ve had such a wonderful time collaborating with them this year and they did such a great job getting the word out and getting a Native American audience in to see the show – many of whom attended the invited preview performance and after party at the beautiful Payne Family Native American Center on campus. They had lots of help from the American Indian Student Services and its Director Fredrika Hunter, and The Department of Native American Studies. We were thrilled when a Native student commented during the talk back that this was the first play she’d ever been to and that she came because of the storyline and the chance to see four Native women on stage!  
We look forward to the next steps on our way to the world premiere of The Frybread Queen next March at The Autry. Join us on our journey when we do our final workshop and readings of The Frybread Queen on November 4th and 7th during the American Indian Arts Marketplace at the Autry. Carolyn, Jere and Rob will work with a local cast to iron out the last few issues with the text. Check out the Autry Calendar for more information on our November readings and email NativeVoices@theautry.org to make your reservations today.
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Insights from our Producing Artistic Director

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Remember back in July when I said we like to spend the end of our summers evaluating our year and dreaming up of what the next season will bring us? One of the exercises Executive Director Jean Bruce Scott gave us to get that conversation rolling was a writing assignment about what Native Voices' message should be. Needless to say, that's a pretty big assignment and, of course, it's an on-going discussion we have throughout the year. But, putting pen to paper is no easy task and we each procrastinated on our responses (sorry Jeannie!). But, I'm happy to say, eventually we were all able to cross "NV message" off our lists of "Things to Do" and have become a stronger team because of it (thanks Jeannie!). Today, I'd like to share what Artistic Director Randy Reinholz wrote for this assignment which I think perfectly synthesizes who we are as a company and is a great way to begin our 11th season at The Autry National Center:
Native Voices is a Native theater company with a national & international profile. We are a combination of community-centered artists practicing an art form with national significance. While other small arts organizations might call themselves community-centered, describing a geographical center; Native Voices’ community center is an intersection of ethnic identity, issues of National sovereignty for Native people, combining the self-representation of Native people in art, literature and history. 
Native Voices provides a forum for Native playwrights to have access to the top talent in the US theatre in the development process for their scripts to tell Native stories from a Native perspective, showcasing exceptional Native and non-native theatre artists. It is a political act to put living contemporary Native people on stage to combat the once common perception in the US that Native people are vanishing or extinct. Theatre is the perfect art form to demonstrate that Native people are vital, contemporary, and that we have a complex unique story to tell.
Since 1994, we have been a text-based theatre company meaning that our work begins on the page. To assist the playwright, past development processes have included dramaturgical work; access to cultural advisors; stage readings; workshop stagings of scripts; improvisational rehearsals based on a written text; the addition of traditional and non- traditional music and dance added to text through improvisation and at other times based solely on the written text to expand the reach and depth of the story. All of these development processes are to support the playwright’s vision. 
To date we have produced 14 professional theatre productions; the 15th show opening September 17, 2010 at Montana Rep. We always work at UNION standards of professionalism and compensation in an effort to place value on the work. We have produced a number of radio plays and given development workshop opportunities to over 80 scripts with playwrights from more than 25 different Native nations. 
It is our goal that a Native Voices’ production be another step in the development process so that playwrights can experience an audience watching the show and continue the re-writing process. We hope to see subsequent productions and publication of scripts developed or produced at Native Voices. 
As multiculturalism is no longer a fad in US art but a standard of inclusion and excellence for any performing arts organization that wants to be seen as credible, Native Voices has also taken on the role of matchmaker. We accept the responsibility of matching professional Native artists with culturally specific needs and opportunities to the greater professional theatre and entertainment industries. To that end, writers, performers and other collaborative theatre artists that have worked with Native Voices over the past 16 years are working more consistently in professional theatre and entertainment industries.
In summary we: develop plays, develop Native playwrights, develop collaborative theatre artists through on-going professional opportunities to hone the craft on stage and during artists’ workshops, develop and expand the cannon of Native American plays with more than 80 plays workshopped, provide a service to the greater professional theatre and entertainment industries by identifying possible collaborating artists for meritorious opportunities in the profession, and provide a nexus of information for professional Native theater artists and the contemporary issues that concern them
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