In our upcoming World Premiere of Cherokee, two couples from Houston embark on a life-changing camping trip in Cherokee, North Carolina. Here's a quick guide to the world of Cherokee.
Cherokee, NC – Cherokee is located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina. It is the center of the Qualla Boundary, the home of the Easter Band of Cherokee Indians. It is a major tourist attraction in the Southeastern U.S. because of its magnificent scenery, a Harrah’s casino, and a summer outdoor drama, Unto These Hills.
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – the history of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is far too complex to do justice to in a short passage. It is composed of descendants of those few Cherokee (perhaps as few as 700) who were able to remain in the East when the rest of the Cherokee Nation was forced to leave on the “Trail of Tears” in 1838. Some of those who stayed behind held land titles under the Reservation Act of 1819, but most were fugitives who fled to the mountains. Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee and a lawyer who had defended the land title rights against the Indian Removal Act of 1830, bought land in his own name with Cherokee money (native people could not hold property), allowing these fugitive Cherokee to live there. This ambiguous situation lasted until 1870, when those living on the land were able to obtain a corporate charter. They then wrote a Constitution. The Eastern Band continues to operate under both a Constitution and corporate charter. There are now around 12, 500 members of the Eastern Band. Their land is officially the Qualla Boundary, a land trust, although it is often called the “Cherokee Indian Reservation.”
The “Trail of Tears” – in 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed, declaring that all members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” – the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Muscogee-Creek, and Chickasaw – be relocated west of the Mississippi, to what is now Oklahoma. President Andrew Jackson argued that this was a question of federalism, although pressure from white settlers for land and a gold rush in the southern Appalachians played a strong part. The Trail of Tears lasted for more than a decade. The Cherokee held out until 1838, taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court; in Florida, it prompted the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), in which approximately 3,000 Indians and soldiers died. The Cherokee “relocation” started in the dead of winter. Approximately 16,000 Cherokee started on the Trail of Tears; 4,000 died before reaching their destination.
An interview with playwright Lisa D'Amour
by Walter Bilderback
You came to national attention as a playwright with DETROIT. You've described CHEROKEE as a companion piece to DETROIT: how so?
DETROIT deals with two couples who feel incredibly at odds with their suburban environment. The two women in the play long to go camping, but they have absolutely no camping skills, to the point that when they try to drive to the campground, they get lost and wind up right back at home. I wrote CHEROKEE specifically as a “camping play”. If DETROIT is about being trapped in the suburbs, CHEROKEE is about trying to get back to nature, start from scratch in order to see what you might discover about yourself and your culture.
Today is Halloween and no one knows the importance of costumes better than live theater. In the spirit of the day, we wanted to share some of the designer renderings of costumes featured in The Convert. The costumes were designed by Helen Huang and Chelsey Schuller.
By Walter Bilderback
Wilma Theater Dramaturg
WALTER BILDERBACK: For most of our audience, most American audiences, you’re best-known as “Michonne” on The Walking Dead. How do you find the balance between doing a TV show and playwriting? Are you able to find a balance between two careers?
DANAI GURIRA: I’ve now been doing the show for two years and I surprised myself cause I was a little scared that I was not going to be able to get my writing done and I’ve actually got some great writing some writing that I’m very excited about done in the last several months so that’s been very exciting to me. I did a workshop in April and another reading workshop just a couple weeks ago of two different plays and so I’m actually quite excited about the work I’ve been getting done while I have simultaneously been a part of this show. Last year was a lot of transition, but this year I’m starting to find a balance.
WB: I’ve read that you did some high school theatre in Zimbabwe but your interest was really piqued in a class on “arts and social change” that you took almost by accident in South Africa. Is that correct?
DG: Well, it wasn’t a class, that was the name of the entire exchange program which lasted a semester. I was actually on study abroad in South Africa for four months, for the semester. That wasn’t actually the program I initially wanted to be a part of, but it’s the program I ended up being a part of, due to the fact that I had applied too late and so I didn’t get into the one I wanted - but the irony was that it ended up being the one where I was exposed to a lot of great African artists who had used their craftsmanship and their voices against the injustice of apartheid. And so that was actually something that propelled me to step into really saying I’m going to make this my life work. My major had been social psychology, I was very interested in research around dynamics of race, gender, and such issues, nationality and things like that, and doing research in things like that but that was kind of my second love. It did feed into what I’m doing; I’m still very much a researcher and psychological understanding is very important for what I do. But it was about where my passion was so… It was in South Africa during that semester that I decided to dedicate myself to telling stories specifically – mainly, not entirely – from the African perspective.
By John M. Baker
John M. Baker : You sometimes describe yourself as “Zimerican.” How does having been born in Iowa and raised in Zimbabwe inform your work as an artist?
Danai Gurira : I think it is a definite thread in my artistic pursuit. I feel I am part of both worlds and want to see them intersect. I want to bring the subjective African voice to the American audience. I grew up in Zim with all of us watching American movies, listening to American music, having their voice heard loud and clear way across the skies, but vice versa? Not so much. And why? Africans are equally as complex, interesting, and diverse, with fascinating stories and voices. So, bringing that voice to the American realm as much as possible is a driving force behind my artistic quest.