Artistic director is the first Native to receive a prestigious theatre award

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Randy Reinholz has dedicated 25 years to bringing Native voices to the American theatre stage.

Randy Reinholz is known as a pioneer of theater and higher education, and his fight for Native playwrights, actors, directors, and producers. The Choctaw man is now the first Native person to receive the Ellen Stewart Career Achievement in Professional Theater Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

He founded Native Voices at the Autry 25 years ago in Los Angeles. It is the only Equity theater company dedicated to developing and producing plays by Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nation playwrights.

In total, the theatre company has produced 26 plays in 39 productions, 25 new play festivals, 8 short play festivals, 16 playwright retreats, facilitated more than 230 workshops, has more than 275 play readings, and toured nationally and internationally many times.

“I am so honored to receive the Ellen Stewart Career Achievement in Professional Theatre Award from ATHE,” Reinholz said. “I had the great pleasure of speaking on a panel with Ellen Stewart in 1998 at New World Theatre at [University of Massachusetts] Amherst. When our panel concluded, she turned to me and said, ‘…now it is your turn. It is your turn to be like those great artists that worked with me before, like Spiderwoman and Hanay Geiogamah.’ In awe, I thanked her and we parted ways. I have tried to live up to her expectations. And so, I think of her and thank her again today. She was such an inspiration to so many.”

"So this just happened! Congrats Randy Reinholz! Thank you ATHE and special thanks to Courtney Mohler! And to Bethany Hughes who contacted the Choctaw Nation resulting in a special letter of recognition from Chief Gary Batton!"
 ... 'So this just happened! Congrats Randy Reinholz! Thank you ATHE and special thanks to Courtney Mohler! And to Bethany Hughes who contacted the Choctaw Nation resulting in a special letter of recognition from Chief Gary Batton!'(Courtesy of Jean Bruce Scott | Facebook)

Ellen Stewart was an African American artistic director of the La MaMa Theater in New York. She died in 2011.

Courtney Elkin Mohler, Santa Ynez Chumash, nominated Reinholz for the award.

“It was an honor to be able to nominate my elder, whose love for theatre and Native cultural endurance has been nothing short of transformational. Randy has nurtured hundreds of new works and provided continued support for Native artists at all points of their careers over the past twenty-five years. Choosing only ten letters of support for his nomination from the dozens I received was a tremendous challenge,” said the assistant professor of theatre at Butler University.

Reinholz has read many scripts that have been brought to life by Native actors in his theater. Scripts titled “Frybread Queen” and “Bingo Hall” include lines that Indigenous audiences can laugh at and recognize instantly.

“How to make Navajo frybread.”

“We don't really use measuring cups. It’s more of a feeling thing.”

“A genocide that’s well supplied by being bred out. Human beings being bleached to take the red out.” 

One of his more well-known plays is “Off the Rails” which was adapted from Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” “Off the Rails” premiered and sold out at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with director Bill Rauch in 2017. Rauch also nominated Reinholz.

Rauch said the play “completely transformed our organization.”

“He introduced me and our company to Native dramaturgs, designers, and performers, most of whom are still a vibrant part of our company over two years later. For example, last season, the year after ‘Off the Rails,’ there were 10 Native actors spread across the repertory in classic as well as contemporary work–that is over 10% of the largest acting company in the country,” Rauch said. “Randy has made a difference nationally with Native work for decades, but the visibility of Off the Rails and Randy’s role with us has jump-started a marked increase of interest in Native voices across our field.”

Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, expressed his gratitude for Reinholz’s work after Bethany Hughes, Choctaw, reached out to him.

"Thank you, Randy, for carrying the Choctaw success story into your fields," said Batton in a letter to Reinholz. "As an educator, director, producer, and playwright whose roots reach back to Boswell, Oklahoma, you are bringing a Native voice to the American stage. Your vision, hard work and talent are paving the way for future generations of young Native theater artists. For this, your tribe, the Choctaw Nation, is proud of you. May the spotlight continue to shine brightly upon your education and theater endeavors."

Reinholz is also a tenured professor at San Diego State University. He was the head of acting from 1997 to 2002, the director of the school of theatre, television and film from 2007 to 2012, and the director of community engagement and innovation for the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts between 2012 and 2015. 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: