My Years at the American Indian Community House in New York City

I worked with Native Americans in the Arts at the Community House in New York City from May, 1980 through early December, 1982; just about two and a half years. The actresses Jane Lind and the late and fabulous Marie Antoinette Rogers had organized a theater project there in 1981 as a valiant effort to develop new Indian theater within a tribal community: the urban Indian world of New York City . They were two brave women, and the group they gathered to produce American Indian plays and shows was an eclectic cast of talents from many parts of Indian Country. I had just finished getting a degree in theater at Indiana University, and I accepted their invitation to return to New York City to write and direct for the company (Jane and Marie Antoinette and I had worked together in the early ‘70s at La Mama in New York with the Native American Theater Ensemble, a fantastic experience that hooked us permanently on the idea of producing Indian theater).

In those years, the early ‘80s, I met some very nice and very talented folks: Zira Tomas, the First Americans, Rudy, Joeray, Perry, Machiste Quintana, the wonderful Colorado sisters, Vira and Hortensia, Donna Couteau, Joe Cross, Angelo Anifantis, Sandra Bigtree, Kole Miner, the beautiful and very special Diane Decorah, Cheryl Thomas, Pete Dyer, Diane Fraher, Lee Green, Renee Highway, Raul Trujillo, Wayne Waterman, Pete Jemison, Tino Juarez, Gloria Miguel, Lisa Mayo (I already knew Muriel), Jeff Maynor, the adorable Pena Bonita, E. Claude Richards, Rino Thunder, Julie Evening Lilly, and of course grumpy old Mike Bush and the indefatigable, extraordinarily generous Rosemary Richmond.

We did plays at the AICH on West 38th Street , in a big, steamy, funky theater construct that we whipped together on the third floor; put on shows in the theater space we carved out of the back rooms of the 9th floor at 13th and Broadway, and did a wild and wooly production of 49 at La Mama. We toured a lot too, which was amazing considering all the circumstances. We lived on CETA funds, unemployment, and pennies from heaven, and it was just a cool and happy time. No question that all our efforts helped to keep an American Indian presence in the theater capital of the world intact, alive and breathing, and I send my love, my respect, my gratitude and my best wishes to all the theater Skins that I met and had the honor and privilege of working with in my (still) favorite city in the world. I hope I can spend another two or three years in New York before I move on down the road. I’ve promised many of my friends there that we’d go for long walks together, through the West Village, up First Avenue to midtown, then over to the West Side, down around the Wall Street area, along the Brooklyn waterfront, all over, the way Ms. Decorah and Wayne Waterman and Allen Silmon and all of us did on weekends, when we were broke and couldn’t afford to do anything else. We laughed and giggled and teased each other nearly every step of the way. Aho. Good things to all of you.

- Hanay Geiogamah