Larissa FastHorse

Sicangu Lakota Nation

AWARDEE:  Larissa FastHorse
NATIVE HERITAGE:  Sicangu Lakota Nation
LOCATION:  Santa Monica, CA
AWARD:  2021 SHIFT – Transformative Change and Indigenous Arts
Cornerstone Theater Company – BIO

Larissa FastHorse grew up in South Dakota, where she began her career as a ballet dancer and choreographer. Returning to an early interest in writing, she became involved in Native American drama, first in the Native film community, but she found her artistic home as a playwright. Her satirical comedy The Thanksgiving Play was one of the top ten most produced plays in America. She is the first Native American playwright in the history of American theater on that list. FastHorse also co-founded Indigenous Direction, a consulting firm that helps organizations and individuals who want to create accurate work by, for, and with Indigenous peoples. Personally, FastHorse challenges every theatre she works with to be sure that her work isn’t the only Indigenous art in the building and that she isn’t the only Indigenous person being paid in that season.

A 2020 MacArthur Fellow, some of FastHorse’s produced plays include What Would Crazy Horse Do? (KCRep), Landless and Cow Pie Bingo (AlterTheater), Average Family (Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis), Teaching Disco Squaredancing to Our Elders: A Class Presentation (Native Voices at the Autry), Vanishing Point (Eagle Project), and Cherokee Family Reunion (Mountainside Theater). Additional theaters that have commissioned or developed plays with her include The Public, Yale Repertory Theater, Guthrie, Geffen Playhouse, History Theater, Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences, Baltimore’s Center Stage, Arizona Theater Company, Mixed Blood, Perseverance Theater Company, The Lark Playwrights’ Week, the Center Theatre Group Writer’s Workshop, and The Berkeley Repertory Theater’s Ground Floor. She has recently returned to film and TV with projects at NBC, Disney Channel, Dreamworks, Apple, and Freeform.

The play is one small part of what I do. The whole is creating an Indigenous space and opening the doors for others in these theaters that have traditionally been closed to us.

― Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota Nation)


Over the past several years, FastHorse has created several community-engaged plays built upon a radical inclusion process with Indigenous tribes. Her SHIFT project D/N/Lakota Theater Project is a socially engaged performance project combining participatory research with theater-making. Its engagement methodology invites community participants to share personal ideas including their civic and social concerns, culminating in a community-generated and performed theatrical event. The process is of equal importance as the performance and includes talking circles, free workshops, political activism, and direct community action. The project will be inspired by Native American communities in Rapid City and the southern region of South Dakota, with a focus on forming coalitions to strengthen Native American artists and organizations while celebrating the Native identity of the region. The organizational collaborator, Cornerstone Theater Company, will produce the project, from engagement to performances.


Cornerstone Theater Company has been making new plays with and about communities throughout Los Angeles and beyond since 1986. Nationally recognized as a leader in community-engaged theater, its plays celebrate many voices as it strives to include people new to theater experiences as artists and/or audience. Each collaboration is designed with community partners, developed and staged at sites that hold community significance – schools, community centers, a community garden and service organizations. Audiences pay what they can so the performances are always accessible to all.

Michael John Garcés is the artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company, a community-engaged ensemble that strives to make work that reflects complexity, disrupts assumptions, welcomes difference, and amplifies joy, with the goal of advancing a more compassionate, equitable, and just world. For Cornerstone, Michael has created two projects in collaboration with Larissa FastHorse: Native Nation (commissioned by ASU Gammage and presented at the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix) and Urban Rez (which was produced at the Los Angeles State Historic Park and Kuruvungna Springs). Other directing credits for Cornerstone include The Rivers Don’t Know by James McManus (produced by City Theatre Company at the Pittsburgh Playhouse); Highland Park is Here by Mark Valdez; Plumas Negras by Juliette Carrillo; and What Happens Next by Naomi Iizuka (a La Jolla Playhouse “Without Walls” commission and presentation). He has also written several plays for the company.

Michael is a recipient of the 2020 Doris Duke Artist Award, the Princess Grace Statue Award, and the Alan Schneider Director Award. He serves as first vice president of the executive board of SDC, the theatrical union for stage directors and choreographers. Projects he has directed for other companies include, most recently, Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play (The Geffen Playhouse); Seize the King by Will Power (The Alliance); The Royale by Marco Ramirez (Arizona Theatre Company); the just and the blind by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center); and Epic by Ellen Struve (The Great Plains Theatre Commons).

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