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Call For Submissions: Two Big Opportunities for Native Playwrights

Call For Native Playwright Submissions: Yale Native Storytellers Contest, and the Oklahoma City Theatre Company's Native New Play Festival.

Native storytellers: sharpen your pencils and warm up your keyboards! Two major arts programs are offering opportunities to get your work out: the 2nd Annual Yale Young Native Storytellers Contest, sponsored by the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, and the Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s 8th annual Native American New Play Festival.

Deadlines are soon: The Yale contest asks applicants to submit videos or written samples by December 31, 2016. The Oklahoma City Theatre contest has an extended submission period—December 1, 2016 to February 15, 2017—but asks applicants to submit full-length scripts.

The sponsors of these events represent old and new efforts to support Native artists and bring their work to wide audiences. Oklahoma City Theatre (OKCT) initiated their Native American New Play Festival in the 11th year of their existence, and the program has become an integral part of their yearly performance season.

Yale launched the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program (YIPAP) only in September 2015, as a three-year pilot program sponsored by the Yale Group for the Study of Native America.

YIPAP focuses on "storytelling by Indigenous youth to support the new generation of storytellers," while the OKCT mission showcases "stories for the stage authored by Native American, First Nations, Alaska Natives, Hawaiian Natives, and Indigenous Mexico." OKCT states a "special interest" in plays that involve Indigenous history related to Oklahoma.

Both programs have a commitment to expanding the array of Indigenous artistry available to American audiences by encouraging the creation and performance of new works. Both also share a broad concern for the role and power of art to engage social, cultural, historical and political issues.

Two major arts programs are offering opportunities to get your work out: the 2nd Annual Yale Native Storytellers Contest, and the Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s 8th annual Native American New Play Festival. Photo: iStock

OKCT explicitly states its intent to "promote theatre as a vehicle for social change": "We aim to produce theatre that fosters appreciation and understanding of our distinct and collective cultures, histories, lifeways and contemporary issues found in our way of storytelling and theatre making… [giving] voice and presence on stage to indigeneity."

YIPAP aims "to promote and cultivate Indigenous storytelling and performance to further authentic representation at Yale and in Indian Country." Yale's effort began with a play focused on legal issues—"Sliver of a Full Moon," tracing the struggle to enact the 2013 Violence Against Women Act.

Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee), the playwright (and also a lawyer,) described that first Yale effort: "It was a transformative experience for the students, who performed in front of more than 300 people, including well-known judges and tribal leaders. Students came up to me and said they had never seen a play with Native people on stage before in their entire lives. Not ever. We can tell our own stories. We don’t have to watch white people pretend to be us, which is a revolutionary act in the U.S. right now."

Nagle joined the ongoing efforts of Yale professor Ned Blackhawk (Western Shoshone) to expand the university's commitment to Indigenous programs and curricula. Together with Reed Adair Bobroff (Navajo), a post-graduate fellow at Yale, they persuaded Yale President Peter Salovey to expand funding for YIPAP and other cultural centers not associated with academic departments. At this point, says Blackhawk, “We're doing something that no other place among our peer schools is doing in terms of Native theater."

Submissions to Yale:

Winners of the YIPAP Native Storytelling Contest (and one parent/guardian for winners under the age of 18) will receive an all-expense paid trip to Yale University as a part of the Yale Young Native Storytellers Festival in April 2017. The winning playwright will receive a staged reading of their work with community and professional actors while the other winners will have the opportunity to perform as a part of the Festival.

Submission guidelines for the Yale contest—including playwriting, spoken word, songwriting / music, and dance—are available online at http://yipap.yale.edu. Questions may be emailed to yipapstorytellers@gmail.com.

Submissions to Oklahoma City Theatre:

The OKCT Native American New Play Festival will select two or three finalists for staged readings on April 8, 2017, during the first weekend of the Festival. Audience discussions will follow the readings. The Festival will award a full production to one of the finalists, which will be showcased as the featured production for the 2018 festival.

For further information and OKCT script submission guidelines, contact the Native American New Play coordinator, Maya Torralba, at (405) 638-8611 or mtorralba@okctc.org.

Peter d’Errico graduated from Yale Law School in 1968. He was Staff attorney in Dinébe’iiná Náhii?na be Agha’diit’ahii Navajo Legal Services, 1968-1970, in Shiprock. He taught Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1970-2002. He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous issues.