A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Native Voices at the Autry continues its vital role as the country’s only equity theater company dedicated exclusively to developing the work of Native American playwrights with its Short Play Festival, featuring six engaging short plays written by veteran and first-time playwrights, on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 3 p.m., at the Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.

The festival’s theme, “Indians in America: Native American Athletes Take the Field,” honors the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s (Sac and Fox*) Olympic achievements. Thorpe won Olympic gold medals in 1912 for both the pentathlon and the decathlon and played professional football, baseball and basketball.

Each of the six plays ranges from five to 15 minutes in length and has a sports theme, inspired by a charcoal drawing of Thorpe that was donated to Native Voices by noted artist and author Christopher Canole (Sac & Fox*). One of the plays will be selected for the 2012 Von Marie Atchley Excellence in Playwriting Award, a $1000 cash prize, by a national panel of judges.

“Native Voices at the Autry’s Short Play Festival is a must-see,” said Founder and Producing Artistic Director Randy Reinholz (Choctaw*). “It features the only prize money that we know of for Native playwrights, which generated lots of incredible entries with a broad range of sports themes. We have writers coming in from all over the country, including Alaska, to hear their work read at the event.

“We also have a great company of actors and a wonderful young director, Elizabeth Frances, who will breathe life into the playwrights’ words,” Reinholz added.

What’s more, the Short Play Festival takes place during the annual American Indian Arts Marketplace, where more than 185 artists from all over the United States and Canada will sell their jewelry, pottery, sculptures, paintings, mixed-media works, weavings, beadwork, woodcarvings and other cultural items.

“It will be a truly amazing weekend of Indian arts and culture,” Reinholz said.

The featured plays are:

“Soccer Dad” by Gary Harrington (Comanche*)

Harrington holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and has written, produced and directed short films for more than 10 years. The play involves a man at his son’s soccer game recalling his own experiences playing sports in Oklahoma amidst discrimination, and he begins to recognize the connecting force that sports plays in his family.

“The Record Holders” by Dennis Tibbetts (Ojibwe*)

Tibbetts served in Vietnam and earned a Ph.D. in counseling using the G.I. Bill. In his play, Truman Gordon is a track legend at his old university, and Jaiden Fairbanks is the young athlete expected to break Gordon’s 30-year-old record. Though they are a generation apart, they soon find that their stories of struggle are not all that different.

“Sticks” by Bret Jones (Muscogee Creek*)

Jones is director of theater at Wichita State University. Jones’ play tells the story of three old friends who reunite for a game of stickball, once a simple game that now weighs heavily as the baggage from their adult lives seeps into this not-so-friendly match.

“Champ” by Lucas Rowley (Inupiaq*)

Rowley is a member of the Alaska Native Playwrights Project and an avid hunter and fisherman who takes pride in his traditional subsistence lifestyle. In Champ, a young gamer, while practicing for a video game competition, tries to convince his grandfather, a Vietnam vet, that video games are a sport and that they, too, can have a positive impact on their lives.

“They Shoot Basketballs, Don’t They?” by Claude A. Jackson, Jr. (Pima/Hopi Indian*)

Jackson is an attorney and first-time playwright. The play is about Robert, an NBA scout, who first meets Mugsy, a short, no-name Pima basketball player, and at first he doesn’t think much of his game. But if Mugsy and his coach play their cards right, the scout could be in for a big surprise.

“Home of the Running Brave” by Darrell Dennis (Shuswap*)

Dennis is an accomplished playwright whose one-man show, Tales of an Urban Indian, was nominated for two Dora Awards, toured Canada and was produced by New York’s Public Theatre and Native Voices at the Autry. In the play, Tom Harding has wanted to be an Olympic runner ever since he was young. Now that he’s got the chance, he wants to run under the sovereign flag of his tribal nation, but the Olympic Committee has other ideas.

The Short Play Festival is free with admission to the Autry American Indian Arts Marketplace ($12, $8 for students, seniors and children; free for Autry members). The Autry National Center is located at 4700 Western Heritage Way, LA 90027-1462.  For reservations or additional information, call (323) 667-2000, ext. 299, or visit www.NativeVoicesattheAutry.org.

*refers to tribal affiliation