Diane Glancy – Writer/Professor (2008)
“What’s the matter? Have we devils here? Do you put tricks upon ’s with salvages and men of Ind, ha?”
Stephano to Caliban, Act II, scene ii, The Tempest, William Shakespeare
I think the current climate for native writing is good. The University of Oklahoma Press, the University of Arizona Press, the University of Nebraska Press including the Native Storiers series, are some of the presses that publish native work, including drama. As for theater, Native Voices at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles has developed native plays for several years. I will drive from Kansas to the Autry in June [because I love the old migration trails of the highway] to work on the third play of mine they have developed—this one called, Salvage. It takes me about three to four years to fine-tune a play and to get all the variables as variable as possible while still holding water, so to speak. I just had an e-mail about a new site for native work: The Loop at www.garygarrison.com/loop.htm. I think there will be more developments and opportunities. The main issues of native theater are still places to present/perform the work and how to lasso the diverse possibilities and explain them with an ongoing native dramatic theory or theories.
The kind of work that most engages me is the margin between native storytelling and western theater. These are non-mixers. To get the circular and sometimes repetitive native storytelling onto a linear, usually point-driven western stage is what creative native work is about. Finding experimentations to find what elements of native stories survive the crossing into staged theater where the audience expects communication of some sort on some level yet carries the import of native voice. This is the work that intrigues me—to find the play that is happy to be native on the western stage, and the western stage happy to have it there.
For Salvage the dialogue is in place. The play is about a man who has a car accident, injuring the family he hits, the wife finally dying. Both are Native American from the same reservation. The man whose family is injured stalks the man who hit him. It is about the swift and irrevocable change in the way of life, which refers to native history, of course, and the collision with the 7th cavalry, the railroads, the slaughter of buffalo, the wagon trains, settlers and boarding schools. But this play is Indian against Indian. No usual Indian-against-the-white man story. The prison the man goes to after killing the man who stalks him represents the reservation.
At the June developmental workshop, I want to work with the staging. At the current time, I have a blackout after every scene. Sudden dark/sudden light as the next scene starts. I also want to see how other components will work. For instance, Ian Skorodin’s animated Indian-action-figure DVD and old Blackfeet photos. Wax cylinder songs and the contemporary Mickey Mouse and Monster Mash songs of the Black Lodge Singers. We’re also going to use my cousin’s photos of old cars in salvage yards with computerized color saturation, as though they have small spots of color in a fog. As though they are spirit cars.
The past and present/the traditional and contemporary traditional and/or the contemporary untraditional or nontraditional—is what I work with to see what goes together—to see what is in the juxtaposition. Maybe they will have to be removed from one another, but I want native theater to try to seam its history—with what was, and what is, and possibly will be as native writers continue to write about the world into which we have survived.
There are mostly questions remaining. How do we make sense of what moves within and expresses itself in a way that is not rowing the current? Not against, or even crosswise, but rowing the current [meaning what is not old] nonetheless in an ocean that is within the ocean, but a different ocean than what is seen or rowed by others as ocean. I see all this as an interstice of interculturality in the multi-cultural field of America—to fill in its missing parts somewhat.
In language, for instance, because a native play cannot be written in a native language—who would sit? But can the English language itself become a bifurcation and/or conglomeration of resonances that can be stretched to let the old or the alter-current row?
That’s the hurdle—to explain one’s self with words that are not one’s own, but to work with them nonetheless. To say, this is something of what it was. Imagine the prairie under full moon-light and the stories taking legs and becoming a stage on which one’s survival depended, acted out with hope as if there would be buffalo again and the ongoing of one’s race.
After Salvage, I’m starting to think about how to work with Fort Marion prisoners, 1875-1878, who took a train trip from Ft. Sill in Indian Territory [later Oklahoma] to northern Florida’s Atlantic coast. [This is for the Upstart Crow Project—I’m working with the island imprisonment after The Tempest.] These were people who had not seen an ocean, who did not know it existed other than in some amorphous “Big Water” terms. Who had not smelled mildew nor slept on a rack bed. Who climbed palm tress to cut the dead branches called Spanish Moss to stuff in the mattress and found them full of insects called, chiggers. To turn nonfiction into a fiction of sorts because there are survivors still alive in Oklahoma who would not want me writing about their specific relatives and putting them on stage. [It would be Indian against Indian all over again.] And how could a play be like The Tempest, in which Caliban in his magnificent lines turns history into later happenings on the stage? I see these lives as diversion, inversion, inclusion into the mainstream stage. I think there are issues of camouflage and revelation or revelation- camouflaged to work through so that the descendants of the survivors of Fort Marion feel satisfied and don’t call. Or ask what right I have to take their history and place my name upon it and rightly so since I’m not a descendant of the survivors. So that I myself don’t succumb as collateral damage. Nonetheless, I hear the pockets of silences climbing onto a stage where talking should be taking place as its feat and/or triumph on stage. There are many feets [feats] to the line. Unending, as a matter of fact, so these casts of Fort Marion prisoners in the Peabody Museum at Harvard can see the light of day.
I’m interested in historical voices because I think they are carried on the prairie. I just posted a nine-minute film on my website, dianeglancy.com, called Ride Between the Worlds. I wrote the script and filmed the land and placed the two together. For me, history is native theatrical voices longing to be told. It also is the visual impact of images. That there is so much history [American] that is not known/has not been told/and is there as true as the silence of its history. All these are factors in my work.
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