Updated:
Original:

Native Voices at the Autry boosts indigenous playwrights.

Author:

By Eva Thomas -- Today correspondent

LOS ANGELES - Over the last decade, a virtual who's who of American Indian theater artists has worked with Native Voices at the Autry. From Canadian playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, Ojibway, to up-and-coming playwright Larissa Fast Horse, Sicangu Nation, Native playwrights are finding a home to develop works for the stage.

Native Voices at the Autry is a professional Los Angeles-based theater company devoted to developing new scripts by American Indian writers. It is becoming a hot bed for contemporary Native theater. Taking the writer from workshop to staged reading to full Equity productions, Native Voices is committed to creating Native stories.

While teaching at Illinois State University, Native Voices Artistic Director Randy Reinholz, Choctaw, and Native Voices Executive Director Jean Bruce Scott began the task of finding American Indian plays and playwrights.

''I was asked to champion work around Native Americans,'' Reinholz said. ''We found some plays written by Natives and produced a number of staged play readings.'' From 1994 - '96, Reinholz and Scott organized a festival of plays at Illinois State featuring Native works.

Reinholz and Scott continued to develop the plays of Native playwrights; and in 1999, Native Voices at the Autry was born in collaboration with the Gene Autry Museum located in Los Angeles' Griffith Park.

In the mid-'90s, the Autry Museum was putting together an exhibit focusing on images of American Indians and turned to Reinholz and Scott to help create a live theater piece as part of the exhibit. That production was ''Urban Tattoo,'' a one-woman show by Marie Clements, Metis.

Since then, Native Voices has grown and developed into a gathering point for Native theater artists in Los Angeles.

The main focus of Native Voices is to develop the work of Native playwrights. The Festival of New Plays, in which a series of new works are read by professional actors, occurs each November. A full Equity production takes place in the spring. The plays read at the festival and the spring productions are often workshopped through the Native Voices writing retreats.

This past March, Drew Hayden Taylor's ''The Berlin Blues'' was produced by Native Voices. After the play's run at the Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry Museum, ''The Berlin Blues'' was taken on tour to play at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the American Indian Community House in New York City.

Fast Horse's play, ''Teaching Disco Square Dance to Our Elders: A Class Presentation,'' will be one of several scripts to be featured in the upcoming Festival of New Plays.

''Native Voices has been wonderful,'' said Fast Horse. ''They are really committed to making sure Native Theater has a home and helping to promote, not only my work, but the work of other Native writers nationally.''

Native Voices holds a call for scripts each December and a number of playwrights are invited to a weeklong retreat in Los Angeles to develop their work.

''What the writing retreat offers playwrights is the opportunity to focus on writing,'' Reinholz said. ''They also have the opportunity to have professional actors read their plays and receive valuable feedback on their work.''

Since 2000, Native Voices at the Autry has held more than 45 workshops, presented more than 35 public staged play readings and produced seven full productions of Native plays.

In addition, Native Voices has developed programs to reach out to both local youth and young people in different reservation communities through its Young Native Voices: Theater Education Project, and Reservation Outreach Programs.

In conjunction with the Southern California Indian Center, Native Voices invites a number of young playwrights to attend the Theater Education Project. The young writers are paired with professional Native artists and mentored through the playwriting process. The workshop ends with a staged reading of their plays.

The Reservation Outreach Program is a way for Native Voices to touch communities in Indian country. Over the last few years, Native Voices has held artists residences at the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in Idaho and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation in southern California.

Native Voices also organizes a number of artist workshops for Los Angeles' Native community. Acting, film production and writing workshops were offered free of charge to the public in September.

The workshops, Festival of New Plays, and full stage productions also provide a number of opportunities for Native artists to gather, make connections and build a sense of community.

Tim Harjo, Seminole, recently relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. He attended several workshops offered by Native Voices in September. ''I met a number of Native people in the industry during that weekend,'' Harjo said. ''It was nice to meet other L.A. Natives.''

Native Voices recently partnered with Native American Public Telecommunications in developing radio plays. This year, Native Voices produced ''Super Indian,'' written by Arigon Starr, Kickapoo/Creek. The radio play was recorded in front of a live theater audience. ''Super Indian'' will broadcast on Native Voice One (www.nv1.org) this November. Starr's one-woman show, ''The Red Road,'' was also produced by Native Voices in 2006.

Rose-Yvonne Colletta, Lipan/Mescalero Apache and production manager for Native Voices, said, ''Although the focus is on developing Native playwrights, as a result of taking those plays into festival and production, we hire Native actors, Native stage managers and Native crew members.''

Native Voices at the Autry is becoming an integral component of the Los Angeles theater scene and providing a number of workshops and opportunities for Native talent.

''When we started looking for Native plays to produce back in 1994, we found five plays,'' Reinholz said. ''Now there are over 100 plays written by Native playwrights.''

For more information on Native Voices at the Autry, visit www.autrynationalcenter.org/nativevoices.php.