Rhiana Yazzie is the Artistic Director of New Native Theatre, a Minneapolis theatre company focused on producing and creating Native American stories. Rhiana founded New Native in 2009.
I grew up in Albuquerque and Farmington, NM, and made it to Los Angeles with a lot of encouragement from a professor. Then I won a national fellowship for emerging playwrights, and moved to Minneapolis. I worked in a theatre for a few years, and then had to figure out if I was going to be a playwright or a real person!
This summer will be 13 years in Minneapolis. I stayed here because of the Native community to be honest. There’s a history of activism that makes the Twin Cities Native community really unique. The renaming of Bde Maka Ska is a very visible way of Native people really pushing and reclaiming their rights, reclaiming who they are. It’s exciting to be creating theatre in a community with that kind of energy.
The things that still plague us — lack of representation and a lack of opportunities for culturally specific people to flex their craft. We are trying to create a meaningful pathway into careers in the performing arts for Native folks — in a way that’s nurturing and culturally specific. Whereas in predominantly white theatre organizations you nurture a product to give back to the company, we’re thinking about nurturing people to become their full person.
Our approach means there is always an open door for any native person who wants to get into theatre and try it out. Sometimes theatre felt really unsafe for me, and I try to give the opposite experience to people I work with.
In theatre, you have to rely on everyone and you accelerate your relationships because you’re in this together. I can think of people who did a play and now are doing that as a career. I also see people who came to the company and found a piece of themselves or healed themselves.
It gives me goosebumps. When you’re in the rehearsal room and working with people, you get these beautiful stories, you get to see people grow, you get to personally nurture folks. It’s really satisfying. Especially when you see where they go with it, what they create, and what they want to do next.
I’d love to see an enormous Native arts center. We have native fine arts galleries, so many amazing native visual artists, and as theater is progressing we’re really getting a strong pool of native actors for the first time. I think this would be a really good home for something like the Guthrie — but Native — right on the Mississippi. It would be a Midwest hub, and every Native person across the country would be like: “Oh, we have to go there.”
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