Minneasota Playlist's Nikki Abramson interviews Ernest Briggs, Artistic Director of the Turtle Theater Collective.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
NA: Hi. Ernest, it feels like we have been working together for a while because of SteppingStone. So my understanding is your not working there anymore? Your solely at Turtle Theater? Congrats on your new role. Describe what your new role is and what your doing.
EB: My new role with Turtle Theater Collective is as Artistic Director. Currently we just closed production on 'What Would Crazy Horse Do?' by Larissa Fasthorse at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. I am also currently in talks with a few other organizations about collaborations with Turtle Theater Collective about a few projects we can collaborate on for next season.
NA For those of us that don’t know much about Turtle Theater Collective tell me more about its mission and goals. What are you trying to achieve?
EB: Turtle Theater Collective was founded by myself, Marissa Carr and Sequoia Hauck as an arts collective interested in centering native bodies in storytelling and to change people’s minds about when and where Native artists could participate and perform theater. In the end, my goal is to see more Native Artists working,showing their work in the broader Twin Cities community, and growing as we cultivate the next generation of artists.
NA: Cool. What are you trying to do within your new role and make Turtle Theater Collective successful and bring in more people to the community?
EB: In my new role, I am trying to create more opportunities for artists to create, curate, and perform. I would like to see more native artists working locally in a capacity for producing original and contemporary work; I would also like to increase the amount of people working behind the scenes in production as directors, writers, stage managers as well as in various design positions for theatrical productions.
NA: What show did you just complete and is coming up?
EB: Turtle Theater Collective just closed its production on 'What Would Crazy Horse Do?' by Larissa Fasthorse at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. We got very great press and support from the local community for the show. This show asked a lot of difficult questions of the audience and started quite a few discussions and conversations that occurred in talk backs after each performance. It was my second time participating in the production, as I was a part of the first staged reading of the show in Minneapolis three years ago. I felt it was a very timely play that is asking a lot of questions about society now and what is happening to our communities.
NA: Do you plan to do other training or classes besides shows?
EB: Turtle Theater Collective does have some ideas in the future for trainings and classes in writing, acting and design. These plans are currently in the development stage at the moment and will be unveiling them soon with a new partnership we are beginning to forge.
NA: How do you plan to grow your theater?
EB: I think the best way to grow a theater is by putting out great quality work of the highest caliber possible. Turtle Theater Collective strives to create and put out high quality work to attract an audience. I believe in growing a theater one patron at a time as well--luckily we currently have more patrons than that right now, but being able to advertise and have people see our work. They say, I did not plan on coming to your show tonight, but my friend asked me to come see this show and now I wanted to be added to your mailing list--that is what happened at our final performance of our last production! People wanted to be a part of what we were doing or support our work in the future as they are enjoying what we do.
NA: What is something that distinguishes your theater company from others?
EB: As a theater company, we have a commitment to producing newer works by Native American writers, contemporary works by Native American authors and reimaginings of works from previous cannon, such as our production of 'Our Town' which was cast with an Ojibwe Gibbs family and a Lakota Webb family and had a diverse ensemble that reflected the community of which I grew up and currently live. TTC likes new work and finding ways we can do the classics with Native people centered in the action of what is going on in the story.
NA: Can you tell me your goals for upcoming shows?
EB: My goals for our upcoming shows are to create new work and present new work by Native artists in a contemporary setting and create opportunities for Native people to perform, write, direct and produce work in the Twin Cities and continue to grow as professional artists.
NA: Also what is the next shows and next steps for the company? Where are your located so that people can find and follow you and the company?
EB: I am not intentionally trying to be cagey about our upcoming season--the word I am trying to use to describe this season is collaboration. I have had some great collaboration discussions in the last few weeks about our next season. An actor friend of mine told me a long time ago a valuable lesson, ‘don’t start talking about the projects until it’s a done deal.’ So I will say I’m excited about our upcoming collaborations and projects, but I am also trying to be careful in making sure they happen as I want the season of collaboration to be successful. Our website is currently under construction, but currently you can go to our Turtle Theater Collective Facebook page for updates and when our new website goes live.
NA: Thanks Ernest Briggs for your time and we look forward to seeing where TTC goes and how you collaborate with the community to bring out Native American artists works out.