Before the paved roads, the skyscrapers and the endless subdivisions, Arizona was home to 23 different indigenous tribes — the cultures of which will be showcased in a work commissioned by ASU Gammage.
A script reading for "Native Nation," a play-like experience that Gammage recently commissioned from Cornerstone Theater Company, is being held on Jan. 28 at the ASU Center for Indian Education Payne Hall and on Jan. 29 at the Phoenix Indian School Visitor Center at Steele Indian School Park.
Larissa FastHorse, the playwright for "Native Nation," said that the work interweaves the stories of multiple indigenous people and the experience will be unlike any play that people have been to before, citing its simultaneous and interactive nature.
“There's four different stories happening at the same time,” FastHorse said. “The play is divided into different groups, so each group is having completely different experiences. Then there's times within the experience that you have to share what you've learned with other people, you have to interact with each other.”
Desiree Ong, the educational enrichment program manager for Gammage and logistical planner for "Native Nation," said the playwright heard the stories that inspired the work through “talking circles,” which refers to a gathering in which a group of indigenous people sit in a circle and share stories about their lives.
“She's interviewing them or just there, listening to them tell her about their culture,” Ong said. “(They would) tell her about what it's like to be indigenous here in Phoenix.”
Ong said the script readings will be similar to the talking circles, and their purpose is to make notes for and polish up the script so that it is ready for production later this semester.
“So, after the script reading, she will take home her notes and rewrite the script,” Ong said. “Then in February, they're coming back.”
The official performance will be on April 27 and 28 at Steele Indian School Park, presented by ASU Gammage and Cornerstone Theater Company.
Michael John Garces, the play's director and artistic director at Cornerstone, said that the community’s influence and involvement is vital to the experience.
“We were commissioned…with the intention that it would be like a combination of both professional and community actors performing the play that was inspired by the community stories and voices, and our experience of the community,” Garces said.
FastHorse said that she wants people to take away a greater understanding of the indigenous perspective from the event.
“We're talking about the original people, on whose land we’re standing, and finding ways to learn about that land and learn about the people that are all around,” FastHorse said. “You learn about ways that you can participate and support that community.”
Ong said that the work should particularly impact ASU students because of the large population of indigenous students at the University.
“It’s a part of the identity of living here in Phoenix, we’re all about being inclusive” Ong said. “It’s not about who we exclude, we’re an inclusive University. (It says) in our mission statement, in our charter.”
Ong also said that students of all backgrounds can learn something from "Native Nation."
“ASU students would want to be involved in this project to learn about their own culture, if they’re Native American, or to learn about a culture that may be different from their own,” Ong said. “They may have a good opportunity to break down barriers and stereotypes and educate themselves about Native American culture which is so important to our community into our area.”
Ong said that everybody is welcome to come to the script reading and to audition in February, but that there are many ways to get involved.
“We probably could use some volunteers as well for the final event,” Ong said. “We would also greatly appreciate it just to share the word about the project…that's a great way that an ASU student could help.”
Garces said that, through "Native Nation," people might be able to see the world and its issues from a new perspective.
“(I hope people hear) stories that maybe look at an issue they are very familiar with, but through a different lens and make them think about it differently,” Garces said. “That's what I hope theatre does — help us see the world in a different light.”