Since its inception six years ago, the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program has become a focal point nationally for up-and-coming Native American playwrights, storytellers and actors.
Every year the program, also known as YIPAP, presents the Young Native Playwright’s Contest, the Young Native Storytelling Contest, and for the first time this year, the Young Native Actor’s Contest.
YIPAP’s big annual event is the New Native Play Festival, which will be held virtually in April this year.
Yale student Kinsale Heuston, a member of the Navajo Nation, won the storytelling contest in high school. The Los Angeles native said she was blown away when she arrived on campus and saw YIPAP in action.
“What I saw was this really amazing arts community that had such a hyper focus on identity and lifting up Native artists,” said Heuston. “Honestly, it’s what I love about the Native arts community, the gathering and the storytelling and learning from one another through these deep connections that we have.”
Yale grad student Madeleine Hutchins, a member of the Mohegan Tribal Nation, has been involved with YIPAP since her undergrad days. She said what makes YIPAP so special is its affiliation with Yale.
“A lot of times the programs for Native students have to be done by Native students. They have to do all of the legwork,” said Hutchins. “One of the things I love about YIPAP is that it’s run by people whose job it is to run it. The program isn’t dependent on people who are already overstretched to keep it going. Because it is run by Yale, it is more consistent in a way that other programs don’t get to be.”
Madeline Sayet is a member of the Mohegan Tribal Nation and executive director of YIPAP. She says modern Native plays are as varied as the writers themselves, but they all seem to share common goals, like a better understanding of the Native American experience and an effort to fix historical misrepresentations.
“For so long it was pretty common for our Native representation [to be] a non-Native person playing Tiger Lily in a production of Peter Pan,” said Sayet. “A lot of us grew up where our relationship to mainstream theater was going on school trips and seeing red face, and being confused about why is this the way our people are being represented, and so many Native plays over the years were about a need to actually intervene and say, ‘No, actually this is what’s true.’”
Sayet pointed out that Native theater is the foundational theater of America.
“It is the storytelling tradition of the place that we are in, and I feel like that’s very often forgotten,” said Sayet. “Very often we set our minds on theater as a very Anglophilic tradition from somewhere far away, when in fact there are stories and storytelling traditions of this place. Native theater isn’t new. It’s something that’s been happening for thousands of years. It just hasn’t been listened to by non-Native people.”
Applicants for the Young Native Actor’s Contest have until Feb. 15 to submit their monologues. Winners will be cast in YIPAP’s New Native Play Festival in April.