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I feel like a jerk.

August 27, 2015
Me.  Jerk.

Me. Jerk.

August 27, 2015

I feel such an overwhelming sense of grief and shame. What have I gotten myself into? I have a role in “The Fantasticks” and I have to admit that I am into the usual struggle to memorize my end of various conversations, i.e., my lines. It’s not a huge role, but there are only 8 actors.
That’s really not the trouble, though.
After just 17 years of commuting to the various Indian reservations in our area to work, I have come to greatly appreciate the tribes, the people. They face everything rural people do throughout Montana, plus poverty, chronic illnesses, and racial discrimination. They often feel the sting of unjust treatment. I mean, frequently, whenever they come to town.
In short, in addition to everything else, their feelings take a beating. They are ignored, marginalized, kept at an arm’s length, spoken to as if they were stupid. Our government tried to exterminate them just a couple generations back. Some non-Indians say everyone should just forget that. I say no.
I hate to add my own stereotype to the mix, but when someone asks about the Native American communities I sometimes tell them to imagine the country post WWII, only with iPhones. It is as though the social norms were in the 1950s. Non-natives may behave that way on the rez and won’t be too far off from being socially acceptable, I advise. You know, dress conservatively, talk politely, smile. Treat people friendly.
Natives are not just old-fashioned, they are often extremely patriotic when it comes to military service. Powwows I attended always opened with a flag song, sung in an old language, with a military color guard for the American flag.
Here’s the problem: in the play “The Fantasticks,” a mock battle is staged when an old actor, portraying an “Indian,” pretends to abduct the 16-year-old girl. The portrayal is ludicrous, yes. Some would say funny. A guy in red underwear has braids and perhaps a feather.
Yes, I’m talking about hurt feelings. They are the essential thing, and to me, they are huge.
On the other hand, “The Fantasticks” has been playing off Broadway almost continuously since the 1960s. Hasn’t this question been dealt with before? Answer, yes, but not often. At least one notable person walked out mid-performance for that reason. Racism, I mean.
A large part of it has to do with it being 2015. Another is, this is Billings, Montana, frequented by many Natives.
We should know better.
I talked to our director, Gerry Roe, and he said he is willing to adjust the script so that it doesn’t denigrate our Native friends and family. God bless him! NOVA theater director Dodie Rife was also understanding.

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