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Online Comedians 'The 1491s' Take Their Indian Humor To Stage

Jenny Graham
Oregon Shakespeare Festival

For years, the Native American comedy troupe, The 1491s, have shared their irreverent, raunchy, and provocative humor on YouTube. Now – as KLCC’s Brian Bull reports - they’ve officially shifted from video skits to their first theatrical production here in Oregon.

The 1491s take no prisoners.  Whether it’s Old West Bravado, New Age Shamanism, or even native society itself…anything’s game. In this video, they depict Indians auditioning for the werewolf pack in the “Twilight” movie series, being coached by a cultural advisor.

Credit The 1491s / YouTube.org
A pack of aspiring lycanthropes prepare to audition for the Twilight film series, in this scene from one of The 1491s most popular videos.

“The spirits will be here, so...make sure that you do it in a respectful way so you don't anger them and they kill you in your sleep,” he tells them, before the hopeful actors make wolf howls and "do Indian things."

Now the 1491s have written a play, “Between Two Knees”, co-commissioned with New Native Theatre and performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland through October.  Co-writer Bobby Wilson is Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota.  He says he enjoys turning the tables on white people in the colonial storyline.

Credit Jenny Graham / Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
In a send-up of New Age shamanism, a self-made mystic officiates the wedding between main characters Isaiah (Derek Garza, left) and Irma (Shyla Lefner, right).

“I don’t think that we go easy on Indians, either," he tells KLCC.  "I think that there’s some very biting criticisms about people from our own communities within this play as well. And I’m curious to see how that is perceived by our audiences.”

The story occurs between the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, and the Wounded Knee Occupation of 1973. Highlights include a boarding school fight sequence, an interstellar musical number, and one unforgettable “explosion.”

Between Two Knees is an American Revolutions commission written by the 1491s and directed by Eric Ting.  Scenic design by Regina Garcia; costume design by Lux Haac; lighting design by Elizabeth Harper; composer & sound designer is Jake Rodriguez; projection design by Shawn Duan. Production dramaturg is Julie Felise Dubiner; voice & text director is David Carey; fight director is Rod Kinter; production stage manager is Jill Rendall.

Credit Ryan Red Corn / Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Promotional masthead for Between Two Knees, featuring Larry the narrator (Justin Gauthier).

The show runs until October 27.

Copyright 2019, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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