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Native American New Play Festival endeavors to tell cultural stories and bring history to life


standing is Cynthia Cunningham, Dillon Griffitts, Dillon Pierce. Sitting is Zack Morris and Summer Morgan
  • standing is Cynthia Cunningham, Dillon Griffitts, Dillon Pierce. Sitting is Zack Morris and Summer Morgan

Native American history as recorded in the history books sometimes differs dramatically from the stories passed down from generation to generation in the Native American community. Through Oklahoma’s Native American New Play Festival, April 8 and 15, writers of Native American descent can tell their stories from their perspective. Festival coordinator Maya Torralba said it also brings playwrights together.

“It raises the bar for them,” Torralba said. “They learn about each other, and there is a community of Native American playwrights out there and they have a camaraderie.”

This is the eighth year of the festival, which this year takes place at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, 3000 General Pershing Blvd. The festival includes three staged readings and a full production of the play Blood Boundary.

This year, the festival received more than 20 submissions from all over the country  and they include historical and contemporary settings. Torralba said having a mix is ideal.

“It’s a little bit more relatable for the audience if it’s a contemporary issue,” Torralba said. “However, with the historical part, I think if it’s not relatable to the audience, I think they at least kind of get a lesson on what wasn’t told in history.”

A reading committee chooses which of the submissions are given staged readings during the festival. Plays must fit within the space available, and submissions are limited to those from Native American, Alaska Native, Hawaiian, First Nations and indigenous Mexican artists. Organizers are particularly interested in plays that spotlight the 39 tribal nations in Oklahoma. This year’s staged readings include Round Dance by Arigon Starr, River of Blood by Ed Bourgeois and Pushing the Bear by Diane Glancy.

“What they’re looking for is stories that involve telling a good story about Native American culture and also the changing of times, the generations and the change of tradition versus modern,” Torralba said.

Each year, the organizers choose one staged readings for the main production the following year. This year, they will also use audience questionnaires to help guide their decision.

Last year’s main production, The Day We Were Born, was a contemporary piece that allowed the festival to use items already on hand. This year, however, the festival switches back to a historical theme with Blood Boundary set in the 1920s.

Written by Tulsa-born Vicki Lynn Mooney, the play is the third installment of her Broken Heart Land trilogy, which centers on a Native American man raised in a white family. Set just before the 1921 Tulsa race riots, the play also focuses on his relationship with his Cherokee mixed-blood relatives.

Torralba said there seems to be more awareness of Native American art here in the metro. She described the plays in this year’s festival as entertaining with a unique humor. She hopes the event will give people a new perspective on the Native American experience as well as cultural understanding.

“I hope they can find a familiarity with their family and our families,” Torralba said. “We’re all the same; we just have a different view of telling the story.”

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Print headline: Historic work, New Play Festival endeavors to tell cultural stories and bring history to life.  

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