The Devising Process
The Thanksgiving Play is about a group of theatre-makers and their ill-fated attempt to devise an original play about the Indigenous experience, so naturally, I wanted to the actors to collaboratively create those portions of the play. Using devising techniques developed by Tectonic Theatre Project, the cast co-created sequences from the characters' ill-fated devising process and also the Thanksgiving-themed "lessons" (songs and poems FastHorse sourced from K-12 education websites) that are woven between the scripted scenes.
Before to reading from sides, the callback began with a conversation about play and group warm-up. The actors then paired up to create Jax and Logan's "decoupling" ritual, which the characters perform before rehearsal to transition from a romantic couple to a platonic actor/director relationship.
Devising the Lessons
Step 1: Research
Actors shared research by indigenous scholars (recommended by Native American Community Services of WNY), that sought to correct historical narratives about Thanksgiving as they are currently taught.
Step 2: Discussion
Actors and stage managers shared memories of Thanksgiving lessons from elementary school, which included wearing feather headdresses and beating drums alongside creating "hand turkeys" and expressing gratitude.
Step 3: Analysis
For each lesson, we identified the target age group, and we analyzed and staged what the lessons intend to teach (e.g. counting, sharing), as well as the violence the lessons perpetuate. The actors performed as children, blind to the subtext.
Lesson One, Preschool: "On the first day of Thanksgiving, the natives gave to me a pumpkin in a pumpkin patch..."
Lesson Two, Elementary School: "Two little Indians foolin' with a gun, one shot the other, and then there was none..."
Lesson 4, High School: Agitprop "The United American Indians of New England. And the local police."
Lesson Three, Junior High: "Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam... "