American Indian Artists Inc. (AMERINDA) are proud to present the World Premieres of “It Came From Across the Big Pond” and “Files of the Indin Police” which are two comedic short plays by William S. Yellow Robe Jr. These plays were originally scheduled to be performed live at Manhattan’s Theater for the New City. Due to the lingering coronavirus, they have been adapted into radio dramas performed and recorded by the actors in isolation on their cellphones. The plays are now available to stream for free at www.amerinda.org.
Taking its inspiration from the 1950’s sci-fi B-movie genre, “It Came From Across The Big Pond” is an over-the-top comedic look at the colonization of Native America. “Files of the Indin Police” is a darkly satirical look at appropriation and the fear of an organization of Native people patrolling communities searching for violators.
William S. Yellow Robe Jr. is an Assiniboine playwright and the recipient of a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency (2014) and an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of Montana (2020). He is a Faculty Affiliate at the University of Montana and an Adjunct Faculty member at the University of Maine. He is associated with many theater organizations, including the New York-based American Indian Artists Inc. (AMERINDA) which is a community-based multi-arts organization founded in 1987 with the mission to empower Native Americans and foster intercultural understanding of Native culture.
William recently discussed his work via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for writing and how did you break into the theater industry?
William S. Yellow Robe Jr. (WSYRJ): As a very young student I saw theatre as an engaging art form. Theatre could make people laugh, feel good, or examine bad choices made or taken. It kept me in grade school, junior high and high school. You need a lot of breaks to make it in this art form. Especially if no one in the art form will validate your voice or work. It has not changed. That is the reason companies like AMERINDA are so important. To provide the resources to present the work is very crucial.
MM: How did you get involved with AMERINDA and what do you most enjoy about working with them?
WSYRJ: At a conference Diane Fraher mentioned her small theatre company could not afford to pay a well-known Native Tribal playwright. So, I offered my services to help AMERINDA to keep their theatre program alive. You never know who you will work with at AMERINDA. It is
exciting to see and meet your cast the first day of rehearsal.
MM: What inspired these new plays and the characters in them?
WSYRJ: I had been ill and when I found a moment when I was not suffering, I sat down and wrote the two plays. The characters are based on actual people I have met in my life.
MM: What’s your favorite segment of these plays and why?
WSYRJ: I enjoy these two radio productions. It is hard to pick only one moment. But I think when the police show up, it is very funny. And there is also a great moment when the aliens appear in “It Came From Across the Big Pond.”
MM: What were the challenges associated with tailoring these for the radio post-Covid?
WSYRJ: Just remembering there is no visual component, but your text can create that image for the audience.
MM: What do you think comedy can do to make it easy to translate serious undertones?
WSYRJ: An idol of mine, George C. Wolfe, said it best: “When they are laughing, slide the knife in a little deeper.”
MM: On the official press release, Producer Diane Fraher stated that these shows contain a lot of Native humor. So, how would you describe Native American humor in particular?
WSYRJ: There are numerous essays, both published and unpublished, based upon this topic and I don’t feel the need to make another contribution.
MM: How much does your position as a university professor influence your creativity?
WSYRJ: Very little. For several years I have been the only person of color at a four-year Liberal Arts school. It is an ongoing discussion.
MM: What were the challenges of getting this piece translated to radio format amid the pandemic?
WSYRJ: It was not difficult for me. I had one other play, “The Star Quilter”, presented by the BBC, via the CBC. I have done small bit roles in radio shows in the past.
MM: What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
WSYRJ: This cast is wonderful, and I hope people will enjoy their work. John is an up-and-coming director and I hope people will cheer his attempt here. Amerinda takes the first step again.
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
WSYRJ: My new book, “Restless Spirits”, was just released. And I’m a featured actor in Diane Fraher’s new movie “The Heart Stays.”
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To learn more, visit the official website of AMERINDA.