Larissa FastHorse started out as "the only ballet dancer [she] knew in the middle of the prairie," but is now a playwright whose works are produced all over the United States and beyond. As an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Sicangu Tribal Nation, FastHorse puts her own Native American experience to her works. She also, with Grammy-winning artist Ty Defoe, is co-owner of Indigenous Direction, a consulting firm for companies and artists who want to create accurate work about, for and with Indigenous Peoples.
We spoke about FastHorse's multifaceted journey in the arts and Vanishing Point, her play about a tribe losing their land due to rising waters, which opened in New York City just a day after 141 protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline were arrested in North Dakota. The play is part of Lost Voices: An Evening of Two Short Plays, presented by the Eagle Project.
You've done a lot of work in the arts. Tell me about your new play, Vanishing Point, came about.
It was commissioned by the Eagle Project [a professional performing arts company that develops and produces works by Native Americans]. Originally, the work was commissioned for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2015. It was delayed by a year, but I am grateful because my research into that is what led to this work now.
Louisiana is losing land mass faster than anywhere else in the world. It is affecting people of all colors, but particularly poor people, people without a lot of resources, out of the big levees.
To truly understand how Katrina was so detrimental, you really have to go back 50 years before that to see how all these decades of levee-building and logging affected Southern Louisiana. All the barrier islands that protected Southern Louisiana are gone -- they were either swept away or overrun with salt water.
There are three tribes there that are badly affected, only one, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, is recognized by the United States, and were named the first Climate Change Refugees in 2016. They received a settlement to move their tribe to higher ground.
One of the others is the United Houma Nation -- they go to the United Nations every year. The UN has been supportive, but the USA has not, and do not recognize them.
How do you show this in Vanishing Point?
I actually didn't name one specific tribe in the play. I made that choice artistically to represent several different tribes at once. Traditional stories from all nations are part of this play. There are so many colors in Louisiana. There is one fishing tribe of mainly white fisherman that is now all gone.
The show opens tonight.
I'm really excited. Jessi D. Hill is director of both plays [Vanishing Point is produced alongside another play, Wide Blossoms by Elise Marenson]. It is a huge challenge because both plays are so different. Jessi was able to play with the space and it is a really beautiful show. It is one set which is deconstructed from one show into the other.
My play is deceptively simple. There is a woman in her own space and time, and then there are two cousins in their own space, which is shrinking from water.
The sound and light designers have done a beautiful job -- it's a tech-heavy show.
I actually had never worked with them before. Elise and I interviewed directors (me mainly by Skype) and Jessi was far and away my first choice. I met her at our first rehearsal about three weeks ago.
You have another play you are working on called The Thanksgiving Play. What is that about?
I just workshopped that in Baltimore and Portland, Oregon before coming to New York. It's about well-meaning non-indigenous people creating a politically correct play about Thanksgiving for children. They consult one Native American woman who turns out to have very different views from what they expected.
When did you first know you wanted to be in theatre at all, much less do so much with it?
I was a professional ballet dancer at first. I was never a theatre kid at all. We did go to community theatre, and concert-style readings. My parents loved the arts in general.
The Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis (CTC) is where I saw my first theatre show and they commissioned my first play.
I danced professionally for 10 years but as I got older, I decided to stop. I went to Los Angeles, which is where I met my husband [sculptor Edd Horgan].I transitioned into film and television writing, and sold a few pilots to networks for development.
I appreciate that world, but it was not a good fit for me. So in 2006, when I heard that the Sundance Institute/Ford Foundation Fellowship was looking for a Native American playwright -- they had never had one before. When I walked into CTC, I realized I was at home. Everything fit for me. Theatre is dancers with furniture. But there are differences -- usually there is less space to work in, and it takes much longer to say something than to express it through dance.
What are you doing after the run?
I'm going home to Santa Monica for a while. We have been on the road for 6 weeks between the workshops and now the run, from Baltimore to Portland to Miami to Fairbanks and now in NYC.
I try to give back as much as I can. I co-own Indigenous Direction with Ty Defoe, we outsource to hire and pay Native Americans as consultants on arts. Cultural competency has value, and it should be paid for like other competencies. We have theatre companies present us with proposals and budgets, and we work with them from there. It's been very successful.
For more on Indigenous Direction, please visit: www.indigenousdirection.com. LOST VOICES performs Wednesdays-Sundays October 28th through November 13th at 7:00 pm and 2:00 and 7pm on Sundays. All tickets are $18.00, $10.00 with current student ID. For reservations, please book online: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/965406