American Theatre Cover Story: Native Women Rising

Why three premieres in Oregon are a sign of the times—and a long time coming.


This doesn’t happen every season: In Oregon this April, you can see three new plays by Native women produced at major resident theatres. Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play will be performed at Artists Repertory Theatre April 1-29; DeLanna Studi’s And So We Walked will be up at Portland Center Stage at the Armory March 31-May 13; and Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta opens at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival March 28 and runs through Oct. 27. If you stop through Portland on your way to or from Ashland in April, you could see all three in one trip.

While the timing of this convergence is unique, FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota), Nagle (Cherokee), and Studi (Cherokee) are in no way new to the American theatre. They’ve made it this far because of their creativity, their community and ancestral support, and their unflinching belief that Native stories matter and will be told. Also: Their plays are really good. They vary widely in genre, as do the origins of each story. Each play has the ability to make you laugh and open your eyes to see the world around you in unexpected ways.



Memoir play rooted in North Carolina, with UNCSA-based creative team, opens in Oregon amid national attention

A new play directed by University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) alumna and Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts Executive Director Corey Madden is garnering national attention as part of a movement toward inclusivity in the American theater.

DeLanna Studi’s powerful memoir play “And So We Walked: An Artists Journey Along the Trail of Tears,” is inspired by the story of a contemporary Cherokee woman who embarks on a six-week, 900-mile journey along the Trail of Tears to understand her own identity and the conflicts of her nation. Featuring a UNCSA-based creative team, the play runs through May 13 at Portland Center Stage in Portland, Ore.



Review: Broadway World

Personal, Political, Powerful: DeLanna Studi's AND SO WE WALKED, at Portland Center Stage

When DeLanna Studi was in elementary school, she told her class in Oklahoma that she was an Indian, and her teacher replied that Indians were extinct. About 2,000 miles away but around the same time, I was sitting in a similar classroom learning about Manifest Destiny, the idea that God wanted white people to expand their dominion and spread capitalism and democracy across North America.

This is what stayed in my mind as I watched AND SO WE WALKED, Studi's one-woman show now playing at Portland Center Stage, and it has stuck around since -- the fact that the elementary school history curriculum in the 1980s taught me how special my people are and taught Studi that her people no longer exist.



DeLanna Studi has a powerful story to tell. She currently is telling it on the stage of the Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage at The Armory. The 41-year-old actress/playwright has written and performs And So We Walked, An Artist’s Journey along the Trail of Tears.

Studi is Cherokee. Actually, her mother is white, but within the Cherokee Nation, if you are any part Cherokee, you’re Cherokee. “My grandmothers speak to me in my dreams,” says Studi. And some time  back, after some grandmotherly intervention and soul searching, Studi invited her father to join her in her journey along the historic Cherokee Trail of Tears, a 900-mile route stretching from their tribe’s ancestral land in North Carolina to Oklahoma. The journey was life-changing for both of them.


Review: Willamette Week

DeLanna Studi’s Debut Play Is a Personal Exploration of the Trail of Tears

In And So We Walked, playwright and performer DeLanna Studi recounts an early memory. The child of a white mother and Cherokee father, her father once told her, "You will be a bridge between your mother's people and mine." Instead, she tells us, she's more of an island between two shores.

And So We Walked is Studi's first play. It's getting its premiere at Portland Center Stage, where she recently starred in Astoria. Throughout the autobiographical performance, Studi explores her relationship with her father and her Cherokee heritage. This culminates in a six-week, 900-mile trip along the Trail of Tears that she persuades her father to take with her.


Winston-Salem Journal Review

"And So We Walked" Relates a Voyage of Discovery

By Bill Cissna

Triad Stage and Hanesbrands Theatre hosted a world premiere Saturday night in downtown Winston-Salem. The result of four years of work, research and experiences, the one-woman story “And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey along the Trail of Tears” gave voice to a contemporary vision of the Cherokee people’s journey....


Behind the Scenes: “And So We Walked”

With Opening Night only a few weeks away, DeLanna Studi’s time in the rehearsal room is becoming more precious by the minute. But on this Wednesday afternoon in early April, the star of the show cannot stop the tears from flowing.

For the Cherokee actress who created “And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears,” this scene is as personal as it gets. She’s just discovered the homeplace of her ancestors in western North Carolina, the land by the Hiwassee River where her family thrived generations ago, before they were forced to relocate to Oklahoma. The government later would build a dam on the old tribal land.

Read more here...

AND SO WE WALKED Makes North Carolina Debut

AND SO WE WALKED Makes North Carolina Debut
at Triad Stage in the Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem

Greensboro, NC, March 27, 2017 – Triad Stage will stage the North Carolina debut of a new one-woman play that traces the path of a young Cherokee woman’s great-great grandparents who were forced to relocate from their homelands in the 1830s along the Trail of Tears. Created and performed by DeLanna Studi (Cherokee Nation) and produced and directed by Corey Madden, AND SO WE WALKED: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears, previews from April 19-21, opens on April 22, and runs through April 30 at the Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 Spruce Street North in Winston-Salem, NC. For tickets or performance information, visit or call the Triad Stage Box Office at (336) 272-0160.


Produced in collaboration with the Arts and Society Initiative of the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, the project was developed in close collaboration with individuals and institutions within the Eastern Band of Cherokee and Cherokee Nation, with supplemental support from Native Voices Theatre, American Indian Center, Process Series at UNC-Chapel Hill and other influential organizations.  



Delanna Studi, Cherokee artist and winner of the 2016 Butcher Scholar Award from The Autry Museum of the American West, has written a frank, heartwarming and inspiring story about a contemporary Cherokee woman and her father who embark on an incredible 900-mile journey along the Trail of Tears to truly understand her own identity and the conflicts of her nation.  In the 1830s 17,000 Cherokee were forced to relocate from their homelands.  AND SO WE WALKED is a powerful, multi-faceted dramatic memoir that draws on extraordinary interviews, historical research, and the artist’s personal experience to convey the complexities and conflicts with which the Cherokee wrestle. Studi deftly plays multiple characters in the show.


The set design is based on an abstract interpretation of the Cherokee Council House where ceremonies and tribal meetings are held. The council house is seven-sided to represent the seven clans of the Cherokee: Bird, Paint, Deer, Wolf, Blue, Long Hair, and Wild Potato. Inspired by Cherokee craft art, elements of the set display intricately lit fabric that is woven between trees against an abstract backdrop that is reminiscent of the mountains that are considered sacred space in the Cherokee nation.



DeLanna Studi most recently starred in ASTORIA: PART ONE at Portland Center Stage and Indiana Repertory Theatre’s FINDING HOME: INDIANA AT 200. DeLanna’s Off-Broadway Debut in INFORMED CONSENT, at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street, was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, which described her performance as “moving gravity.” She was a company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for two seasons, where she was one of only 10 Native people (onstage and off) to have done so!  She performed in the First National Broadway Tour of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. She has won awards for her performances in Hallmark/ABC’s DREAMKEEPER and Chris Eyre’s EDGE OF AMERICA. DeLanna also tours in the Encompass Compassion Play KICK, a one-person show, written by Peter Howard, which explores the power of images, stereotypes, and Native American mascots. She recently starred in the short film BLESSED and can be seen in ABC’s GENERAL HOSPITAL, Showtime’s SHAMELESS and SyFy’s ZNATION. She is the current chair of the SAG-AFTRA National Native American Committee. Her next project, in addition to AND SO WE WALKED, will be Portland Center Stage’s ASTORIA: PART TWO. This spring, she will begin writing the memoir counterpart to AND SO WE WALKED.


Over a 30-year professional career, Corey Madden has been the creator, director and/or producer of more than 300 site-specific, interdisciplinary and new works that have premiered across the country and in Europe. Recent original works premiered by her company L’Atelier Arts include TALES OF THE OLD WEST, presented at The Autry, SOL PATH and RAIN AFTER ASH, commissioned by Pasadena’s AxS Festival and Day for Night presented during Santa Monica’s 2011 GLOW Festival and restaged for the 2012 Transatlantyk Film and Music Festival. Madden is currently Executive Director of The Kenan Institute for the Arts at the UNC School of the Arts and has been Associate Artistic Director of the Center Theatre/Mark Taper Forum, Producing Director of Performing for Los Angeles Youth, Director of Artist Programs for the Pasadena Arts Council, and on the Artistic Staff for the Actors Theatre of Louisville and its Humana Festival of New American Plays.




Created and Performed by DeLanna Studi (Cherokee Nation)

Produced and Directed by Corey Madden

Set Design: John Coyne

Lighting Design: Norman Coates

Sound and Music: Bruno Louchouarn with John-John Grant and Sarah Elizabeth Burkey(Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians)

Costume Design: Andja Budincich

Vocal Coach: Mary Irwin Furey

Dramaturg: Shirley Fishman

Cultural Consultant: Randi Byrd (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians)


The script of AND SO WE WALKED was developed in close collaboration with individuals and institutions within the Eastern Band of Cherokee and Cherokee Nation, as well as with the support of Native Voices Theatre and the American Indian Center and Process Series at UNC-Chapel Hill. Support was provided through the Arts and Society Initiative of the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts.



All performances are at the Hanesbrands Theatre, located at 209 N Spruce St, Winston-Salem, NC 27101. 


Show times for AND SO WE WALKED are 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings. Sunday matinees are at 2:00 p.m. There are no matinee performances during previews.


Opening Night is Saturday, April 22 at 8:00 p.m. The Pay-What-You-Can performances are Wednesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 26. Technically Talking, a behind-the-scenes discussion with members of the design team is Thursday, April 20, immediately following the 7:30 p.m. preview performance. 


The InSight Series with a noted expert who will be discussing the world of the play will be held on Sunday, April 23, immediately following the 2:00 p.m. matinee performance. 


PostScript, an open discussion with the cast, will be held on Thursday, April 27, immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance. 



Triad Stage is a professional not-for-profit regional theater company based in Greensboro’s downtown historic district. All Triad Stage productions are created in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina using the best of local and national talent. Triad Stage gratefully acknowledges the support of its Season Sponsors: Blue Zoom, the North Carolina Arts Council, ArtsGreensboro and The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. 

Triad Stage recently announced its 17th Season of producing professional live theater in the Triad. For more information about the upcoming season, please visit


All Triad Stage productions feature the bold acting and breathtaking design that have been nationally recognized by The Wall Street Journal and by the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards®, which named Triad Stage one of the top ten most promising theatres in the country as a recipient of the 2010 National Theatre Company Grant. Triad Stage has also earned accolades including “Best North Carolina Production of 2010” for The Glass Menagerie by Triangle Arts & Entertainment magazine; “One of the Best Regional Theatres in America”, New York’s Drama League; “Best Live Theater” (thirteen years running), Go Triad/News & Record and The Rhinoceros Times; and “Professional Theater of the Year” (2003, 2011), North Carolina Theatre Conference. 


Contacts:   Tiffany Albright for Triad Stage,, 336-274-0067 ext. 203

                  Siobhan Olson for AND SO WE WALKED,, 336-769-6365



Foster Collaboration: Partnership empowers Cherokee Creative Community

CHEROKEE, N.C. (SEPTEMBER 27, 2016) – It’s late on a Friday afternoon at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, and the artists gathered in the rehearsal room are about to bare their souls. At least that’s what it feels like in the room.

But first, Cherokee actress and writer DeLanna Studi asks everyone to remember the words of the renowned playwright Samuel Beckett, which are printed on a large white board up front:
Ever tried. Ever failed.

No matter. Try again.

Fail again. Fail better.

“I want you guys to go bigger — I want you to fill this space with your beautiful voice, your being, your intention,” Studi says. “If you think you went a 10 last time, I want you to go a 20. And I have seen you guys on stage, so I know you can do it.”

One by one, the actors, storytellers and musicians taking part in the professional-development workshop run through the traditional Cherokee stories they’ve been adapting and modernizing all week. And to much laughter and applause from their peers, each one takes Samuel Beckett’s words to heart.

Studi, who has been planning for this day for nearly a year, beams like a proud mother. It’s been a productive week in the room, this communal space where creative learning thrives.

Performances like these are the result of the Native American Theatre Project, a three-week “creative co-laboratory” that has brought together artists and leaders from two of the country’s most important Native American theatres — Unto These Hills of Cherokee and Native Voices at The Autry — to share best practices on the art and business of acting.

Sponsored by The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the Cherokee Historical Association, with support from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, the project seeks to strengthen Cherokee artistry in North Carolina and nationally. It is an ambitious goal, but with modest beginnings.

The partnership is the brainchild of Studi and Corey Madden, who met several years ago while working on a play in L.A., where both theatre artists were based at the time. Only later, after Madden wrapped up a 30-year career in new play development and moved across the country to become Executive Director of the Kenan Institute, would their paths cross again, this time to collaborate on Studi’s dream project: “And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears.”

Written and performed by Studi, “And So We Walked” is the frank and funny story of a contemporary Cherokee woman who embarks on a six-week, 900-mile journey with her father to retrace the steps their ancestors were forced to travel along the Trail of Tears. Directed and produced by Madden, the dramatic memoir is shaped from the stories father and daughter documented during their travels last summer from their ancestral home in the North Carolina mountains to Oklahoma, where their family was forced to relocate in the 1800s.

For Studi and Madden, the Co-lab is a way to give back to members of the Cherokee community who welcomed them with open arms two years ago during the research phase of Studi’s project. In addition to teaching at the workshop, Studi performed a free reading of excerpts from “And So We Walked” one evening for the community whose stories helped her create the work.

“No one ever came to my small town in Oklahoma and said, ‘This is a career option — you can be an actor, a storyteller, a musician,’ ” Studi says. “For me, this is a dream come true. And every day I am just grateful to be in the room and see what these students bring. And every day my expectations are exceeded.”

Studi credits her parents for teaching her the importance of giving back, no matter your wealth or circumstances in life.

“It’s just ingrained in me — for every good thing that comes your way, you give back to someone,” she explains. “In my family, we grew up impoverished. I learned that wealth wasn’t measured by how much you had. We defined wealth by how much you can share — a meal, a cup of coffee, the gift of time, the gift of attention and support.”

Giving back is equally as important to Madden, an award-winning writer, director and producer of more than 300 world premieres. In fact, she feels it is her duty. And opportunities like the Co-lab are key to the mission of both the Kenan Institute and UNCSA to help strengthen creative communities in North Carolina, Madden says.

“Cherokee is remarkable — it has this incredible creative community. If we can help them identify what they need, and we can connect them to resources and help them build their capacity,” she says, “they can create a self-sustaining way of life that celebrates their core cultural traditions on the one hand, but is also culturally growing. It’s alive, rather than an artifact. So it’s both.

“How many storytellers are there? Not enough. How many outlets are there for those storytellers? Not enough. How plugged in are they to the new forms of technology? Not enough. So the question becomes: How can you make this place not only a mecca, but a beacon, so that you don’t have to leave Cherokee to be a worldwide artist these days?”

Many of the 10 workshop participants, ranging in age from 21 to 61, are performers in “Unto These Hills,” one of the nation’s foremost outdoor dramas for more than half a century. Among the challenges they face is a lack of access to professional-development opportunities in performance and creative practices that can expand their artistic potential.

Each weekday afternoon during the workshop, they’ve gathered to study improvisation and movement, voice and text analysis, and acting and performance skills with Studi and two other L.A.-based professional actors. Mary Irwin, a voice and speech professor in the School of Drama at UNCSA, rounded out the teaching team.

They’ve also learned practical tips on topics ranging from how to prepare for a cold audition to how to effectively market themselves via social media.

For Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, a singer-songwriter of Cherokee descent who performs traditional roots music, the workshop couldn’t have come at a better time. Following the birth of her second son, she had decided to take a hiatus from work this summer as a performer and assistant music director with “Unto These Hills” to concentrate on being a mom.

“I didn’t even realize staying at home, being isolated, how much I was missing my creative work and writing and being around other creative people and having that stimulating interchange,” she says. “It’s turned out to really trigger my writing again — I’m just writing up a storm. As it turns out, being in this Co-lab is making me a happier person and a better mother.”

Burkey, 36, is currently at work on her fifth solo album as well as a book about her life journey. Yet, like so many artists, she still battles what she calls her “inner critic.”

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this. It’s been 14 years since I graduated from college,” she says. “It’s actually teaching me to believe in myself again and to quit putting my creative abilities on the back burner.”

Another bonus for Burkey: She’s made new friends with people who share a love for cultural storytelling.

Kathi Littlejohn, a native Cherokee and longtime storyteller in town, believes community-building is critical to the survival of the tribe’s cultural heritage. The elder in the workshop, she performs at the town’s frequent bonfires and at annual events like Cultural Heritage Week.
But she worries that many of the tribe’s storytellers are elderly. That’s why she encouraged her 21-year-old son, Justice, who has performed in the outdoor drama, to attend the workshop alongside her.

“These stories are probably 11,000 years old and they are still vital in our lives today and will be for the next 11,000 years,” Littlejohn says. “They’re important because they tell us how things came to be in the Cherokee world and how we should act as Cherokee people. If no one learns them after we are gone, then it would be a loss that we could never recover.”
Felix Ortiz Cruz and Thao Nguyen, both performers in the outdoor drama, are trained actors drawn to the Co-lab because of the high caliber of training it offers.

“I met DeLanna and Corey last season when they were here, and they were so warm, so bright, so welcoming,” recalls Cruz, whose ancestors come from the Taino tribe of Puerto Rico. “I knew these two women really believed in what they were doing and knew I wanted to work with them in the future.”

“This is providing an opportunity for members of this community to do something they don’t regularly do,” adds Nguyen, who graduated from UNCSA in 2013 with a degree in vocal performance.

“The instructors are the finest in their craft and very skilled in what they do,” Nguyen says.

“One of the big things is they individualized our time with the instructors. I told them what I needed and they supplied it.”

Cruz, whose plans include returning to Rutgers University this fall to finish his last year of studies, has found the Co-lab experience “invaluable.”

“It really has given me a lot of tools that I am actually able to translate into my professional career here in the drama — like the voice work and the storytelling techniques,” he explains.
That’s precisely what Jennifer Bobiwash and Robert Vestal had in mind when they agreed to join their friend Studi on the Co-lab teaching team. Both are members of the Native Voices ensemble in Los Angeles.

Vestal, a descendant of the Cherokee tribe on his father’s side, specializes in improvisation and acting.

“It’s gratifying to come in here and see the effects happen in such a short time,” he says. “It’s not the same for every student, but some have grown a lot in just a week.”
Bobiwash, whose session on social media was a big hit during the workshop, feels she learned as much from the students as they did from her. She hopes to one day return to her native Ojibwe community in Canada to do the same kind of teaching.

“It’s important just to show that there are other natives out there working — they see just a small sliver of them on TV,” she says.

“It’s showing them an opportunity to grow beyond the reservation, and not that they have to leave the reservation, but there is so much more that they can do from right here — they are brilliant people.”
Irwin concurs. “Seeing how far they came by that last presentation on Friday and how enthusiastically they were taking the training on board that we were all offering them was rewarding. I learned a great deal, too.”

Madden, for one, hopes this “unprecedented collaboration” in Cherokee continues beyond this summer. Indeed, there is already plenty of talk among this year’s workshop leaders about what the next phase could look like.

“These stories are very much in the hands of the Cherokee people — they are not lost,” Madden says. “The question is how do you connect them with a contemporary audience? Perhaps in three or four years this project will have created a group of leaders among the young Cherokee who can sustain the program itself and look for new ways for these stories to be shared.”
She also hopes the Kenan Institute and UNCSA can continue to take a leadership role in the work — not just training actors for the theatre but for the diverse communities of North Carolina and across the country.

“I’m proud of what we are doing.”

The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts and the Cherokee Historical Association Announce Native American Theatre Project in Cherokee

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (JUNE 27, 2016) – The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) and the Cherokee Historical Association will launch the Native American Theatre Project, a three-week “creative co-laboratory” in Cherokee, North Carolina beginning on July 18 and concluding on August 6, with support from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation.

As part of the project, Cherokee artist DeLanna Studi and co-laboratory faculty will host a storytelling workshop 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The workshop is free and open to the public, and is designed to introduce community members to creative processes to help contemporary Cherokee people to tell their own stories.

The Native American Theatre Project is a professional and creative development intensive that will bring performers, artists and leaders of two of the country’s most important Native American theaters — North Carolina’s renowned outdoor drama Unto These Hills and Native Voices at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles. In addition, the project will help towards enhancing the artistry of the production of Unto These Hills.

Studi is currently completing And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears, a dramatic retelling of her six-week journey to retrace the path her great-great-grandparents took during the forced relocation of more than 16,000 Cherokee from their homelands in the 1830s. As many as 6,000 people perished along the Trail of Tears.

Accompanied by a documentarian and her father, Thomas, a full-blooded Cherokee, Studi undertook the journey in the summer of 2015, partnering with dozens of community organizations and hosting workshops and storytelling circles at significant sites along the trail to explore the impact of the Cherokee removal on the people and their communities.
Corey Madden, executive director of the Kenan Institute as well as an award-winning writer and director with 25 years of experience in new play development, is directing and producing the play.

Madden believes the creative partnership with the Cherokee Historical Association, which seeks to facilitate opportunities for Cherokee artists to improve their skills so they can improve their quality of life, will increase the visibility of the Institute and UNCSA across North Carolina and the United States and places the groups at the forefront of diversity and inclusion work in the arts and arts education.

Madden said the creative co-laboratory is a way to give back to the Cherokee people who helped Studi and her team conduct research for And So We Walked.

“A potter can sell a pot all year long. An actor in that community only has a summer season. In the winter, everyone is out of work,” Madden said. “If you could change the circumstances so the actors in Cherokee could be in TV shows or movies or theater projects in the Southeast, that could make a real difference for them.”

The Kenan Institute for the Arts is a creative catalyst that encourages and supports the exploration and development of new knowledge to transform the way artists, organizations and communities approach their creative challenges. And So We Walked and the Native American Theatre Project are part of the Institute’s Arts and Society initiative, which is dedicated to demonstrating the value and impact of the arts in society. For more information, visit

The Cherokee Historical Association, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1948 and is located in the heart of the Cherokee Cultural District with a mission to perpetuate and preserve the history and culture of the Cherokee People. Their mission is accomplished through the operation of two cultural attractions; the Oconaluftee Indian Village living history site and the renowned outdoor drama Unto These Hills.

Debuting in 1950, Unto These Hills has been performed for more than six million visitors in its 60+ years of operation. From the first contact with Europeans to the infamous and tragic Trail of Tears, Unto These Hills tells the triumphant story of the Cherokee through the eons.
The Oconaluftee Indian Village is more than just a place. It is also a time: Ancient Cherokee, transporting you back to a living, working Cherokee Village of the 18th Century. Here, centuries old techniques for survival have been passed down from generation to generation and preserved in this living history site.

For more information about Unto These Hills and the Oconaluftee Indian Village, please visit