The Thanksgiving Play
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The Thanksgiving Play was written by Larissa FastHorse in 2015. Larissa FastHorse is a Native American playwright who has written and produced numerous contributions to Native American drama, plays involving issues with indigenous people in American society and issues in theater. This play is developed in a linear way with interspersed informative moments in the performance to give the audience background knowledge on important events concerning Native Americans. The play is currently still in development; however, there have already been readings of the play to assess its widespread appeal and gain feedback on how it can further be refined. In 2017, The Thanksgiving Play was selected by the Kilroys, an annual list of underproduced plays by women. In 2018, it was slated for presentation off Broadway, opening in October, 2018.
Although The Thanksgiving Play is about Native American Month and Thanksgiving, it was originally written in an estate in the countryside of Ireland. Larissa FastHorse was awarded the Joe Dowling Annaghmakerrig Fellowship in 2015 from Jo Haj at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. Within this fellowship she could go to Tyrone Gutherie’s estate in Ireland, which is where she began writing the play. Having conceived and researched the idea in the USA, she then wrote the first draft in a mere ten days while in the Irish countryside.
After its Irish beginnings, The Thanksgiving Play then moved to U.C. Berkeley in 2015 for its first reading and a workshop. At Berkeley, it was directed by Paige Johnson and cast with students of the New Play Practicum.
After Portland, The Thanksgiving Play was a part of the fall Play Lab during the 2016/2017 season at Center Stage in Baltimore, Maryland. It was directed by Gavin Witt, who is also the Associate Director and Director of Dramaturgy at Center Stage.
After its brief stay in Baltimore, The Thanksgiving Play went back to Portland for a table/room/stage finishing Commission at the Artists Rep. After Portland, there is another workshop planned for early 2017 at The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis and a production scheduled for the 2017/2018 season. Artists Repertory Theatre will stage The Thanksgiving Play from April 1 to April 29, 2018. Its Off-Broadway debut was scheduled for October, 2018.
Casting Note: All ages are open and actors that “look white” may be played by POC passing as white.
Female, Caucasian looking, the director as well as an actor. Earnest about theater and doing the right thing, but wants everyone to feel part of the collaboration so much that it derails the actual play.
Male, Caucasian looking, the academic. Teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School System with dramatic aspirations but no clue how things work on stage.
Male, Caucasian looking, the LA surfer actor. Politically correct to a fault, a big one. He’s that guy everyone loves, but his logical PC thinking takes weird turns.
Female, brunette Caucasian but has looks that would have been cast as ethnic in 1950’s movies. Hot, but not bright. That actress whose every script note ends with her being allocated more lines.
The director, Logan, hires a Native American actor to be their cultural compass. As Logan, Jaxton, and Caden defer to her for guidance, it is revealed that she is white and only plays Native American when she isn’t playing other ethnicities. Without the Native voice, these four white people now have to find their way through a crazy thicket of privilege, historical accuracy, and school district rules.
The Thanksgiving Play aims to provoke thought through the idea of a completely Caucasian cast attempting to create a Thanksgiving play that is respectful and politically correct towards Native Americans. The contradictory nature of this idea is very unusual when considering the fact that this play is written by a Native American playwright. The Thanksgiving Play was Fasthorse’s response to constantly being told her plays couldn’t be produced because they included at least one Indigenous character and theaters thought that they couldn’t find Native American actors for the roles. In response, FastHorse challenged herself to write a play about Native American issues that excluded that casting difficulty; enter The Thanksgiving Play. Here, Fasthorse's characters are white people trying to write and produce a play about Native Americans with no input from them.The hyper-political correctness of the protagonists in this play is meant to touch on how complex and ultimately impossible it is to accomplish that task. It highlights issues such as the lack of casting of indigenous actors, erroneous attemps to represent indigenous people in American society, assumptions about Native American identity rather than tribal (national) identity, and various other problems indigenous people face in America.
Portraying the conflict of trying to form a politically correct Thanksgiving play without Native Americans allows the play to take on an amusing satirical tone as it discusses important issues concerning Native Americans in American society. Underneath the humor and satire in the play, the protagonists subtly bring ways that Americans in the past and even today have inaccurately portrayed Native Americans. In particular, the protagonists continually reference the ways they could portray Native Americans through an all-white cast wearing redface.
Originally from South Dakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Lakota Nation, Larissa FastHorse is an acclaimed playwright, director, and choreographer. She began as a ballet dancer, but after an injury, always loving to write, she started working in TV and film as a TV executive and writer. While she achieved some success in the TV world, FastHorse craved what the theater had to offer. Her play Average Family was commissioned and produced at Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis and she has been writing for the theatre ever since. FastHorse is currently a member of the Playwright’s Union and on Theatre Communications Group board of directors. She and Ty Defoe also have a consulting company, Indigenous Direction and she is a part of Native Voices at the Autry Museum.
FastHorse is currently working on a one-act commission with The Eagle Project in New York City. She is also workshopping What Would CrazyHorse Do? with Kansas City Rep with a production is in May 2017.
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- Desk, BWW News. "THE THANKSGIVING PLAY to Kick Off Center Stage's 2016 Fall Play Lab". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2016-12-13.
- "The Kilroys are here with more plays by women". American Theater. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
- "The Kilroys Unveil 4th Annual List of Recommended Plays Featuring Works by Nwandu, Fasthorse, Yee, and More". Broadway World. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
- "Larissa Fasthorse's The Thanksgiving Play finds its cast off-broadway". Playbill. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
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