Larissa FastHorse broke a significant barrier when she became the first known Native American female playwright on Broadway in spring of 2023. She and her “Thanksgiving Play” not only marked a milestone, but the landmark moment created visibility around Native work and artists — including a reminder that her predecessor, Lynn Riggs (known for “Green Grow the Lilacs,” the basis for “Oklahoma!”), was the first Native playwright ever to bow on Broadway (in 1927 with “Big Lake”).
Still, it was a long haul to this point of becoming “first.” For 12 years, FastHorse struggled to get her work produced; theater companies around the country consistently told her that her plays, featuring Native characters, were uncastable. “Even with a play that has one half-Native American character,” FastHorse exclaimed. “And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s not true.’ But I also just couldn’t seem to break through that.” So, she wrote a play composed of only white-presenting characters: “The Thanksgiving Play.”
Doors began to open. The play was first produced by Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons. Then it played engagements at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, Seattle Public Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and more. But even with the comedic satire gaining acclaim, multiple regional theater companies would not give FastHorse a slot on their main stage; one venue, in particular, that had commissioned FastHorse, would not guarantee mainstage placement. But then, she made it to the Main Stem, and FastHorse felt a forward momentum take hold.
In 2023 alone, FastHorse is a co-writer on “The Democracy Project,” now running at Federal Hall in New York City through July 23. Her play “For the People,” co-written with Native playwright and actor Ty Defoe, will bow at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in October (in their second-largest of three spaces); and her refreshed take on the musical “Peter Pan” will premiere in December on the Ordway Center’s main stage in the other twin city of St. Paul before launching a national tour in February 2024.
“Having to write a play with white-presenting people, maybe started out as a bummer, but I love the play,” FastHorse said of “The Thanksgiving Play.” “And then it worked and gave me the power to be able to hire all these Native artists this year.”
“My next five plays [this year] all have Native American casts,” she continued. “That only happened because of the success of ‘Thanksgiving Play.’”