Director’s Interview – Vincent Scott
By Jacqueline Lawton
Jacqueline Lawton: To begin, tell me how long you have been directing.
Vincent Scott: I have been directing plays for the theater for over twenty years. I first studied theater in undergraduate school at DeSales University in PA, and later received an MFA in Directing for the Theater from Wayne State University in MI. Since then I have had opportunities to direct in educational settings, summer theaters, Native theater companies, playwright conferences, community theaters, etc. I even once directed Terra Nova at the South Pole, Antarctica!
JL: Why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone who inspired you?
VS: I decided to get into theater because I found myself attracted to the audience experience of plays and musicals I saw as a child. Later I very much enjoyed the experiences of being cast in musicals in high school. In college I was definitely inspired by my acting teacher, Bill Callahan, to pursue a life in the theater and to pursue it with excellence. I’ve been very fortunate since those days to continue to be inspired by many others, such as Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Romulus Linney, Terrance McNally, Mark Lamos, Arthur Kopit, with whom I’ve had the honor to work at the Last Frontier and the Great Plains Theater Conferences. In the world of Native theater I’ve been inspired by Jana Rhoads and Julie Pearson-Littlethunder, Randy Reinholz and Jean Bruce Scott, Diane Glancy, JudyLee Oliva, Tomson Highway, Drew Hayden Taylor, and Bill Yellow Robe.
JL: What excited you about directing Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers at the National Museum of the American Indian? What made you choose this play?
VS: I was excited to direct Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers because of the opportunity to feature this play in support of the museum’s exhibit, IndiVisible: African-Native Lives in the Americas, and to direct a play by William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. The play deals with issues raised by the experience of being of Native American and African American heritages; similar topics are directly explored as well in the IndiVisble exhibit. I also was fortunate to have lived and worked on the Fort Peck Reservation, where the play is set. Lastly, I think Mr. Yellow Robe is an excellent playwright and his voice should be heard on our stage here at the NMAI and on stages throughout this country. It is an honor for me to be working on this play.
JL: Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers addresses the complicated relations between people of African and Native ancestry. It is a story that addresses the difficult notions of assimilation and cultural identity. It is also a story of love, acceptance, and challenges that come with being a part of a family and a community. How have these ideas influenced your approach to the play?
VS: My first approach to this play is to reach out to the local community who self-identifies as Native-African American and to encourage them to be involved in this project in some way so they can take ownership for telling this story. I did this by working with this museum as well as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and with the team that created the IndiVisible exhibit.
My approach to directing any play is to do my best to tell the playwright’s story as envisioned in the script. I do this by assembling the best possible design and production team and cast that resources and opportunity permits.
In the rehearsal process, I’m working with the cast, many of whom have mixed ancestry, to begin to understand the experience of moving into a Native world as lived on a contemporary Indian reservation. This is a new experience for many in the cast, as it will be for the majority of our audiences. We have the great gift of having several Native cast members who help all of us begin to understand a Native worldview. Once we are grounded in this very rich and vibrant reality, we can begin to tap into the very human and universal experiences of love and hate, which are sometimes based upon family ties and cultural heritages. An important quality to this play is that even though the play examines one family of a particular mixed cultural heritage, the notions of how we as humans relate to our family and community, especially if we are a member of a minority community, can be understood by audience members of many different cultures and backgrounds. One of they keys to this play is finding the hope after the pain; the key to that in this script is the hope provided by the wisdom of the young child, August.
JL: From your perspective, what makes the story of Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers relevant for today’s audiences? What can audiences learn from Craig’s struggle to be a better man? What can we learn from Brent’s determination to rewrite his family history?
VS: What makes this story relevant is the experience that many Americans have of being of mixed ancestry and deciding how their heritages connect and relate to their everyday self image and identity. Every day we have the opportunity to acknowledge who we are and where we came from; sometimes this is a great source of pride and sometimes it is not. Often many in our culture don’t know their own family’s history well. This play’s message of acknowledging who we are and respecting our cultural heritages is universal and timely in a world where wars and violence often are based on not respecting another’s cultural heritage.
Craig’s struggle to be a better man and overcome his demons is a journey that each person faces at some time in life. Craig’s journey to find peace and healing will resonate with audiences who may also be walking a similar path toward healing and wholeness.
Brent’s determination to rewrite his family history may well evoke sadness and pity from our audience members who see the great loss and pain that Brent’s actions cause to his extended family and reservation community. I’m hopeful that audience members will appreciate the opportunity we all have to acknowledge and take pride in one’s family history, no matter how complicated or little known and appreciated that family history and culture may be.
JL: What has been the most difficult part of directing Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers? How did you work through it?
VS: The most difficult part of directing this play is working around cast members’ schedules of prior commitments. Our rehearsal period is limited and we ask a lot of the cast and production staff in such a short period. Everyone involved has full lives already with work and school and family commitments. I try to honor each company member’s commitments made prior to being cast in the play. That can make for some challenging times as we try to create and stick to a rehearsal schedule. Fortunately, the cast and crew are very generous with their time and talent and really pull together as a family to do the best job we can of bringing Bill’s play to life.
JL: What has been the most rewarding part of directing Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers? Who or what contributed to that?
VS: The most rewarding part of directing this play is to introduce our audiences to one family’s story on a contemporary Indian reservation through the storytelling of Bill Yellow Robe. I sometimes remind the cast that the word choices and colloquialisms that Bill uses in his script will transport audiences into a Native milieu, and our task in doing this successfully is not unlike the task that a Shakespearean company has in introducing their audiences into a world with language and customs quite unfamiliar to a contemporary American audience.
VS: It is also a joy to watch the interactions of members of the cast helping each other throughout our journey. We have Native performers who really help non-Natives in the cast gain a greater understanding and appreciation of a Native way of being human. We have experienced actors in the cast helping less experienced members learn the ropes of performing in live theater. Such generous interactions are my hopes and expectations when directing a community based theater production such as this one.
JL: If there is one thing you want audiences to walk away knowing or think about, what would that be?
VS: Respect yourself, respect your family, respect your ancestors. Forgive yourself, forgive your family, forgive your ancestors for failings and shortcomings. Thank your family and friends for helping you be the person you are. Walk the road to healing and wholeness as may be necessary to live a fully human life.