Thursday, June 18, 2009

Presenting "North American Indian Drama!"

As promised, here is a preview of one of our newest databases, North American Indian Drama.

You might assume that North American Indian Drama is just a subset of mainstream American and Canadian drama: plays written by people who just happen to be of indigenous North American descent. In her introductory essay to the collection, editorial advisor Christy Stanlake refutes that assumption, making the persuasive argument that Native American drama is a unique and dynamic field of theatre. It grows out of the storytelling tradition, and addresses themes of reclaiming identity, revising history, revisiting oral traditions and healing communities. She cites playwright Diane Glancy, saying that "Native Drama [is] a new Native American oral tradition told with what it is not, the written word, then returned to what it is by the act of the voice."

Stanlake points out that the 172 plays in this collection, written by 33 indigenous North American playwrights, are both secular and intertribal. While many plays are informed by tribal spirituality, they are not part of specific religious observances, and their elements are rarely exclusive to one particular tribal nation or region but reflect universal themes across Native America. Within these constructs, the plays vary widely in scope and production. Some are appropriate for small venues, and some are better mounted by large companies. More than half of the plays are published for the first time in this database. Some works dramatize traditional creation stories and other elements from oral tradition, and some center on contemporary issues such as the search for tribal and individual identity, life on and off the reservation, struggles for political sovereignty, and the clash or blending of cultures.

When complete, this database will contain the full-text of 250 plays, along with playbills, posters, and other ephemera, as well as production information. The plays are indexed to be fully searchable among a number of fields. One of Alexander Street's stated goals is to include over 100 plays which have never before been published, and I personally am hoping that this database will heighten the profile of Native American drama so that more of these will be produced worldwide. In addition, this database includes five issues of the Native Playwrights’ Newsletter, documenting the work that is being done in the field with commentary, news, reviews, production photographs and even the publication of more plays.

I predict that this database will see a lot of use at Reinhardt College this year. Bravo!

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