The Thanksgiving Play
March 24, 2021
By: Larissa FastHorse
I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of press about The Thanksgiving Play over the past few years as it became one of the most produced plays in America. So, if you want to know the origin story of the play, please google it. There are many radio, TV and printed interviews where I have answered those questions. This production is different.
I have barely done any theater since Covid shut down our field. I’m fortunate that I also have a career in film and TV that, although significantly slowed, kept me employed over the past year. As the theater field put things online, I happily gave permission for folks to do this play on zoom and other virtual venues. I showed up at a few rehearsals and the talk backs were supportive and enthusiastic. But the truth is, I didn’t watch any of those productions. Not one. I have not admitted that before now. The truth is, I was too heartbroken to watch.
Although I didn’t start in theater, I did start on stage. I love performing, I love watching performances, I love being in a room with people working to touch hearts and change minds. I am a social introvert but put me on a stage, no matter how large or small, and it immediately feels like home. When I tried to do theater work on zoom, I would leave the session more depressed than before I started. I deiced I just wasn’t going to do it. I would do my privileged writing work and wait out the pandemic until my field returned.
Then I got a call from Jeffrey Richards with the opportunity to support one of my favorite organizations, The Actors Fund. I said yes, but I planned to keep my distance and protect my broken heart. However, Jeffrey isn’t a guy who lets you sit on the sidelines. He was calling me for ideas of directors, actors, collaborators. We landed on Leigh Silverman, a director I had only met briefly but admired for a long time. I then tried to pass all decisions on to her, but Leigh is exactly my kind of director, collaborative and fun. Before I knew it I was sucked further in.
Then a Covid miracle happened, Leigh and I zoomed with the delightful Keanu Reeves and he agreed to play Caden. (My teen self was more star struck than I knew I could be, while my professional self tried desperately to keep it together.) Keanu asked me if I’d consider re-setting the entire play on zoom. He immediately started playing zoom ideas for Caden. I burst out laughing and suddenly I was completely on board.
Before I knew it my assistant and I were going word by word through the script, coming up with small but significant changes to place these four familiar characters in a whole new world, so that the audience could be immersed with them instead of having to pretend we weren’t on screen.
The rest of the dream cast fell into place quickly and once again, I was in love. In love with the process, in love with the raw bravery of actors, in love with how designers make everything from nothing, in love with directors’ ability to see everything at once, in love with the awkwardness of zoom (When Heidi lost her internet I got to rehearse a scene with Keanu and Bobby!), in love with theater and the way it can make us laugh and cry and rage and change all in a few moments of time.
I didn’t know it could happen so fast, but this process began to heal my broken heart. Like always, when you watch this play I hope you laugh and enjoy yourself and question everything you thought you knew. I also know that in the past year, lives were lost and changed and we will never be the same, but now that we are on the cusp of recovery for our field, I hope that this wild zoom play at this moment in time will help you start to heal too. I’ll see you online, and then, soon, I’ll see you back in the theater.