In 1990 at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, the discussion of replacing October 12’s Columbus Day with Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples Day began. This year, three decades later, Michigan and 12 other states do not celebrate Columbus Day. However, our state has not followed in the footsteps of states like South Dakota as far as officially declaring the day a holiday to celebrate Native Americans. 

In the realm of the arts, theatre specifically, we still have a long way to go as well in the fight for Indigenous equity and equality. MacArthur Grant recipient and Lakota playwright Larissa FastHorse wrote Hope College Theatre’s upcoming production, The Thanksgiving Play as a satirical response to the racism and prejudice she has experienced within show business

With its script-required all-white cast (Adam Chamness, Cecelia Casper, Grant McKenzie, and myself) and director Rich Perez, The Thanksgiving Play is set to premiere via live stream on October 30th, four weeks before the holiday itself. 

Video captures the Pilgrim puppet voiced by Cecelia Casper

The Thanksgiving Play follows Logan, an ex-actress and rising high school theatre director as she tries to create the ultimate, politically correct elementary school Thanksgiving play. With a cast consisting of a modern-day hippie, a playwriting-obsessed history teacher, and a ditzy LA actress, Logan has a harder time than she ever imagined. 

A play that addresses topics such as political correctness, misogyny, and racism towards Indigenous people inside and out of the entertainment industry will surely foster many interesting discussions. 

I personally am so honored to be working on a play that feels so necessary today, tomorrow, and in the long, foreseeable future. What better way to make people approach a sensitive topic with an open mind than satire? Comedy pulls our walls down and makes us get comfortable in our seats. FastHorse’s brilliant writing uses humor to engage us and make us receptive to her social critique. 

If the audience views this play as I understand it, it should feel both the joy of laughter and the discomfort of an honest look at Native American representation in theatre and mainstream media. It should grab you and make you confront your own racial biases, as well as entertain you with an hour’s worth of genuinely hilarious comedy. It’s a strange mix of emotions, sure. But it’s also an effective one. 

Comedy comes naturally to me. Things like comedic timing and bringing a joke to life almost feel like a part of my DNA at this point. My favorite part of comedic performance has always been the energy a good joke derives from an audience. 

Grant Mackenzie rehearses, play puppet in hand

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all performances of The Thanksgiving Play will be live-streamed with an empty house. It feels daunting, but also obviously necessary. At first, rehearsals felt totally stunted by the fact that we couldn’t touch or get within six feet of each other. 

The cast is made up of two freshmen (Casper and McKenzie) as well as my fellow Smokefall alumnus (Chamness). I thought it was going to be impossible to create authentic chemistry, since getting to know one another inside of rehearsal and out is so difficult. It wasn’t until four or five weeks into rehearsal that we even realized we’d never seen each other’s entire face. 

However, the rehearsal process has been one of the most fun and rewarding processes I’ve ever experienced. Each one has felt like more fun than work. I find myself totally engaged and ever searching for different ways to make my character, Alicia, come to life. 

So, add The Thanksgiving Play to your list of upcoming events. There are eight shows overall: Oct. 30, Nov. 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and Oct 31, Nov. 1 and 7 at both 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Have a (COVID-safe) watch party! Or, watch it alone as a break from your busy week. This is how you should rake in the holiday season.

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