When playwright Larissa FastHorse writes, she starts with what she calls "the puke draft."
"I don't outline," she explains. "I do a lot of research, and I get into a world and in my head and start dreaming in that world, and suddenly, one day, characters pop up."
FastHorse's The Thanksgiving Play, which is getting its full premiere at Artists Rep, is about characters who aren't as uninhibited: three actors and one director who are attempting to create a play for Thanksgiving that will be politically correct, 45 minutes long and appropriate for an elementary school audience.
WW spoke to FastHorse, an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota, about writing The Thanksgiving Play and the worst things about white liberal theater.
WW: Is there a character in the play who was particularly useful for raising questions?
Larissa FastHorse: The director [character in the play]—Logan is her name—is working with her life partner, Jaxtson, who is the main actor in town. They are some of the most liberal, woke people in the room. They pride themselves on having gone through a tremendous amount of equity, diversity and inclusion training, having all the right words to speak. It's their way of keeping a distance from actually doing anything. We also have Alicia, who is the Native American role. She's extremely simple—she's an LA girl, an LA actress. But she's surprisingly complex in her simplicity and her way of looking at life and she's been really interesting to me in studying women and how they find the tools to move through the world and win in ways that maybe are questionable, but maybe aren't.
Do you feel happy with what people have taken away from workshops?
It will never be written on a pamphlet, but my description of the play is, "I make fun of white folks for 90 minutes. Come and enjoy it." It sounds extreme. It sounds like I'm just trying to be inflammatory. But honestly, white liberal theater, it's given me my career, but it can also be my biggest enemy. I've actually been told straight up, "Oh, it's better not to have any Native Americans [in a play] than to inaccurately represent them, and I don't know how to accurately represent them, my theater doesn't, so we're just not going to do anything."
Would you rather people at least try and make mistakes as opposed to doing nothing?
You have to take an action and make a mistake and then you can apologize and learn to do better. If you do nothing, you have nothing.
Are there things you didn't put in the play?
I have a consulting company called Indigenous Directions. We were at this opening dinner, and there was a woman at my table. She was…upper class, super-liberal, theater-supporting, Indigenous-supporting, East Coast, woke, on it, etc. We had been talking for a little while, and she said, "What was your name again?" and I said, "Larissa FastHorse. My company is putting on this event." And she said, "Oh. You're Indigenous?" And I said, "Yes, I am." She said, "I never would have guessed. You're so well-spoken."
But if I put that onstage, people would be able to step away and say, "That's not me. I would never say something like that. I don't even know people like that." But actually, you do. You're not me. This kind of stuff happens to me all the time. So I have to find a way to get people to say, "Maybe that is me, and maybe I have done that thing." My goal is to psychologically work with you so you allow me into your brain and allow thoughts to create new neural pathways and electrical impulses that you've never had before.
SEE IT: The Thanksgiving Play is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., artistsrep.org. 7:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday and 2 pm Sunday, April 7-29. No show Tuesday, April 10 and 17. Additional show 2 pm Saturday, April 28. $50.