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Performing Arts

Fort Lewis stages Native American Plays

Fort Lewis College senior Tyler Gleason will direct one of the three short plays in “Native American Stories for All Ages.” (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

When Fort Lewis College senior Tyler Gleason (Diné) played Rookie Carroca, an effusive Italian-American father in “My Favorite Year,” he seemed right at home. Naturally ebullient, Gleason bubbles over with whatever project he’s engaged in. And as a theater education major, he’s had to stretch himself.

In 2020, Gleason was cast as Allen Van Oss, a buttoned-down government official In Lee Blessing’s taut political drama “Two Rooms.” In contrast, he played Pig #3 in the Sandstone Production of “Shrek The Musical.” Stepping up to stage management, Gleason has assisted various departmental directors, worked as a summer intern in PlayFest and now takes directorial charge of one of the upcoming plays in “Native American Stories for all Ages.”

FLC will mount three short works as part of a celebration of Native American Theatre from Oct. 15 through 23.

Gleason was on the play selection committee with faculty and students who chose works for production this fall: “Wild Horses,” by Rhiana Yazzie; “Buffalo Tricks” by Alan Kilpatrick; and “Chief Tender-Foot,” by Annawyn Shamas, which Gleason will direct.

“It’s been our goal to cast all Indigenous identifying people in all the plays,” Gleason said of the entire project. “I was able to do that, and I feel so lucky. I’m directing ‘Chief Tender-Foot.’ It’s a show for children’s theater, and it’s about a chief whose feet hurt all the time. So, it’s a problem-solving play.”

In addition to the evening performances and one matinee for the general public, FLC faculty, staff members and students, the college will bus Durango School District 9-R elementary students, third through fifth grade, to see the stories for all ages.

“We’re so excited,” Gleason said. “This program illustrates how important Native American storytelling is for younger generations and how we as a theater department can make stories new again. When I first read the script, it spoke to me right away. The humor made me laugh out loud, and I could see myself as the director.

“There is so much negative energy in the world today. This is a good-heart story, and I’m delighted to make my directorial debut with this play.”

Written by Annawyn Shamas, 86, a Chickasaw elder and theater artist who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at Oklahoma State University and in the mid-1960s joined the staff. Early in her career, she directed the Tribal Youth Theatre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and later directed plays for the American Indian Theatre Company. Shamas is a past president of the Oklahoma Community Theatre Association.

“’Chief Tenderfoot’ is the first play I’ve written for Native American youth,” Shamas said in a recent email. “It is a Nez Perse legend; the story of how the first moccasins came to be. Fort Lewis College must be commended for its sensitivity to our Indigenous citizens and its recognition that this history for far too long has been mischaracterized or simply devalued or ignored.

“I’ve had a happy relationship with Tyler Gleason, the director of my play who contacted me regarding script choices. I am a director who values a relationship with a playwright. Things are learned and worked out which can only happen during the rehearsal process. I am looking forward to seeing Tyler’s imprint upon ‘Tenderfoot.’”

If you go

WHAT: Native American Stories for All Ages.

WHERE: Mainstage, Fort Lewis College Theatre.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. October 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 and 2 p.m Sunday.

TICKETS: Adults $16, FLC faculty and staff $10, FLC students with ID free. Available at https://durangoconcerts.com.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.fortlewis.edu/theatre or call 247-7089.

Shamas has two daughters, Ellen and Laura, who are active in the resurgence of Native American playwriting.

“Ellen and I are planning a collaborative theater work of Chickasaw legends for youth,” Shamas said. “My daughter, Laura, whose work is extensive, has several Native American plays on her resume, among them ‘Talking Leaves’ about Cherokee leader Sequoyah who created the Cherokee writing system and ‘Chasing Honey,’ which deals with the disappearance of the bee.”

Laura Annawyn Shamas has published more than 40 plays. She received her doctorate in 2003, and her thesis, “The Mythology of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters,” was published in 2007. Her 2012 book, “Pop Mythology,” is a collection of her published essays about the power of mythology in modern life.

Shamas said she is looking forward to seeing the FLC production during the final weekend of performances.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.