Madeline Sayet

Postcolonial and Native Shakespearean Theatre in the United States

 

Interview audio

Published on 20 October 2023. 

 

Madeline Sayet is pictured from the waist up looking off with a big smile. She is wearing a long-sleeve shirt with butterflies printed on it.

Madeline Sayet; photograph courtesy of BlaqPearl Photography

 

Interview transcript

Introduction

Amrita Dhar 

Hello and welcome. My name is Amrita Dhar, and I am the Director of the project Shakespeare in the “Post”Colonies which is hosting a series of interviews with postcolonial Shakespeareans from around the world.

In today’s conversation, I speak with the US-based Mohegan theatre-maker, storyteller, and writer Madeline Sayet.

Conversation

 

Amrita Dhar

Madeline, would you mind introducing yourself, please? 

Madeline Sayet

Chuh, Nutiewhis Acokayis. Hi, I’m Maddy. I’m a citizen of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut. I’m also a Clinical Assistant Professor at ASU [Arizona State University] with the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, as well as a playwright, director, and performer

Amrita Dhar

It’s so wonderful having you here for this conversation and as part of this project, Maddy. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, especially your intellectual journey? This is a series of conversations specifically on Shakespeare in the “Post”Colonies. How did Shakespeare first enter your intellectual/theatrical/educational landscape? And what has your relationship been with this man or matter of work?  

Madeline Sayet 

So, I first got exposed to Shakespeare when I was six or seven years old, because my mother started taking me to see outdoor Shakespeare productions that were free locally. And at the time, I think I was mostly excited about the fact that she would make this particular food item when we would go, and that there were people running around the field acting crazy. But I was really good at understanding what was happening in the plays compared to a lot of people around me. My mom was really excited by this, and so she kept bringing me back. My grandfather gave me a copy of the Complete Works for my seventh birthday, and I read it not thinking anything of it, because it had been exposed to me so young. I think about a lot like with different languages, people who are exposed to learning different languages very young, they just get a certain access to it.  

Then as I got older, as a performer, I always had an easier time with Shakespeare than a lot of other folks because I had this ease with the language that not everybody had. And, and so, Shakespeare really shaped a lot of my growing up, in so far as, like, a lot of my extracurricular activities were meeting all my friends through Shakespeare, doing performances of Shakespeare, and ultimately, even, you know, the first theatre company I founded when I was in college was an all-female-identifying group of people reimagining Shakespeare’s plays. So, I had a very strong relationship to Shakespeare growing up. I originally really thought that my loyalty to Shakespeare was so strong that I kind of thought that there had to be answers to everything [laughs] within the plays, instead of, actually, you know, being able to fully critique them, right? As you learn to as you get older. I, as a child, was looking at the similarities between Shakespeare and my traditional Mohegan stories and the ways characters and archetypes actually were similar in instances.  

 

The promotional poster for Amerinda, INC.'s adaptation of The Winter's Tale. Written by William Shakespeare and directed by Madeline Sayet.

Poster for The Winter’s Tale (Amerinda Inc., 2016); graphic by Jesse Wright

 

Production still from the Amerinda adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The still captures a couple embracing.

Production still showing Florizel and Perdita from Amerinda Inc.’s 2016 The Winter’s Tale at HERE Arts, directed by Madeline Sayet; photograph courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum Theatrical Photography and Design

 

And once I got to college was when I started to actually really look at the texts and be able to critique them and to be able to think about: where, where do I exist within this play? And what is the actual morality of this text? You know, how do I actually feel about the fact that if a woman isn’t chaste, she deserves to die? [laughs] And that my only character I can identify with is Caliban? And so, I feel like from college through my first Master’s degree, I became a little bit obsessed with Caliban. Because The Tempest felt like the only space in which I could have a conversation about my people. Unfortunately, it is very much in the context of having a conversation about colonialism. But then, as I got older and continued to evolve in my journey, I started to stage lots of interventions into all of Shakespeare’s texts using all-Native casts and things like that. I’ve also directed a lot of other plays in other contexts as well. So, I’ve had a very long and elaborate journey.

I think maybe the core of my journey and what complicates it is I feel like as a young person, I really felt like Shakespeare was my safe space where I could make friends. I didn’t realize until later that part of that is because no matter where you go, if you have a bookstore—nowadays in the States, not everywhere has a bookstore—but if you have a bookstore, everywhere on the shelves, you’ve got a bajillion editions of Shakespeare’s plays and he’s the only named author in the American Common Core. But there are no Native plays there, and there are no Native authors that are required to be taught. So this author who isn’t from here is being taught in this incredibly prolific way where everyone is required to read him. And so you kind of end up with this kind of fanfiction situation where everybody has opinions and everybody knows the texts and they don’t even need to really like certain texts, but if they know it, and they have a familiarity with it, you can debate it, and it becomes a point of common interest.   

As I continued to evolve in my academic journey, I became more and more aware of the fact that Shakespeare was here at the cost of something else. So basically, when I was doing my first Master’s, I directed my first production. My first Master’s was at NYU [New York University], and it was in Arts, Politics and Postcolonial Theory. I directed my first production as a part of that, and the production centered on the question of what would happen if Caliban could get his language back. It was really thinking about what if this was about here, and thinking about Indigenizing the text and Indigenizing Shakespeare. And then as I continued to evolve in my career, and I eventually was briefly running an all-Native Shakespeare ensemble, it became clear that actually that text [The Tempest], in many ways was quite violent to the Shakespeare ensemble, and the realization even that those things were written by Shakespeare was actually very harmful to them. 

Then ultimately, what happened was, when I was working toward doing a PhD, at one point in time, I was looking at a lot of different intersections between the Indigenous peoples of America and Shakespeare’s texts. Because as a Native scholar, there wasn’t a lot of existing Native scholarship on that intersection. The problem is you can’t really talk about contemporary Indigenous Shakespeare productions—which there are lots of—without actually looking at the history of that relationship. And the history of that relationship, of course, includes the fact that Native children were stolen from their homes and forced to go to residential schools where they weren’t allowed to speak their language. In those spaces, Shakespeare was also taught. And so, there are so many phases to the complications of my journey with Shakespeare, and yet I am still, you know, a Shakespearean. And I still do direct his works, and I still engage with them. But it really has made me really conscious and aware of the importance of sort of, like, questioning his space within conversations, and a space within society, and actually, how do we really engage fully with the texts, as if they are texts of now, instead of just pretending like they’re neutral because they’ve been passed down to us. 

 

Promotional poster for American Indian Artists, INC.'s adaptation of Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Madeline Sayet.

Poster for Macbeth (Amerinda, Inc., 2015); graphic by Jesse Wright

 

Production still from American Indian Artists, INC.'s adaptation of Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Madeline Sayet. Image shows three women who play the Witches, dressed in all white standing beside each other with their right arms extended out toward the audience.

Production still showing the three witches in Amerinda, Inc’s 2015 Macbeth, directed by Madeline Sayet; photograph courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum Theatrical Photography and Design

 

Production still from Amerinda, INC.'s adaptation of Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Madeline Sayet. Image depicts actor Joe Ross as the Porter standing in front of a woven basket defensively, holding a wood staff in both of his hands.

Production still showing Joe Cross as the Porter from Amerinda, Inc.’s 2015 Macbeth, directed by Madeline Sayet; photograph courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum Theatrical Photography and Design

 

Amrita Dhar

Thank you for that wonderful, very full answer. This is something that this project wants to engage with, as well. This claim that we are in a post-colonial time.

Madeline Sayet

Mhm.

Amrita Dhar

I’m curious, I want to ask you about what does it mean to “do” Shakespeare in colonial and post-colonial places and spaces today? Out of the colonial or post-colonial, where would you place what here is called the United States? And, I mean, the whole world, we like to claim that the world now inhabits post-colonial days, times after the end of empire, especially as a result of the formal withdrawal of the UK from its many political colonies across the world. But where do you see this country sitting in that, well, I wanted to say equation, but it’s actually a non-equation. From where I’m coming from, which is India, it always feels very, very fraught.  

Madeline Sayet

Yeah. I mean, I think in order for the United States to be post-colonial, everybody would have to leave. So, it’s not really… I mean, we’re existing inside of a settler colonial state. I think that is indisputable. And we’re not even existing inside of a settler colonial state in a way that is particularly friendly toward Indigenous peoples, you know? There are more than 570 federally-recognized tribes, which means that they’re all sovereign states that exist within the boundaries of the United States, but then have their own sovereign rules and law. And yet the current, you know, structure of the American government is constantly putting our sovereignty into question. The fact that just this week, the Supreme Court has been debating the Indian Child Welfare Act—which exists only to make sure that non-natives don’t essentially steal Native children from their peoples—the fact that that is in debate, and it was, you know, it was created essentially because of the history of Native children being intentionally stolen from their homes and put other places, right? As forced assimilation in the intention to remove our cultures very actively. The fact that is back in debate, and that none of the Supreme Court Justices know anything about the context or the history of why it exists says to me everything you need to know about… because it’s so basic. I mean, children. I feel like that’s so basic, right? You don’t need to steal children from their communities. Like, why would you need to do that? And yet, this government doesn’t even blink at thinking that that would make sense to take them away and put them somewhere else.  

So, I think that it’s really complicated. And I think it’s also complicated here because of the ways in which Native cultures have been utilized as a way for… not Native cultures, but the stereotyping and kind of, like, symbolism of Native peoples has been used as a way for America to identify itself from very early times. There’s a lot of great academic writing on this concept that basically, like, by taking on Native people’s identities, they can create a culture for them distinctive from England early on, and then it builds from there.

 

Book cover for the book Playing Indian; image showing a red figure of a Native American male with one arm upraised and holding a hammer and another hand to his side holding a knife.

Playing Indian by Philip J. Deloria (1998; Yale University Press, 2022)

 

In addition to that, theatrically and in the genres of entertainment, right, you have both theatre, in which—Bethany Hughes has some really great scholarship on this—but in which redface is popularized basically around the time of Indian removal so that people are taught to dehumanize Native people. And yet redface is still performed regularly across the United States. And they don’t understand why but it’s still normal. And then, the fact that the Hollywood Western is like the prototype of a successful American film genre, but that means that a lot of the tropes of the film industry are built on this very particular form that is, again, geared toward our genocide, and celebrating that. 

And so, it’s, it’s actually really complicated, because I don’t even think people understand. They think they’re being innovative, they think they’re doing something cool. But actually, when they’re building on things that have been handed down to them that are so ingrained, I think it’s really difficult for people to even question the sort of rules of the society they’re in. And the reason Native theatre has only recently started to be able to be produced at mainstream stages is only now have people started to have the stakes, I feel like gotten high enough, in a way, that people actually are like, “Wait a second, if you listen to these stories, we might actually learn something about how to survive in our current moment and the conflict that we currently exist in. And our catastrophes we have going on with the environment, and how do we actually talk about people? And maybe these colonial systems aren’t actually helping us as much as we thought.” Right? So, that all feels very recent, that people are even willing to acknowledge that colonialism not only happened, but is still happening. 

Amrita Dhar

That’s exactly right. You’re expressing really well the thinking that was part of the inception of this project, where we wanted to put the prefix “post-” within scare quotes, because it just does not feel like post-colonial in the sense of after colonial to us. And the principal investigators here are from India, and from Nigeria. And here I am now in what is called the US. And I’m very, very aware of my settler status, where, because of the circumstances that I have been caught up in, have made this a “good option” for me, for my professional life, for me to be here, to essentially do what was done to my people across the globe. Like you, my journey in Shakespeare is very old, very affectionate, very intellectually indebted, very intellectually stimulated and stimulating. I’m very aware of the fraughtness and the complexity of my journey in Shakespeare as well. 

Now, following from this matter of the continuously colonial, settler colonial, there is a lot of discussion today… As you were saying, the stakes suddenly seem to be higher in some way. There is a lot of discussion today about decolonization. How has this discourse impacted your work, if it has impacted your work? 

Madeline Sayet

Yeah, I think that my relationship with that word has happened in a lot of different stages over time. I think that when I was doing my first Master’s, and I finished, it was, like, 2012. At that point, I remember I was in a university situation where there were no Native professors, but actually, the conversation around decolonization was still present, because there were other colonized peoples engaging in the academic discourse. So, the framework of decolonization became very useful because in, in a global context, there were these touchstones that then I could apply to my work. Things like being able to speak your language, and things that are very basic, right, for non-colonized people [laughs]. But all of these steps, I remember. I actually had created, like, my first Master’s was…this was called Decolonizing the Savage Stage, and it was the steps needed in order to decolonize as if that was a thing that was concrete, right? [laughs] I had my steps all laid out and it was like, the body, the mind, the future, there was all of these different places that needed to be decolonized. As my career has evolved—I also was involved very strongly for a while in the decolonizing theatre movement—again, it was useful because you could take principles around these colonial systems being harmful, but there was a kind of allyship that existed across cultures to decolonizing in particular. I think the thing that we’ve run into more lately is actually the difference between decolonization and Indigenization. Given the fact that we’re actually on Native land, and what does that actually mean? Lately, I have been shifting my frameworks more towards Indigenization because what ends up happening a lot otherwise is that there’s all these decolonization movements that don’t include Native people, and you’re like, “Wait a second, how are we actually decolonizing here in settler America, if Native people aren’t included in the conversation? Then it’s actually not actually decolonizing, it’s becoming something else.” I think now a lot more about Indigenization in my work, but I still do think about decolonization in terms of the systemic structures that exist that colonialism has imposed and questioning them and making sure that people don’t think of them as neutral. I think about other ways and other approaches to enter those spaces, because of the ways in which those systems are harmful and violent, and that people have just sort of normalized them.  

So, I still like, exist a little bit in both conversations. But I think a lot in more of my personal work, I think that I’ve started to lean more towards the specificity of Indigenization. Because also, decolonization always puts us in relationship to colonization. And then it always feels like that tension… can’t be broken. It’s like we’re always fighting this thing. One of the things that’s also in just contemporary playwriting I’m really, like, aspirational towards, especially for young Native playwrights is Indigenous futurisms and things like that. The conversation doesn’t always have to be about Native people and colonialism, and that particular relationship. But what happens when you’re able to break down other things. Or write something that took place before. Or just imagine past it. Because I feel like, in so many ways, part of the reason decolonization is such a big conversation is because of all of the ways in which we are in fact, defined by colonialism. And in reality, right, the only thing that actually connects all of the Native peoples in America, only thing they have in common is colonialism. Other than that, all of their cultures are incredibly different. There are useful things to being able to look at that common thread and then being able to dismantle it. But at the same time, there are also really important, vibrant things to being able to look at the specificity of each culture and highlight that instead of highlighting its relationship to this violent force. 

 

Production still from Amerinda, INC.'s adaptation of Powwow Highway, adapted by William S. Yellowrobe, Jr. and directed by Madeline Sayet. Image depicts an an older man talking with two young kids as they examine an object in the man's hand.

Production still from Amerinda, Inc.’s 2014 Powwow Highway by William S Yellowrobe Jr., directed by Madeline Sayet; photograph courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum Theatrical Photography and Design

 

Production still from Amerinda INC.'s adaptation of Powwow Highway adapted by William S. Yellowrobe, Jr. and directed by Madeline Sayet. Image depicts actors Dylan Carusona and Donna Couteau, with Couteau facing away from the camera and resting her right hand on Carusona's shoulder.

Production still showing Dylan Carusona and Donna Couteau in Amerinda, Inc.’s 2014 Powwow Highway by William S Yellowrobe Jr., directed by Madeline Sayet; photograph courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum Theatrical Photography and Design

 

Production still from Miss Lead, a play by Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by Madeline Sayet. Image features Tanis Parenteau iMiss Lead, sitting at a wood kitchen table and writing in a journal. Her right hand is visibly red and bruised.

Production still showing Tanis Parenteau as Katie from Amerinda, Inc.’s 2014 Miss Lead by Mary Kathryn Nagle, directed by Madeline Sayet; photograph courtesy of Steve Bartel

 

Amrita Dhar

Exactly. And I mean, there’s something both moving and valuable about what you’re saying, which is the land that we’re on, you and I, right now in this country called the United States, we are here because of human stewardship long before anything that started the journey towards the creation of the United States could have happened. It is important to remember that there are these relationships that human beings have had with the planet and with parts of the planet that haven’t been about domination, about conquest, and about extraction. Unfortunately, as a result of colonialism, this is knowledge that is at risk of being completely lost.  

Madeline Sayet

Yeah, I think that there’s a few different aspects of that, too. I think that there’s the ways in which that extractive behavior shows up across the board, right?

It was interesting for me, not working with an all-Native team on Where We Belong, because normally I work predominantly in Native theatre, and there’s certain things you just don’t do in Native theatre because you’re operating within Native cultural protocols. One of those is extractive behaviour, the idea that this thing is a product. I was constantly in debate with folks about like, actually, “No, this is my actual story, this is my actual life, you can’t turn me into a product and try and extract something from me. I will continue to be in resistance to that, no matter how many times you try and make it that.” But it was so frightening to me to see how normal that was to other people and how just common that was in the industry—regardless of how good a person might be, right, that’s what they had been taught, the system they had been taught to push, and push, and push, and operate within.  

I also think a lot about our languages, insofar as the frameworks of languages and the framework of the language of English… Part of the reason it was able to take over is because of the ways it boxes and defines and doesn’t connect. It’s actually like a great language for colonizing, specifically. It really breaks everything apart; it isn’t structured in a way where certain things are connected. Like, I think a lot about how in our language, we do not conjugate by gender, but we conjugate by animate versus inanimate. And there’s a lot more beings that are considered animate. So, thinking about what is alive is a really big part of… And everything that is alive is then your relative, right? So, it’s not like there’s all these hierarchies that are set up in every possible way, the way that they are in English. No, it’s actually about how things lean on each other, and how things are connected and how things are in relation, which is a very different structure.  

 

Promotional poster image for the play Where We Belong by Madeline Sayet.

Where We Belong by Madeline Sayet (Bloomsbury, 2022)

 

And so I think a lot about that, just in terms of the philosophy and the framework of what’s lost when you take these things away. Like when you actually show up somewhere and you try and destroy the Earth, and you try and take all these things away, what are you actually taking away in terms of the insight and the knowledge and the philosophy that exists inside of these languages that then you are destroying? Not only that, but all of the historical knowledge that exists within each of these cultures scientifically about each physical place that they’re in and how those geographies operate is really quite significant. And it’s only, again, been lately, right, that people are starting to turn back to the Native peoples in each region and be like, “Actually, wait, how do we fix this that we broke? Because we know you told us not to do that a few hundred years ago, but now we’re realizing that you might have been right. So how do we fix it?” 

So, it’s an interesting thing that’s happening right now for that reason. And it’s not fast or it’s not easy, because all of these people really have invested so much in these ideologies without even realizing that they’re being harmful and they’re being extractive and that there are, actually, alternative ways to exist in the world. 

Amrita Dhar

That’s right. I hope to return to some of this as we talk about Where We Belong. And this might be a good moment, actually, to bring this person/matter called “Shakespeare” back to our discussion. You just talked about language. What was your first encounter with Shakespeare—in your language, or his? 

Madeline Sayet

In his language, yeah. And, but, but his language was… So, my language… So, the thing that’s complicated about the Mohegan language is that the last fluent speaker of the Mohegan language passed away in the early 1900s. So, we’ve been in a language reclamation movement now. But at the point actually when I first encountered Shakespeare, we weren’t really in a language reclamation movement yet. So, I knew that there were things I couldn’t express because they’d been passed down to me culturally, but there was no words for them. I didn’t have that language. Whereas Shakespeare, for me, in some ways, because he was in poetic form—and it was one of my early accesses to poetic form—helps me figure out ways to express things that I couldn’t otherwise express. I feel like sometimes poetic form creates more space for things to be expressed beyond just the literal word, like sound or the way that he shifts parts of speech and doesn’t actually have to have everything structured in the way that a grammatical sentence has to be structured. At the time, that allowed me a lot of freedom. Throughout my journey, I think because of that, I really felt that way about poetry in general, in that poetic form really does allow for a lot of expression. I think that’s probably part of why there are so many fantastic Native poets who have been honoured, like, you know, across time at this point. Because there are these ways of expressing things you can do in poetry beyond the limitations of the English language. 

Amrita Dhar

That’s right. Now, you’ve then used Shakespeare’s work, and not just Shakespeare’s work, but basically your inheritance of Shakespeare as a colonized person, but also as a creator. Could you tell us a little bit about Where We Belong, the journey of Where We Belong, where it started for you? The journeys that it talks about, and something of the philosophies that underlie this work? 

Madeline Sayet

Yeah, so I started writing Where We Belong when I moved back to the States from the UK in 2018. And I was really struggling with a lot of things. I had been flying from place to place to place a lot for work. And so I had been thinking a lot about my Mohegan name—which translates to Blackbird—and what it means to be a bird person, and that shift in perspective of having a little bit more distance each place you are. It was really disorienting for me because it was the first time I came home to Mohegan and my feet didn’t root quite right to the ground. Normally they root all the way down. This is the place of my ancestors. And I was like, “Whoa, what’s happening to me?” And I actually missed England. I was thinking about the fact that I was leaving a country that had socialized health care for one that didn’t, and that there were some principles in contemporary British society that actually are more Indigenous than in contemporary American society in terms of their philosophy.  

 

Production still from Madeline Sayet's play, Where We Belong, featuring Madeline Sayet standing along on stage lit in dark blue light.

Production still from Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s 2022 production of Where We Belong

 

So, I was grappling with all of this and thinking about, what does it mean? Is there a place as an Indigenous person in a globalized world where I get to belong? I was still very much between Shakespeare and home at that point in trying to figure out how I exist in relationship to all of that. So, I started writing this piece. Originally, there actually wasn’t very much Shakespeare in it. Because my context was Shakespeare, and so I didn’t actually feel like I needed to talk about it. When I originally wrote it, I didn’t think I was going to really share it. The very first version was more of a confessional. It ended with me still up in the sky. And I’d been thinking a lot about my Mohegan ancestors who left home, they went to England, and they were never able to come back. What is it, what had it broken, what had they seen by going somewhere else, and then coming back that, like, unravelled something in their mind? 

 

 

The current version of the play really deals with going back and forth between here and the UK, but there were other drafts where I actually went to lots of other nations as well, and it was really dealing with how each time I went somewhere, it was like opening up more possibilities. Like, “Wait, actually, this policy isn’t neutral, there’s all these other things that got defined through all of these X, Y, and Z steps.” It was also being written at a moment… The very first scene in the play takes place at the border of Sweden the day after Brexit. And it was also being written into my social consciousness, where I was very conscious—Brexit hadn’t fully happened, we were in the Brexit-ing stage when I wrote it, Trump was President—so, I was very conscious of the way literal lines are being drawn between people, and how these were constructs, and how I felt like I needed to break down how these lines got drawn, and how they keep getting drawn and what’s harmful about the system of “Let’s just draw more, and more, and more and more lines between people.” That was a big part of the impulse of the play originally.  

And then over time, what happened next, basically, was that I sent it to this Global Female Voices Festival that a friend of mine shared with me at the Arcola, because I was just curious what England thought of this like weird thing I wrote where I was like trying to grapple with the tension between Mohegan people and England specifically. It wasn’t really dealing with America literally in that way. It was really England and us because our treaties were with the British, they weren’t with America. Because America didn’t exist. So, I sent it to them. And then they were like, “Oh, yeah, we wanted to do a reading of it, do you know a Mohegan performer in London?” And I was like, “No, have you read the play?” [laughs] Because it’s in the play. I’m very much the only Mohegan in London the whole time. [laughs]

But they shared it with Border Crossings Origins Festival. Michael Walling became interested doing the piece, and then somehow within a year of me having written this very weird mental breakdown, it was somehow going to be performed at Shakespeare’s Globe. I was like, “Well, that’s funny.” Anyway, but it was a very fast turnaround. And then I had to really think about, “Okay, what does it mean to be questioning Shakespeare in this space, and what do I have to say?” Also, Shakespeare’s Globe, it’s not very far from my ancestor, Mohamet Weyonomon’s Memorial at Southwark Cathedral. So, the proximity to that ancestor also felt very significant, and that particular version felt really about honouring him, and about honouring the Mohegans that went to London, or honouring all the Native people who went to London and weren’t able to come home. And what is that journey? And how do we make sure that people actually know about that, that it wasn’t just people coming here, that we were going that way, as well, and that means we were also influencing what was going on over there. It wasn’t just a one-way street, even though that’s the way history likes to tell it.  

And one of the things that they thought was most interesting at that time was they hadn’t actually seen a lot of plays where it was, like…. They were used to watching us, but they hadn’t seen a lot of plays where it was a Native person goes there and is watching them, essentially critiquing and trying to make sense out of their culture. And then ultimately, what ended up happening was, when it was getting brought back to the States, I actually said I would never do it again, because it made me very sick when I first did it, because all the events were so close to me emotionally. To have to go through those things was actually very painful. For that reason, the performances were quite explosive. Everyone who saw them were like, “Whoa.” Whereas now, since I’ve done it more than 130-something times, they’re a little less exciting to watch, I have to be honest. I’m sure people are still entertained in some way, but I’m not holding all of that… I don’t even know how to describe it. It was quite a lot to go through emotionally at the time, because I hadn’t processed any of the actual events, and I was re-experiencing them as opposed to moving through the text like the way a performer does.  

But when it was being brought back to the States, there was a couple things that happened. One was that I made sure that I wanted to involve more Native people in the development process. So, I brought in a bunch of my peers and had them read the play and talk about the play with me, so that we would be thinking about it, like, as a generation of Native theatre artists and what this might mean for future people. Then also, somehow or another people really were interested in what is the thread of Maddy’s Shakespeare journey and relationship with Shakespeare over the course of it. So, I brought in sections where I talk about: what does Shakespeare mean to me as a kid? What does Shakespeare mean to me when I decide to direct that first production where Caliban is Mohegan, and there’s a prologue in Mohegan, and it’s imagining a world where they the settlers leave, and they never come back? And that’s what I believed Shakespeare wanted at the time. To getting to the point where I’m like, “Wait a second, why did I assume these things about Shakespeare?” And then suddenly, actually, the reality of, “Oh, even if you’re really good at all parts of Shakespeare, academia is going to try and box you in, and box you in, and box you in. Because you’re Native, they’re going to assume that you exist within The Tempest.”

So it began to encapsulate all of those parts of my journey as well. It’s got quite a lot of different aspects of it, too, and it’s been interesting to me to see the evolution of the piece and how it’s changed over time. I do feel like there’s been so many versions of it at this point, and some things have stayed and some things have never changed, and other things have changed quite a lot. Two of the first scenes that ever existed are still exactly the same, where there’s lots of other things that are constantly in flux within the piece.  

Amrita Dhar

As you’re talking, there are all these bulbs going off in my head. Well, academia as we are in right now—you and I, we both inhabit, as part of this sort of university structure—as academia is a settler enterprise. No matter how much we might want to decolonize the curriculum, or ourselves, or these institutions, I’m not sure that academia itself [laughs] considers it necessary, or even ultimately desirable, that we go decolonial, or anti-colonial and so on. So, we’re working with very real systemic, matrix-like boxiness.

Something that your play does, not because you’re functioning as an academic or anything, but you’re just trying to think past a certain reality as it has been inherited and as it has been passed on. What does it mean to think past? That is one of the big lessons in this play.

One of the things that I really appreciate about it, there are real guidelines for community accountability. You’re taking this imaginative leap about what would it mean, to think beyond or think past the reality that we genuinely don’t know, because we don’t even know we don’t know certain things.

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

Some things have, in fact, been lost to us. 

Madeline Sayet

Yeah, yeah yeah. So, part of the reason why there’s a community Accountability Rider that was required to be done with the piece is because when they said, “Oh, this is going to tour,” that was actually a horrifying notion to me. Because I knew that within the American-theatre-industrial-complex, that meant that they were going to bring it other places, and that they would have checked their box, and then they would not be doing another Native play.

And I’m not from those places. So actually, it’s, this isn’t the story that should be told there. The story that should be told there is the story of the people of that place. To then just take another Native story and put it all these places is not the work. And so, the only way I was willing to agree was “Okay, what are you going to do? What can I require they do to build relationships with the Native peoples whose lands they’re actually on?” And my favorite events, at every single location… It’s drastically shifted the space, how much an institution is actually doing. They all signed something that says they have to do all of the steps in the Accountability Rider. Listen, we all know institutions, they don’t all do all of the steps in the Accountability Rider. A few of them have, but usually they miss at least one or two. Then I am upset, and then they click, you know, we see where it goes from there. At least they’ve done four or five of them is sort of what I’ve started to come to, in my mind. Even though I’m not sure what the accountability is for… Not being accountable to the Accountability Rider? Anyway, I’m working on that…

So anyway, one of them is that there has to be an event of local Native writers’ work, which is really important, because that means, oh, they realize that there are local Native writers that they could be working with, and producing their work about the stories of the place that they’re in. There’s supposed to be at an event around the Indigenous language, with language revitalization efforts of the place where they physically are. So, people start to understand how that language functions. There’s always free tickets for all Native people, which is huge, for two reasons: One, for me, it means I’m not in an only-settler audience. So that’s hands down… Then also, it starts to make them feel welcome in those spaces. Then the community events. There’s a bunch of other stuff… Oh, they can never do redface again, and they have to acknowledge if they’ve done it before. There are a lot of things where I was like, “Okay, what, what is the baseline?” Because this isn’t actually anything novel. I feel like it was sort of a matter of like, I don’t want them to let me come in that space and be like, “Oh, that’s so sad that she feels that way,” you know. But actually, be like, “Okay, what is the very basic baseline of things they could do, to not be promoting the actual harm that’s in the pieces?” And they have to agree to present Native work in the future and develop deeper relationships with Native peoples. 

 

Promotional poster image for Where We Belong, a play by Madeline Sayet.

Poster for Where We Belong (Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Folger Shakespeare Library, 2022)

 

Amrita Dhar

So that any institution doesn’t get to say, “Oh, we didn’t know.” Which is…

Madeline Sayet

Right. And luckily for the rest of the tour, we’ve now hired a separate engagement person, because I think part of the problem was that they were trying to do everything on their own, but they really didn’t know how to do it. Now, there’s another Native person on the team who actually makes sure that these things happen the right way. Because they will say “We didn’t know” It’s a teaching process. So hopefully now next time, they will know.  

But one of the things I was thinking about also in relationship to what you were saying about academia is, there’s this section in the text where like, quite literally, I am grappling with notes. You have to go through my whole journey and see how devastating all of the “historical events” and contexts are, to me, and to my body, and to my person, and then you’re confronted with the note of “Oh, there’s too much… while the passion behind this writing is evident, we would appreciate a cooler rewrite.” And I then heightened that line, right, in the context of people being like, “Well, you need to draw lines, you need to separate, you shouldn’t be expressing yourself at all.” It was actually “Wait a second, isn’t that point of, part of what happened? Isn’t that part of the problem? Isn’t this connected to the way that borders got to, you know, constructed to divide people?” So, how is academia in the very act of being, “Everything must be emotionless, everything must quote and criticize things,” how is the actual structure of academia itself an incredibly colonial structure?—is, is then brought into the fold of the piece. For that reason, there have been some people who are like, “Well, it actually feels more like a critique of academia than it is of Shakespeare.” And in this current draft I would say, that might be true, but it’s interesting, because there’s been drafts where that section wasn’t in the text [laughs], so, I’m like, at this point, I’m like, hnuh…

I do think it’s really important when you have a platform to be able to say, “Okay, what am I actually going to use that for?” Because I, myself wasn’t like, “Hey, I really want to go on tour.” But because prior to doing this show, I was a director. I was always galvanizing people, groups of people, you know. And I feel more comfortable when there are lots of other Native people around than I do if there’s no other Native people around, hands down, every time. So, I was like, “How do I make this about community? And how do I bring everybody in, and how do I maybe create a structure that allows for the next thing to happen?” Because I’m much more excited about seeing other Native writers’ work than I am about having to do my own. Creating that space and that structure, for the long term, for the long haul for the next generations felt really important to me to think about. 

Amrita Dhar

I want to go back to one other thing that you mentioned, that struck me when I was reading this play. I’m reading it as a critic, as an academic. And it reads to me both, as you were saying, as though it could be a re-living of trauma. But it also feels as though it has been synthesized into a gorgeous piece in its own right. And I’m, so I’m very struck by what you said earlier that, you know, when you were performing it earlier, it was a very intense experience, because you were experiencing the things that you were talking about, through your performance instead of just going through the text…

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

… as a performer. The reason I bring it up is: it’s very funny. It reads beautifully—like you know how to manage and inflect expectations. 

Madeline Sayet

Yeah, so the thing that I’m grateful for, is I’ve finally had an opportunity to watch the understudy do the show at one point in time. It was really revelatory for me, because they still laughed at all my jokes. I was like, that feels good. It made me feel like I had to hold on to it a little bit less, because I think what was tricky was because there was this film adaptation created during the pandemic that then led to the tour happening. (Because we were supposed to do it for only three performances at Woolly Mammoth in America.) Then because everything was shut down, they created a film adaptation instead. Then when everybody saw it, they were like, “That’s incredible, we want it to come to our theatre,” and voila, tour. I think I held on to the idea that it had to be like that, that if I couldn’t bring that level, then it wasn’t… But actually I think in a lot of ways, sometimes the text is clearer when it’s not like that. Because it’s too much pain. It’s like too much pain [laughs] to process. People stay on the journey with me. I mean, if I just go through the journey of the text… It’s been interesting, it changes a lot from venue to venue, because it’s designed like traditional storytelling. So, venues where people can see each other, for some reason work a lot better, because it feels more communal than venues where it’s I’m here, and they’re there, and it feels more like a lecture. But even so, pretty much every performance, the audience stands up at the end. They’ve learnt something. I’m just conscious, a hundred-and-thirty performances in my physical self isn’t quite as able to just like jump in, as it was at different phases. And in some ways, maybe it’s more able to because I’m not trying to control everything as much. But it was really revelatory to see someone else do it, and I’m really excited because the next phase of the tour is a different performer doing it. And, because I am truly more of a writer than I am a performer, I think that’s been really exciting for me, because then I get to actually think about the text again, and make little rewrites in the text. I just feel so much more comfortable in that role than I do having to speak it. Because I don’t have the same distance from this text as I would if I was a different performer coming in. Because it’s my own life. So, even if… No matter what’s happening in the government, it’s affecting my performance that day. There’s the version that gets performed while Indian Child Welfare is being debated. There’s the version that gets performed, what was it this week?—like Harvard, the Peabody, they realized that they had kept the residential school hair cuttings? And there’s a line in the text about the British Museum trying to decide whether or not they would include hair in the body count. It meant something totally different to me this week than it did before, because I was thinking, “Why does the British Museum have all this hair? Where did this hair come from?”   

So, anything that’s coming up, or like some of the things that happened with extreme Christianity in the States, and then the fact that we had to build a church in order to stay and not go on the Trail. There’s all these different things that are constantly making me aware that history is just repeating itself. So, that for me, it being inside of my own story, reawakening something different. But to be said, that might be true in some instances for other Native folks performing it as well. And it’s been really exciting, because I’ve been watching their auditions lately, to get to see all of the new things that opens up in the text. I’m really excited, honestly, right now to be able to go back to writing and, and focus on writing again. 

Amrita Dhar

I have to say, much as I would have wanted to see this play, I am grateful that I got to read it. I still want to see it, but I’m grateful that I got to read it, because I had to stop reading so many times and go take a walk. 

Madeline Sayet

Well, that’s something I thought about a lot with the film versus the play. Because the film, people could stop it, and then come back to it, and I know a lot of people who did stop it, and then come back to it. Whereas in the play, you’re trapped there, and you can’t leave. [laughs] You can’t leave! In some ways that might be good, and in some ways, it’s quite a lot to go through at once. It’s not really designed in a way where I expect people to absorb all of it. I’m like, “Okay, maybe they’ll take a question with them, or something will land.” But it’s funny…

Amrita Dhar 

It’s very Shakespearean that way. 

Madeline Sayet

I did intentionally do this very Shakespearean thing, which I’m a little bit embarrassed about. Because there’s some people who’ve seen it, like one hundred times, and they always think that I’ve changed the text. And I haven’t, they’ve just like, heard something new each time. So, they’re like, “Oh, I love the rewrites,” and I’m like, “Mhm!” Like…

Amrita Dhar

Good for you! [laughs]

Madeline Sayet

“Great, I’m glad you like those rewrites.” [laughs] I just, put a lot in there in this very densely packed, very Shakespearean way and structure so that people would get fragments of things and then carry those, as opposed to trying to remember all of the history. I really just wanted people to carry away like something with them. 

Amrita Dhar

It is very powerful in that way. I think the thing that ended up happening with me, with my luxury of being able to stop and put down the book and go for a walk, and remember….

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

… through personal history, through national history, all the things that I could remember, that I could point to, that I could link to. That also is both traumatic and cathartic in a weird way. Weirdly, as I read it, I mean, all of that was only bearable to me in motion…

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

… while walking, because I just couldn’t sit down and read this. 

Madeline Sayet

Yeah. We had this whole debate, too, about the speed of my talking at different points in time. Because, actually, it’s more bearable if I talk quickly and keep it kind of light. If I actually fully resonate everything, it’s too much. It relies on there being a little bit of like, “Oh, we’re just trying to figure things out” until everything sinks in. Otherwise, it’s like “What have you handed me?” [laughs] 

Amrita Dhar

I want to invite you to talk a little bit about some of the other strands of philosophy underlying this play. First, it’s very pacific, in a very insistent, in a very practical way. You come out and say things like, “Wars are unwinnable.”

Madeline Sayet

Mhm.

Amrita Dhar

“If you’ve had a war, no matter what you do in it, you can’t win.” This is a lesson that clearly, we are very, very far from learning, [laughs] as a civilization, as you know, a planet. So, can you talk a little bit about these other…

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

… connected strands, but philosophical strands underlying this work? 

Madeline Sayet

 To be honest, sometimes I think about this play and I think, “What was I doing when I wrote this play?” But I was in a phase where I was a PhD student. I was also a TED Fellow and MIT Media Lab fellow, and I was going from academic space to academic… Right? And I was constantly on the phone with my mother, having these philosophical Mohegan conversations about how to make sense out of everything. So, there’s something that’s happening in the play where I’m constantly like, weaving together threads. So, there are things in it, right, this idea that… In our language, there’s not a way to say you left the place that you’re from. You can only say you left, you can say “I’m no longer Mohegan.” You say, “I left my nation.” But you can’t say you physically left the ground because you’re made of the ground. What does that mean, in terms of these ideas of leaving home?  The idea that before the colonizers came, like, peacekeeping was the main function. You weren’t practising to do wars, you were actively engaging in practised peacekeeping, because that was the difficult thing that you trained to do, so that you are not having wars, because wars are just bad.

Amrita Dhar

And that was leadership. That, that, that…

Madeline Sayet

Leadership! Leadership is peacekeeping. You know, and similarly to how we think about the criminal justice system. Peacekeeping was also a general part of practice. If somebody does something within your community, how do you come together and figure out what the communal punishment is, maybe, that keeps them in the community. But you are never send somebody out of the community. It’s like about how to keep… Because everyone is valued, and everyone is necessary.

So, a lot of these strains of thinking around place, and around community, and around there not being an idea of the self, but actually an idea of how you’re accountable to your community, sort of are woven throughout this piece. And also, the other thing that’s really woven throughout it, I think, is the hope and belief that the colonizers will do better. Which I think is strong throughout in a very specific way. And then my tribe’s leader, you know, Uncas… like, our tribes split in two, the Pequot tribe split in two and became the Pequots and the Mohegans because Uncas believed that the right approach was to make peace with the English, was to, you know, be able to have that allyship. And huge sacrifices were made, terrible things happened to maintain that. Then, not so long later, it doesn’t amount to anything because they steal our lands anyway. 

Then Mahomet Weyonomon is like, “Well, I’ll go talk to their leader, I’ll go to their king. I’ll go to England, I’ll talk to their leader, and then he’ll stop it from happening, because that’s what a good leader will do. And we did these things for their people, of course they’re going to honour and respect that.” Then he gets over there, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, no, King’s really busy. You just going to have to wait.” And he waits long enough that eventually he gets smallpox, and he dies in England, and never comes home. And he never receives that audience with the King. So again, he like, believed X, Y, Z would happen, and then it does not.  

Then Samson Occom, who is converted to Christianity at a young age, becomes a minister, totally believes that Christianity and education are going to help Native people. He goes to England, he is able to raise more than £12,000 pounds, which is more than $3,000,000 today, for a school for Native people to come back to the States. The friggin’ King donates, you know, and everyone in England is like, “This guy’s amazing, this Native guy doing sermons everywhere, let’s give him our money.” He comes back to the States and they’re like, “Whoa, that’s way too much money for an Indian school. So, we’re just going to use that to make a school for white people instead.” He then is like, devastated and tries to go as far West as he can to get away from the colonizers, because he’s horrified by what has happened.  

And then similarly, like, I, then, in my own journey, being, “Okay, if I can use Shakespeare to get them to understand Native issues, then people will understand Native issues. Because they like Shakespeare, and they care about Shakespeare. So, I can use Shakespeare as a vehicle for this thing.” But then ultimately, that same thing comes collapsing down on me. It’s weird, because in some ways this reenactment of hope [laughs] that I have to go through in order to then have it be crushed each time. I think that that’s sort of the thing is, we weren’t just like, “No, you’re the enemy.” It was like, “We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, as many times as we can.” There’s a quote that the Mattapan I think have in one of their books around the oral traditions around what happened to Matoaka, Pocahontas around this saying, that “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.” And I think that that approach is something that a lot of different Native peoples carried with them, this idea that, “Why would you be lying and evil? That just does not make sense.”  

Amrita Dhar

It doesn’t even benefit you!

Madeline Sayet

It doesn’t benefit anybody! Why would you be doing that? It’s not even benefiting you. But like, and I come from a people who actually, like, say what they’re thinking!

So those are some of the philosophical strands. There’s like an infinite number. If you were to go through it all… Oh, like what is the sky? Providing a space where you’re beyond the borders. That oh, so the way that this physical space is structured. I write a stage direction, something like, “the earth carved up with lines,” “the river ever-changing and ever flowing” or something like that, and then “the sky beyond all else.” I was thinking about how it was drawn into question recently with everything happened with Russia and Ukraine and no-fly zones, I was suddenly like, “Wait, actually, the sky is not actually, like really, fully beyond all else or free, the way that I like to think it is. Like, even the sky can be a very violent space.” But this idea of a space where you could have perspective, and not be caught up in the actual physical lines drawn between people, felt really important and really powerful to me. 

 

Production still from Where We Belong, featuring Madeline Sayet standing alone against a black background with her arms help up at her sides. She is looking up and smiling.

Production still from Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s 2022 production of Where We Belong

 

Amrita Dhar

One of the things that as a civilization, as we get more technologically adept, there is nothing that we can’t colonize. That extends all the way into other planets…

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

… in our solar system. And that is why it is so important to, I mean, almost personally, to talk about the problem with a mindset that wants to colonize, that wants to dominate, that wants to extract.  

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

You referred a little bit to this earlier in your response. But this play is very full of profound questions about belonging, about rootedness, and about journey.

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

I mean, who gets to travel? Only if you have the choice of leaving, and if you have the choice of return.

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

This book is made of journeys and travels. Can you talk a little bit about that sense both of rootedness and of departure,…

Madeline Sayet

Yeah…

Amrita Dhar

… and of longing? 

Madeline Sayet

 Yeah, it’s very complicated, right? So, there’s like the moment where I decide I need to go. But also there’s always this thing of “What do the ancestors want me to do?” Then there’s also the “How do you travel,” right? Traveling being really complicated sometimes. By boat? By…? How do you even get there? In certain time periods, it’s quite difficult to get there. My ancestors’ journeys are much more difficult than mine in terms of how they get across the ocean. But then there’s also the thing of: can you come home? And are you allowed to come home? The reality that so many people are trapped as a part of colonial systems, so many, that there are these spirits, there are these bodies being held within museums that can’t come home. My mom has this speech at the end of the play, where she actually says, part of the reason that she was worried about me leaving was because like, we worry when people leave that they won’t be able to come home, that their spirits will get trapped somewhere else. Whatever repatriation, we’ll have to then spend, like, generations and generations just trying to get them back. It’s scary how tied that is to so many things that still happen right now. That it’s not something in the past, that it’s not just, “Oh, this once happened” and now it doesn’t. No, people still want to steal Native children and take them somewhere else. Fundamentally, people still keep our remains in museums and won’t return them. Even though they’re are relatives. Why would you just not let people go home? It’s very strange.  

But this idea of who is able to cross a border is very present within that, too. I’m very conscious within my whole journey, that it’s like, part of the reason I’m having such an easeful journey at these borders compared to other people is both the fact that I’m very light-skinned and that I like making silly banter about Shakespeare, you know. Weirdly, I got detained when I went to do the show at the Globe. I got detained at the border because there was a flag in the system because I’d quit my PhD. So, somehow, that way my visa got retracted. It was very funny. Yeah, it was just very funny the way that that actual action of having left actually triggered me getting detained. [laughs] But, uh…

Amrita Dhar

“You’re here for suspicious reasons now.”

Madeline Sayet

Yeah…

Amrita Dhar

“Because until this moment, we could label you as a student. We could categorize you; we could say you’re here for this specific purpose, laudable purpose, even.”

Madeline Sayet

Yeah…

Amrita Dhar

“But now, what do we know?”

Madeline Sayet

“What is she doing here?” Yeah, exactly. There’s so many things. And the way lines get drawn. I even reference in it: the borders between Mexico and America are fabricated. There are Indigenous nations that like pre-Constitution exists between those spaces. All of these lines that were made, were made. So much of the philosophy of the piece is being able to step back and realize every single law, every single policy, every single rule that we think just exists, actually was made up. So, what does it mean for all of these things to just be made up? And if they are all just made up, then why aren’t we questioning them?  

The piece itself is an invitation to question throughout its structure, and that’s really what I hope people are doing while they’re witnessing, and while they’re engaged. And while they’re reading it. Which, I really love that you were able to access it as a text, and then finding meaning and interpretation in your own way. I think that that’s actually really, really exciting to me. I’m excited now that people can also read it and, like, sit with the questions and the philosophy of the piece, because I feel like probably the philosophy of the piece is probably a lot deeper when you read it. Because otherwise, like you said, it is kind of too much at once. [laughs]

Amrita Dhar

No, it’s great… You keep talking about these lines being drawn, about these borders. This is just part of my history, that I come out of the largest forced migration movement in modern history, which is the Partition in the Indian subcontinent. Talk about lines being drawn. You know, that enormous, enormous stretch of land. Some guy lands up there and in about a month and a half, just creates these borders. Out of what? We don’t know.

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

But it makes for forced migration of millions and millions of people. In my geography, which is Bengal, some estimations are, you know, about fourteen million people right there in Bengal, forced migrations, this way and that. The reason I’m talking about it is, you’re talking about these Native children, about stealing whom we’re still debating! And what does that say about us?  

Something that I keep coming back to is: some things have happened as a result of colonization that are so awful… You were talking about Mahomet Weyonomon. His going to England to talk to the king seemed like quite the rational thing to do. And until he gets there, and he is greeted with, well, let’s say, a complete lack of courtesy…

Madeline Sayet

Mm.

Amrita Dhar

That’s an understatement. He doesn’t understand how another leader cannot engage in conversation. Now, something happens that is so awful, that it is difficult to talk about, difficult perhaps even to find language for, and that is how sort of colonialism really progresses. Because some things are so awful, that it’s nearly unspeakable. Out of all that, you have created this piece of text, Where We Belong. And I wanted to ask you about you finding language for some of this, and for some of this pain, some of this trauma, some of this journey… Is it hope? Is it something else? Is it because you couldn’t not do it? Is it survival? What is it? 

Madeline Sayet

I think, for me, a lot of it comes down to… I think a lot of my work has been about “If I can reframe something, maybe people will understand.” Maybe that’s a bad optimism that I have. [laughs] Because it’s the same thing that is happening in all these characters’ situations. [laughs] That’s sort of what the play is, too. It’s like, “Okay, if I can shift the terms on which they understand this…” Like with the scene of the British Museum. “If I can get them to understand that these are living beings, will they let us have our relatives back?” If I can just shift the terms, if I can bring in a little humour. What are the ways in which I can just breach a little bit of the cognitive dissonance around this thing, so that people can find an access point to it, to understand how absurd it is?—I have a real love of Absurdism!—and therefore be able to shift things, because I used to, I used to actually really want to create this children’s book. That sounds really terrible, but in my brain, I created a metaphor of the British Empire. It was just going be this dinosaur that just uses its tail to draw lines in random places, and then it, like, messes up everybody’s lives.  

But I was just like thinking, it’s so many instances. Even like Israel and Palestine. It’s like, like, yeah, all the conflict is there currently, but originally, it was the English again being like, “Here, we don’t want you, we’ll put you here. Yes, there are people there. Don’t worry about it.” What are you doing? You’re making these huge decisions in this completely removed way that’s not actually thinking about what’s happening to the people it affects.

I think what’s tricky for me is there are versions where… When I think about the sky section… I think about it as, like, perspective. Then I also sometimes wonder, what is perspective? And then what is too much distance? A lot of the time I’m like, “Is academia a function, a true function of colonization?” Because we’re actively trying to operate in a way where we are emotionally removed, analyzing things, without the actual investment that is needed to fully understand them. So, it’s really complicated to me for that reason. But I think that for me, yeah, it’s like: how do I bring a little heart, and a little humanity, and maybe a little, just a slight shift in perspective to these events that enable people to, by connecting them in certain ways, be able to see the whole picture a little bit differently, is really, I think, what I was trying to do creating this piece.

I think the final draft actually ended up being a little bit more binary than some of the earlier drafts. Because I think society was pushing in that direction at that time. But so much of it has always been about actually getting everybody to understand not about it being “us versus them.” But being like, “Actually, how are these systems harmful to all of us? How can I shift things a little bit so that it feels like we are able to have a conversation about these things?” 

Amrita Dhar

Thank you. I’m very, very grateful for this particular conversation. I hope we have many, many more. Thank you so much for joining this project.   

Madeline Sayet

Thank you so much.

Conclusion

Amrita Dhar 

If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe to this podcast, spread the word, and leave a review. Do take a look also at our project website at shakespearepostcolonies.osu.edu for materials supplementing this conversation and for further project details. Thank you for listening, and until next time, for the Shakespeare in the “Post”Colonies Project, I am Amrita Dhar.