Bound: Interview with Director and Playwright Tara Moses

“Bound” is a new play by American Indian Artists Inc. (AMERINDA) that was both written and directed by Tara Moses. The play will officially open at Theater for the New City on May 3.

“Bound” follows the story of a Native American woman named Marigold Page who is determined to stop the construction of the US Southern Border Wall and an oil pipeline. Marigold fears that the wall and pipeline will split her nation and is disrespectful to the heritage and culture of her people. After she meets and falls in love with a land surveyor named John, Marigold finds herself arguing with oil tycoons, border patrol agents, and her own tribal council to protect her ancestral lands which she hopes to preserve for future generations.

Recently, via an exclusive interview, Tara Moses discussed this play and her hopes for the future of her career in theater.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you start writing and why did you gravitate toward the theater?

Tara Moses (TDM): I started writing by accident. I had a difficult couple of years as I was a transplant in the northeast from Oklahoma, and I was encountering microaggressions that I had never experienced before. All of that reached a crescendo in January of 2017. I attended the Women’s March (which is another story for another day), just got home at 2am from bartending, and opened Facebook. I saw so many white women posting about how that march wasn’t for them and how they weren’t oppressed. That was the last straw. I started drafting a post, and the next thing I knew, the sun was coming up and I wrote half a play — my first one ever. Two days later it was finished. Three months later, it had its first public presentation. Two years later, I have five competed plays, multiple readings and productions, and four plays in development. What would have been that Facebook post is now the ending of my play “Sections.”
I never took a playwriting class. I never thought I was a playwright — or could be. Throughout my education I was discouraged by multiple teachers. But in that moment at 2am in January of 2017 and after years of experiencing racism, tokenism, sexism, classism, and every microaggression imaginable, it all poured out into a play, and I haven’t stopped since. I feel like the theater is unique in that we have real bodies on stage telling stories and building relationships with the audience in real time. I would argue that theater is one of the most reflective art forms of our society because the form relies on human to human interaction. The words that I had always wanted to say to other people are poured out into a theatrical script on purpose. By writing for the theater I could heal, reconcile, and make larger statements that still need to be said because this art form is all about our humanity and relationships to one another. I have a lot of words left in me, so it’s fair to say I’m not stopping anytime soon.

MM: How did you get into the theater industry and what made you decide to take on the role of a director as well as writer?

TM: The theater is a place where I could have a community. I grew up in a multicultural urban city, then moved to a predominately white suburb. In both of those areas, I was usually the only Native in my classes. I was really missing the sense of belonging and kinship. So, when I did my first play at the age of eight, I felt bonded with the other children, as well as with the older artists. That feeling of belonging and being part of something larger than myself was what I was longing for, so nearly twenty years later, I’m still in the theater stewarding environments of community, kinship, and collaboration.
I started as an actress, moved into stage management, then into design, and then now to directing. Like most artists, I’ve been in rehearsal rooms where I did not feel supported, heard, or where my input wasn’t valued. It’s not a great feeling. As I got older and more experienced, I realized that directing was the avenue for me to steward supportive environments while giving opportunities to others. I was — and still am — very happy as a director. However, I see how across the board representation is still lacking. As a playwright, I can specifically write the stories with the people I would like to see on stage. I don’t have to rely on an artistic interpretation of a dead white man’s play. At the end of the day, my goal is to make the theater equitable. I can do that through directing by casting, supporting marginalized playwrights as they develop new work, and forging relationships with theaters. I can also do that by writing roles and stories that don’t require me to pitch equity because they already are equitable. I can also write inclusion riders (which I do on all my plays) to also help ensure that the creative teams are just as equitable and diverse as the characters I wrote.

MM: How did you think up the plot of “Bound” and is the character of Marigold inspired by anyone in your life?

TM: Like most of my work so far, it happened quickly and was unplanned. I was scrolling on Twitter, and I came across tweets about building a wall. The threat of a wall along the southern border of the United States hits Indigenous people differently — and I’m not only talking about the Indigenous people of the United States. I have always been really interested in American History since I was very young, so I was already familiar with the Gadsden Purchase of 1854. What I found interesting during my brainstorm was how the rhetoric we are currently hearing about borders echoes the rhetoric around southern imperialism in the 1850s. There are speeches and letters from former President Pierce, Jefferson Davis, and James Gadsden, that sound like something we could hear on the news or come across on Twitter. I immediately pulled out my notebook, scribbled basic plot points in about five minutes, researched the few questions I had in another fifteen minutes, then finished a first draft of the play three days later. In that brief time of motivated excitement, I wove two stories together into what is now “Bound.”
Marigold Page is inspired by many people, actually. I am fortunate to know Native women who are so strong, resilient, and intelligent who fight for their peoples every day. Mary Kathryn Nagle, Suzan Harjo, Dr. Twyla Baker, Candice Byrd, and Dr. Adrienne Keene are just a few who inspire me every day, and they really came through in Marigold in various ways.

MM: The themes in this play center on Native Americans trying to defend land against destruction, how many times in history has this happened and why do you think these events do not raise much media attention?

TM: More times than I can count, and it is still happening today. This administration is trying to violate treaties in order to take sacred land like Bears Ears, and the government attempting to violate tribal sovereignty by building walls through our protected lands. The genocide of Native Americans was over 95% successful. It is no secret that Hitler was inspired by it and had a portrait of Andrew Jackson in his office. Because of our survival, Native peoples have been erased in an attempt to finish the job. If we are thought of as extinct, we are no longer relevant. It becomes easier to violate treaties and undermine our sovereignty.

I cannot tell you how many times I have met people — all kinds of people including the highly educated and liberal — who I was the first Native person they had ever met. I cannot tell you how many of those people said to my face that they thought we were all dead. 85% of American textbooks teach that we are a population that died out by 1900 — on purpose. Because of these continued efforts to keep us as relics of the past, our issues have hyper invisibility. The systematic erasure of Natives is why the media does not cover our issues, is why many do not see a problem with Native mascots, is why over 80% of Native women have been or will be raped in their lifetimes, is why over 5,000 Indigenous women and girls are missing and no one is investigating, it is why we are continuously fetishized, is why every battle we must fight is an uphill one, is why most do not see the problem with DNA tests, and is why I could go on and on but chose to end the sentence here.
However, what the United States did not count on was our survival and resilience. Right now, we are living in a time where Native women especially are taking the lead and making huge strides. In the theater, our stories are finally be produced and gaining mainstream attention for the first time. I am hopeful for change. It will happen when we decolonize institutions, curriculums, the arts, the NFL, and beyond. And it will happen sooner than we think. I am confidant of that.

MM: How did Amerinda find you and how did you get them to agree to produce your play?

TM: I learned of Amerinda back in 2015, and about a year ago I remember seeing something that director Madeline Sayet posted about the organization that reminded me to reach out. I sent an email to Artistic Director Diane Fraher with a basic introduction and interest. Fast forward to August of 2018. I just finished “Bound,” and I was about to leave for ChicagoDirectorsLab when I got a phone call from a New York number. It was Diane. We chatted for about an hour about my work and the people we knew, and she asked me about my play. I think I told three people about it and maybe posted something on Facebook, so I was surprised to say the least. She asked me to send her a copy of it, and within a few days she told me she wanted to produce it. I am still reeling from how it all happened, and I am so thankful that the timing and all the elements in the universe got us to this point.

MM: How did you manage the show cast and how long did it take to perfect the performance from a directional POV?

TM: Funnily enough, I was in Oklahoma during the January auditions, so I Skyped in. In the matter of a few days and a couple leads from a wonderful network of artists, we assembled the perfect cast. I direct from an Indigenous storytelling perspective that centers each actor as a fellow storyteller. With that, I put a lot of trust and respect into each individual. Although I am the director and playwright in the room, my vision may not always be the best or how I choose to express it may not maximize the potential. So really, it was not about managing a cast of actors, but about bringing collaborators together into an environment where their creativities could grow, be challenged, build on one another, and heighten the play.
We had four weeks to do this, and I am a firm believer in rest. In addition to Monday, I gave the company Sunday off. Many had day jobs or other commitments that usually get taken care of on Mondays, so really most don’t get a true day off. Auditions are held on Mondays a lot of the time, so it is easy to get fatigued. On paper, that was thirty lost hours. However, with a truly rested and rejuvenated company who came in ready to work, play, fail, and try new things, we didn’t need it.

MM: What’s your favorite scene and line in “Bound” and why?

TM: It’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. I am from the south, so I do love the scenes with Adam Kissinger / James Gadsden especially since I wrote them in dialect. But I think Act 1 Scene 2 which is when John takes Marigold on an impromptu picnic date outside of the tribal store is high on the favorites list. Very rarely do we get to see Native characters engaging in wholesome, loving relationships with one another. A lot of the time, especially for me as a Native playwright, is spent educating audiences on removal, sovereignty, and the heavy issues that plague our peoples. But in that scene, there isn’t any of that. It is just two Native people flirting with the idea of falling in love. I would love to see more positive representation of healthy Native relationships, and that scene and their following interactions was intentional. Maybe a romantic comedy with Native peoples is next on the horizon. My favorite line is silly. Lee Page says in Act 2 to Adam Kissinger, “I don’t have an email” right as an email ding pops on his computer. It makes me laugh every time.

MM: What other creative projects and/or career goals are central in your mind as we move through 2019?

TM: 2019 is going to be a year! I am the selected playwright for the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, so I will be going up to New Haven the first of May to workshop my play “He’eo’o.” At the end of May, I will be going to L.A. as I am the selected playwright the playwright’s retreat with Native Voices at the Autry, and my play “Quantum” will be presented during the festival. I will immediately head to Atlanta where I will be directing “The True Story of Pocahontas” by the Native playwright Kara Morrison with Serenbe Playhouse — I am super excited about that.

We are still finalizing the Native American New Play Festival in Oklahoma City in late June. “Bound” will be featured which is exciting! More details to come on that. I will also be directing “Boxcar / El Vagon” by Silvia Gonzalez S. in July with Telatulsa which I am currently the Interim Artistic Director. Meanwhile, I am heading up the Intercultural Theatre Alliance in Tulsa with three other companies. We are currently in the thick of a fellowship designed to provide culturally-specific training in directing to marginalized artists that will accumulate to a new play festival in August. After that, Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company in Reno, NV will be producing a reading of the latest draft of “Quantum” at the end of August. I think that’s all for now, but I am super excited about what is on the horizon.
In regards to my goals, I am hopeful to get started on my M.F.A. in directing. I am looking forward to completing these new plays in development (and starting on the romantic comedy — which would be my first comedy). I am also looking to see where “Bound” goes. I think it really has potential, and I would love to have something secured by the time 2020 comes around. I also have a goal of getting representation or exploring that avenue to see what the possibilities are, especially if I am in an M.F.A. program for directing, so it would be great to continue the momentum from playwriting while I’m focused on my studies. Finally, the goal that is always central in my mind is decolonizing the theater. I plan to lead one of the top-tier LORT theaters and create change from the top down, so I am always working towards that every day in everything that I do.

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author of novels, short stories, and poems. She is also a produced playwright and an award-winning modern artist.