Larissa Fasthorse makes history on Broadway

This week, Larissa Fasthorse became the first Native American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. “The Thanksgiving Play,” now showing at the Hayes Theater, stars D’Arcy Carden (“The Good Place,” “A League of Their Own”), Katie Finneran (“Noise of”), Scott Foley (” Scrubs”) ,” “Scandal”), and Chris Sullivan (“This Is Us”) as four white actors who try to put together a culturally sensitive Thanksgiving school play — and fail miserably .

Directed by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin (“Hadstown”), “The Thanksgiving Play” is only the second play by a Native American playwright — and the first by a Native American woman — to appear on Broadway. (The first was “Green Grow the Lilacs,” which debuted in 1931 and inspired the musical “Oklahoma!”.) In anticipation of opening night, Fasthorse, who is a Sikangu Lakota, talks to POPSUGAR about comedy and satire representation in Native theatre, and keeping the door open for the next generation of Native playwrights.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Popsugar: I thought I might start by asking a little about your own background and whether your family celebrated Thanksgiving, if you were ever in a Thanksgiving play at school? I know I was. Or if you watched a Thanksgiving play while you were writing the script?

Larissa Fasthorse: To be honest, we went straight to Christmas because my dad was part of this little team that decorated hundreds of Christmas trees in the rotunda of the South Dakota capitol. And so Thanksgiving was when we decorated all the trees.

“I’m definitely focusing on yay.”

I grew up in South Dakota, where I was lucky that we didn’t have pageants at the time. We didn’t even do pilgrimage and Indians. We harvest Which meant a lot to the beach kids in South Dakota who had just gone through it. It was really much more than a harvest holiday that we focused on. And then when I was researching the play, I found the horrific things our kids do at Thanksgiving. And I couldn’t believe it.

PS: Yes, reading the script made me think a lot about my own elementary school experiences of being in those plays. I read an interview where you called it “your most disappointing success”. can you tell me more? what do you mean by that?

LF: Ultimately in business, I hit a wall as a playwright. And I had to write white-rendered characters to produce a play. And, I’m lucky. [“The Thanksgiving Play” is] One of the most produced plays in America, now on Broadway. And so I’m grateful for that. But, this is what I had to do. And now, I have five more plays – I have six plays this year. So the next five are all Natives, which I’m very excited about. So it worked. Wow! But, for that to happen I had to write all white-presenting characters.

D’Arcy Warden and Katie Finneran in “The Thanksgiving Play”. Image source: Joan Marcus

PS: There’s a lot of humor in the script, and I noticed a few jokes that I felt I was lucky enough to catch – I felt like there were a couple that were meant for the original audience. I read that you are working to get people to see the play. Can you tell me a little about who you’re expecting to see this?

LF: We’ve been really lucky. I would say, because we’re about to open this week, and our audience is so diverse. Diverse in age, diverse in ethnic background, diverse in ability. It’s been really wonderful to watch. I honestly didn’t expect this audience to be so broad in its representation. I expected we would have diversity in geography, right? People are coming from all over the world. D’Arcy Varden fans come from all over the planet, and they watch the show over and over again.

“I expect people to ask themselves a lot of questions.”

We’ve worked really hard with Second Stage to make sure Indigenous people are invited and feel welcome. We have a special code for an incredible discount, incredible discount, it’s actually cheaper than your local theater company’s discount, to come to a Native People show.

PS: Do you have specific things you hope your audience will take away from watching the play? And maybe it varies depending on who the audience member is?

LF: It’s a comedy and a satire, and the comedy part is very intentional on my part. I really want people to have fun in the theater first and foremost. I want people to come and laugh and sit next to each other. I mean, nothing is better than this. I went to the theater the other day just to hear the ending, and it was 600 people laughing in unison. This is the most incredible sound. And I say this without any frivolity, but especially after the past few years. We have not been able to do this. And it’s just, nothing like that. It hit me in the heart, made me cry. I actually got my phone out and recorded the sound of people laughing because I remembered that. So this is the first most important thing.

D’Arcy Carden, Chris Sullivan, Katie Finneran and Scott Foley in “The Thanksgiving Play”. Image source: Joan Marcus

And then after that, I expect people to ask themselves a lot of questions. The most invaluable question for me is, ask, why? Like, why didn’t I know these things? Why did I find that funny? Why didn’t I find that funny? Why was that person laughing there? I hope people are asking a lot of questions. Why didn’t I know this about Thanksgiving? Why did not I think about this? Why did I ask this question? Why didn’t I learn about this in school? Why did I have to go to the play to learn about history? That’s wild. I expect people to ask a lot of questions, why questions. And then I hope they work to answer those questions.

PS: I was doing a little reading about the history of native playwrights on Broadway. , ,

LF: This is a simple list.

PS: it’s you and lynn riggs [who wrote “Green Grow the Lilacs”], Correct? That’s it.

LF: That’s it.

PS: I’m sure in your initial weeks, you’ve probably been very busy, but also probably doing some thinking. Are you thinking about what it feels like to be at this time in history? Is it a feeling of happiness that you are there? Or is it a sense of frustration that it took so long?

LF: Yeah, it’s too conflicting for me, isn’t it? Because Lynn Riggs had several plays on Broadway that many people don’t know about. And unfortunately they were called “Oklahoma!” Not credited as a book author for. Regardless, if you “Green Grow the Lilacs,” “Oklahoma!” In many places the wording was similar. And that’s really unfortunate. And yet at least we still know his name because his other plays are not widely performed today. And I’m so honored to know so much about this gentleman and the incredible legacy he left behind. But this is so, that was the first half of the last century. What! I mean come on. This is not right. And the whole list is that and then me. This is not right!

I’m definitely focusing on yay. But it’s also hard at the same time, because I don’t want it to be another century before the next Native American playwright comes on Broadway. I just can’t – it’s not okay. So I personally take a lot of pressure off myself about it, “Okay, don’t screw it up. We need to make sure the door is open.” Because there are so many incredible Native playwrights in this country who are ready and have plays that should be on Broadway. And also just that now I can be the person I wasn’t – I’m thrilled to be able to do that for someone else, hopefully in my lifetime and not in the next century.

“The Thanksgiving Play” Will appear on Broadway through June 4.

Image source: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation