LOS ANGELES – Native punk singer Arigon Starr is appearing in Native Voices’ world premiere of “Please Do Not Touch the Indians,” a new play by Joseph A. Dandurand. The play will be performed Fridays – Sundays through April 4 at the Museum of the American West’s Wells Fargo Theatre in Griffith Park (formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage).
Randy Reinholz, the artistic director of Native Voices at the Autry, is the director of the current production. He describes “Please Do Not Touch the Indians” as a historical play that looks at a number of significant events in Native people’s history from the point of view of those who were disconnected and isolated.
“There’s a man who is wooden, and he’s the stereotypical wooden Indian sitting in front of a store, and there’s a woman, who is also the stereotypical wooden Indian,” Reinholz told Indian Country Today. “At the beginning of the play you think that they are not connected, then as they start to tell their story they weave through different phases of Native history you realize that they are husband and wife, and they have a deep love. By telling the stories they become human and they start to care for each other again. Then they meet some other people, Sister Coyote, Brother Raven, and Mister Wolf, who all have other stories that have disconnected them from their families and their people. By telling their stories they come together and form a family and they are able to confront the things that broke their hearts.”
Native Voices picked the play after running it though various staged readings to see how audiences reacted to it. “The audience has really responded to this play over the years,” Reinholz said. “We’ve done a couple of staged readings and the last time we did it they were so moved; it was everything from belly laughs to big tears, people were weeping openly in the theater. This is a really powerful play that doesn’t fit the conventional form, but you have to honor its power.”
The NAMMY Award winning Starr will play the part of Wooden Indian Woman. She became involved with the theater group when an advisory board member of Native Voices at the Autry asked her to audition. “I said ‘I am not an actress, thank you,’ because I was doing music and I was touring all over the country,” Starr said. “But then I just came in on a whim and they liked what I did and cast me.”
The cast of “Please Don’t Touch the Indians” also includes Andrew Roa, Tonantzin Carmelo, Kalani Queypo, Uzziel Martinez, Stephan Wolfert and Vincent H. Whipple.
In 2000, the Autry Museum launched Native Voices at the Autry as a theater initiative devoted to the development of new works for the stage by Native American writers. The project brings established, mid-career, and emerging writers to the museum to workshop material with professional directors, dramaturges and actors.
“We launched a theater initiative called Native Voices at the Autry, Reinholz said. We’ve been at it for four years, we’ve presented 16 staged readings and a dozen new playwrights, and we have about 200 actors we have worked with over the years. It’s been a coming together, it’s a place where people belong and where they can show what they can do. Now the industry is getting involved; they come out and look at the actors and offer them television, film and theater roles.”