The Dramatic Rise of the Oklahoma Indigenous Theatre Company

Having recently closed this year’s very successful Tenth Annual Native American New Play Festival, the newly formed Oklahoma Indigenous Theatre Company are more than ready to produce not only plays from the stars of the Native playwright scene—yes, they do exist—but to also focus a spotlight on the up-and-comers as well.

Sarah D’Angelo (Mohawk), artistic producer and founding company member, said that even though they worked under the Oklahoma City Theatre Company for nearly a decade, in 2018 they had decided that they had finally respectfully “outgrown” them.

“We were ambitious to produce work more often and generate other kinds of community programming beyond the New Play Festival,” D’Angelo said. “We had built up a solid company of regular artistic folks and were functioning under our own systems of working and producing. We felt in order to really position Indigenous Theatre and Indigenous Theatre artists in Oklahoma further into mainstream visibility and create accessible live performance for all people, we needed to be regularly producing as a separate entity.”

With both the New Play Festival and its main headliner, Neechie-Itas, by Jo MacDonald (Anishinaabe), performed at Mitchell Hall at the University of Central Oklahoma to much acclaim, D’Angelo said that this year has been “successful collaboration” with many “wonderful, positive changes” for the company.

“The Native American New Play Festival is our centerpiece event,” D’Angelo said. “Every year for two weekends we produce a fully-realized full-length play and feature a staged reading series of new Indigenous plays, curated from a national call for scripts. Other festival events can include talking circle panel discussions with elders, language/culture keepers, historians…this year was our 10th consecutive year of the festival’s existence so it was really important to us that we produced it and produced it well.”

Besides Neechie-Itas, the company also did staged readings of plays that included Three Sisters by Carolyn Dunn (Cherokee, Creek Tunica-Choctaw-Biloxi) and Bound by Tara Moses (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma).

The submitted plays typically run the gamut of modern storytelling, with common themes about Native concerns like family relationships, re-presentations or (mis)representations of history—usually the Native history not taught in the mainstream, identity and the tensions between traditional vs. contemporary lifestyles.

Each year—usually sometime in January or February—the Company will advertise a national open call for full-length scripts written for the stage, accepting plays exclusively from writers who are Native American, First Nations, Hawai’ian, Island Pacific or Indigenous Mexican. 

 “Naturally, as more mainstream theatres are producing Native plays and seeing how successful they are becoming, the false narratives that once surrounded Native Theatre (and why it shouldn’t be produced) is quickly being disproved,” D’Angelo said. “But Broadway has yet to produce a play by and for Native voices.”

While D’Angelo believes that Broadway might view Indigenous plays as a financial risk, companies such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for the past few years, has produced very successful Native plays to both critical and financial success. The Oklahoma Indigenous Theatre Company believes they’re the next theatrical group to add their name to that list.

“We are still the only theatre in the entire Midwest region producing new Indigenous work by Indigenous voices,” D’Angelo added. “We are forging new paths in a lot of areas and looking forward to the future of generating youth and community programming, using theatre as a means of leadership and community building and producing more play productions regularly.”

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Follow the Oklahoma Indigenous Theatre Company at https://www.facebook.com/OKIndigenousTC/.

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