Monica Whitepigeon in Entertainment. Discussion »
LOS ANGELES Last month, Native Voices at the Autry hosted a festival of short plays in honor of the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe on November 3. Five plays total were performed and one won the 2012 Von Marie Atchley Excellence in Playwriting Award.
Playwright Darrell Dennis Shuswap Nation in British Columbia
The winner was Darrel Dennis for his short play entitled "Home of the Brave."
Native News Network: What tribal affiliation are you? Are you mixed at all? If so, what races?
Dennis: My tribe is called Shuswap. I have a little bit of Scottish and Greek on my mother's side.
Native News Network: Where are you from? Have you ever lived on the Rez?
Dennis: I grew up in British Columbia, Canada but I have lived in Vancouver, Toronto, New York, and now L.A. I grew up on a reservation in the interior of British Columbia, Canada called Alkali Lake. The Rez became internationally famous for going from almost 100% alcoholism to almost 95% sobriety.
Native News Network: Tell us about the play. How long is it? How many actors? Any particular Native influence?
Dennis: "Home of the Running Brave" is about Thomas Harding, a Native American Olympic sprinter who's future on the Olympic team comes under conflict when he decides that he wants to run under the banner of his tribe and not the American flag.The play is fifteen minutes.
Native News Network: What was your inspiration?
Dennis: My inspiration came from watching the Beijing Olympics and thinking about how people pledge allegiances to certain countries even though they might have lived under an oppressive regime. This got me thinking about Native people in the Americas and our relationship with flags and governments that represent a history of colonization and an attempt to essentially wipe out the indigenous population. How does a Native Olympic athlete reconcile his own history with attempting to win an award that celebrates the country that was responsible for his people's attempted annihilation?
Native News Network: How long have you worked with Native Voices?
Dennis: I have worked with Randy and Jeannie who founded Native Voices for over a decade.
Native News Network: Have you won other awards for your plays?
Dennis: I have been nominated for two Dora Awards (The Canadian equivalent of the Tony) for best actor and best new play for my one man show "Tales of an Urban Indian" which I also performed at Native Voices.
Native News Network: What brought you to theater?
Dennis: I was always a class clown growing up but growing up on a relatively isolated Rez, I never thought that my performing would lead to anything productive so I settled into preparing myself for a life of laborer work. When I moved to Vancouver and saw other Native people making a living by performing, I decided I wanted to do that as well so I have been involved in the theatre ever since which has also led to a very fruitful career as a writer.
Native News Network: Have you ever felt discriminated for being Native? If so, is it reflected in your work?
Dennis: I grew up in an area of Canada that was very much Cowboys, Indians, and Loggers. It was a roughneck and redneck town and people were not very welcoming of us Natives that came from the reservations, so I experienced a lot of outward racism there. As I moved to bigger cities I found the racism became less overt and more "polite". In the larger metropolitan areas the racism becomes about the perception people have of you as a Native person, mostly romanticized, and they tend to become disappointed if you don't fit in to their perception of what a Native person should be. As a result, issues of race have become a primary topic in the majority of my plays.
Native News Network: Do you have any advice for you Native wanting to pursue a career in theater?
Dennis: My greatest advice is if you can picture yourself doing anything else than do that. The theatre is for people who can't live without it. There is very little money to be made, there is zero job security, and the toll it does on your psyche and self-esteem is merciless. However, the theatre is also filled with some of the most exciting, passionate, intelligent, and political people you will ever meet. The theatre is and has always been a powerful tool for self-expression, education, and change. If that's the life you want to be a part of more than anything, than I would say dive in head first and don't look back!
posted December 3, 2012 8:20 am est