Jane Lind (1992)

There has been an increased awareness of non-traditional casting and people of color in film, television, and theater over the last few years. But the application seems to have lagged behind. There is not much more activity for us.

For Natives, this increased awareness has primarily affected men. The stories of Natives have been seen as the stories of men. This diminishes the truth and variety of our cultures. Women hold as important a role in many of our nations as the men.

Stereotyping still exists. Native peoples are still romanticized and idealized often. Or seen only as savages, in buckskin, or abused, or drunk. Native peoples do this to ourselves, too, especially those coming into the culture now. All that we ask is to be seen as full human beings. Let us stop being the dream image.

Just getting the roles that do exist for us is a problem. Every other disenfranchised group competes for Native roles. Also, it is very difficult to find agents to represent you. Most of the time, they do not think you are “saleable” enough. They think you are a specialty item.

In my work in New York, and especially at LaMaMa, I have often been cast non-traditionally. I have played people of all cultures: blue-eyed blondes, Greeks, Arabs, and people of many Native nations. I have learned a lot from this, from their different ways of instruction, their different kinds of behavior, their different ways of moving. I have found that one of the first things I connect with is the ceremonial aspects of these cultures, their sense of ritual. I can relate to that. At the same time, I approach all of my characters the same way. Some may have a different beat, may wear different clothing, but the feeling is the same. Currently, I am the resident director of the Magic Circle Opera Repertory Ensemble. This is the truest form of non-traditional casting. Only the voice is what matters.

Interestingly, the most difficult character for me to have performed was someone of my own nation, Aleut. This was in David Hunsaker’s The Summer Face Woman. I was extremely frightened at first, extremely self-conscious. Was I getting it right? How could I speak for all these different people, my people? My understanding was so broad and so deep, I couldn’t fit it all into one role. It was too close to me. Eventually, I had to realize that I could only tell the story as best I could. And that it was only one story of all that could be told. I don’t profess to be an authority in dealing with Native cultures or my own culture; I am an artist.

Now that the cultures of people of color are being recognized, I hope that women and especially Native women will find a full place in the theater and other performing arts. I try to do this in my directing, my storytelling work, my acting. This is a very important thing that has started. Only fear and ignorance can make it stop.

Return to: Looking Back: Contributors