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South Dakota

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Lindsay Tanner
January 20, 2013

What is your job on this show?
I am one of five actors; I play Priscilla, who loses her left eye and both her parents in a car crash at age 4..

What is your show about?
A family in South Dakota is cursed with living on the land where a Lakota girl was murdered during the massacre at Wounded Knee; their son leaves to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11, and we are privy to the innermost thoughts of each character as they struggle with the consequences of that choice.

What type of theater do you like most to work on?
I’m interested in the distance between our internal and external lives. My internal experience of a family struggle or the death of a loved one or a national tragedy is much bigger, more complex, and less literal than my everyday words and behavior can convey. The kind of theatre that I find worthwhile heightens pedestrian “realism” – and in doing so, hopefully comes closer to honoring the actual truth of the experience. It also makes a platform for confronting problematic issues. South Dakota is heightened in several senses: the language is lyrical, the movement is often abstract, and music is integral to the play. And it confronts our responsibilities to the Native American people of this country, the ramifications of the war in Afghanistan, and the extent to which our lives are determined by the choices of our predecessors. It’s definitely something I’m thrilled to be working on.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I like being in a room with other people and trying to find a way to make the same thing happen inside all of us, just for a moment. Then that moment gets filtered and becomes something different to each person, and that’s provocative and interesting. But first there’s a resonance of one human being recognizing another, which you get in really good theatre and which I haven’t found anywhere else.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
As an actor, I’ve recently come to the realization that I can do almost anything onstage and the audience will turn it into a narrative. It’s not my job to “justify” what I do; I just have to do it completely. Then I get the freedom to play, and the audience gets space for their imaginations to go to work (which is what makes for engaging theatre, I think). The most exciting performers I’ve seen are the ones who give you a palpable sense of “who-knows-what-I’ll-do-next.” I aspire to that. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and that’s why I wanted to work on this play… In South Dakota, action is not tied to the narrative. Our rehearsals have been exploratory -- an attempt to find the physical manifestation of the inner lives of our characters. And we have a wonderful musician working with us, who will be playing live, and who is making the same exploration through music. And this play definitely emphasizes the near impossibility of connecting with the internal rhythms of another human. So having an actual rhythm to work with and against and inside of, and having music that interacts with our performances in real time, is challenging and thrilling. And hopefully that exploration will continue all the way through our run.

Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
Surprising.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I think theatre is a great tool for sustaining difficult discussions and conflicting points of view. Because it is fundamentally about humans sharing space with other humans, it promotes empathy in a unique way. South Dakota is structured around isolated moments of connection between human beings. I think that is the role that theatre has to play in society: providing space for those moments of connection. Whether that can ultimately change society or not… I think it can. I hope so.