Curtain Rises On Indigenous Dramatic Arts Venue This Friday

Nov 18, 2020

This Friday (November 20)  will see the virtual premiere of a new Native American theatre company in Eugene.

illioo co-founders (clockwise from top left): Lori Tapahanso, Marta Clifford, and Theresa May. This Zoom screenshot is of one of their rehearsals ahead of their November 20 premiere.
Credit Provided by Lori Tapahanso.

The debut of illioo Native Theater will feature three short plays about native identity and relationships.  The company is the creation of three women passionate about native theater.

Marta Clifford is an elder with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. She explained the new company’s namesake, illioo.

“I took that name from my favorite Kalapuya talking stone that's down along the Willamette River. It means “joyful” and we get so much joy. And it's a way to honor all Native people, especially the Kalapuya people whose land we are on at this time.”

Another founder, Lori Tapahonso, coordinates Lane Community College’s Native American student program but is also a lifelong Thespian. She says a native theatre company like illioo gives indigenous performers the opportunity to be authentic and true to their culture.

“Although theatre is about putting on masks and moving into character, on the flip side of that, it's also about us being able to be true to our stories and the audience being able to accept exactly what we're saying, how we present it, and the way that we mean," Tapahanso told KLCC.

A production shot of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's April 2019 production, Between Two Knees, written by Native American comedy troupe The 1491s, and featuring a largely Indigenous cast.
Credit Oregon Shakespeare Festival

"That’s the beauty of theater, but specifically native theater.”

Plans were well underway for a native theatre company before the pandemic. But co-founder and University of Oregon theater professor Theresa May said they wanted to proceed and give illioo a “soft launch”. 

The long term plan is for more performances, showcasing original as well as contemporary native plays, and consultation.

“There are theaters in our community who when they do a play that has a native character, or has an indigenous component, they don't have the expertise to the cultural competency," explained May.  "And so we want to also provide a service -that kind of indigenous dramaturgy- that might assist these other companies in performing works in responsible and culturally competent ways.”

Cherokee author, playwright, and poet Diane Glancy.
Credit DianeGlancy.com

The debut of illioo  Native Theater opens with a work by Cherokee author Diane Glancy (for disclosure’s sake, she’s also my English advisor from our Macalester College days.)  Glancy said she’s honored that her 1995 play, The Woman Who Was a Red Deer Dressed for the Deer Dance is the featured work, on its silver anniversary.

“It’s about a grandmother and her granddaughter, and the different ways of life: the more traditional and the more contemporary. And they get into a conflict," said Glancy. 

"And I’ve got a granddaughter, and I would like to talk to her and show her certain things. And she isn’t terribly interested right now.  She’s a junior in high school. So that difference between generations has always been on my mind.”

Two other short works, Nora the Yeti and To Walk the Red Road, will also be performed.

Illioo’s premiere performance starts at 5pm Friday.  It’s expected to last an hour.

Zoom information is on the calendars for both Lane Community College and the University of Oregon.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.