BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Given how his website’s “About” section very specifically describes him as an “undocumented urbanized mixed race Indigenous American,” you’d think Tucson-born, Seattle-based Timothy White Eagle (TWE) brings his feathered namesake’s talon-strong grip to his sense of self. He does, if you broaden the scope of “self” to favor journey over destination. That’s the bitter pill of personal growth the artist was handed when the test results from one of those genealogy websites forced him to make radical rewrites to a story he’d always believed was written in stone. As such, it’s the search for identity and the implications of its power to bind and brand that inform much of his work, including this current run at downtown NYC’s essential live performance destination, La MaMa.
Billed in the press release as “Indigenous ritual theater,” The Indigo Room is the third in a series of presentations envisioned about a half-decade ago, with this run at La MaMa marking the final installment’s premiere.
First up was The White Room, a live theatrical experience informed by the adopted artists’ religious upbringing: “I was raised in the benevolently racist society of Mormonism,” recalls TWE, “which taught me as a child if I continued to be a good Mormon the color of my skin would be reversed and I’d be white.” Taking his design cues from the most holy, awash-in-white part of a Mormon temple–the Celestial Room—TWE invited audiences to “spend some time with me in a place of ecstatic union with the divine.” (Lest you think that makes him a priest, he refuses that charged job description, referring to his role as simply the “host.’)
The Red Room was “a place for people to deposit their fear… to make a physical manifestation of it” and leave leave that object in the room with “the vulture”—an animal, notes the artist, with the ability to cosume what would be poisonous to the rest of the animal kingdom, making it the perfect vessel to “take your fear and digest it, and release the energy of it.”
The above TWE quotes (and the ones below for that matter) were taken from a November 2 installment of La MaMa Live Talks, in which playwright/performer Taylor Mac was in conversation with the chatty and articulate Room trilogy creator.
When talk turned to The Indigo Room, Mac asked if its creator felt an obligation to acknowledge the past 18 months, as opposed to offering a show simply “about cheese.” TWE caught that pitch, nimbly wondering in appropriately mock-tizzy mode, “Can I mine the juice of this horrible moment in history and wring out something interesting?” (Both men are gay, so if that resulting back and forth banter bothers you, well… stick with the Talk, because their talk about “toning it down a notch” is one of the conversation’s more interesting “inside baseball” moments.)
Getting himself back on topic to answer Mac’s question about the pandemic’s presence in The Indigo Room, TWE noted, “Part of the draw for this show is, for me, that sense of isolaton that we’ve all been through and how to go from a place of isolation to a place of communion.” To do so, this Room references the whale that swallowed the Bible’s Jonah and Disney’s Geppetto. It is, notes the press material, “one of the oldest and most universal myths. The stories of a hero being swallowed alive and then returned have appeared around the world. We use this ancient story to ponder contemporary isolation and community.”
Hoping he’s embedded in the DNA of the experience something that transcends the particular pandemic times it speaks to, TWE wondered, of The Indigo Room (as every artist wonders about everything), “Can I code into my words something of value to generations down the line, that addresses… what I’ve been through and can transmit that to somebody [in future decades] who’s never heard my name.”
The two final performances of “The Indigo Room” take place Sat. Nov. 20 at 8pm / Sun Nov. 21 at 1pm at The Downstairs at La MaMa (66 E. Fourth St., basement level; btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). Tickets are pay-what-you-can, from $10 to $60. For reservations and more info, click here. Artist info at www.whiteeagleme. Timothy White Eagle is joined in the performances of “The Indigo Room” by the Violet Triangle: John Wilson, Hatlo Hatlo, and Paul Budraitis.
About the Artist | Timothy White Eagle is a self-described undocumented Indigenous artist and ritualist who has been exploring ritual practices in his work throughout his career. Known for having created Seattle’s performance art space Coffee Messiah (Caffeine Saves), he was adopted as a child by a white family and subsequently spent 30 years learning about the Indigenous culture and his Native heritage as a protégé with the Shoshone Elder Clyde Hall. His numerous Indigenous works include a celebrated collaboration with photographer Adrian Chesser, which resulted in the book, The Return. He is also the host of a weekly livestream, Timothy White Eagle’s Medicine Show.
About La MaMa | La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theatre. La MaMa’s historic 60th Season is committed to Radical Access, access that includes physical and economic accessibility, opportunity, representation, and relevance. La MaMa celebrates 60 years with the reopening of its first permanent home at 74A East 4th Street after extensive renovation ensuring new generations of artists a space to create work and change how we think about and experience art and ultimately transform our cultural narrative. La MaMa’s vision of nurturing new artists and new work remains as strong today as it was when Ellen Stewart first opened the doors in 1961 and has presented more than 5,000 productions by 150,000 artists of all nations, cultures, races, and identities. A recipient of the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award, and more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has been a creative home for thousands of artists, many of whom have made lasting contributions to the arts, including Blue Man Group, Charlotte Braithwaite, Ping Chong, André De Shields, Adrienne Kennedy, Haruna Lee, Harvey Fierstein, Diane Lane, Warren Leight, Michael Mayer, Tadeusz Kantor, Bette Midler, Meredith Monk, Peter Brook, David and Amy Sedaris, Julie Taymor, Dane Terry, Kazuo Ohno, Michael K. Williams, Marc Shaiman, and Scott Wittman.
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