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.


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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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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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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