Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Feature: Local Classic Repertory's Virtual Season opens with PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE

Article Pixel

Local Classic Repertory offers a brand new Native play. PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE blends the indigenous, video-gaming, and queerness cultures into one.

BWW Feature: Local Classic Repertory's Virtual Season opens with PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE

Presenting storytelling, music, and theatre online are the ways in which we're adapting creatively to an unrelenting pandemic. It's just the way life is now, and theatres that are proving themselves as flexible and producing online works are the ones that will survive through this difficult time for the arts. Having just recently closed out a New Works online cabaret, Local Classic Repertory is continuing that momentum with another new production. Perhaps the World Ends Here, written and directed by Daniel Leeman Smith, is a new play that will debut online via LCR's virtual platform. This intriguing new production, which blends the genres of video-gaming and indigenous culture with queerness, features a young hero on an epic quest.

Frankie Brown, a young video gaming enthusiast and member of the Choctaw Nation, goes on a journey to recover something he lost- the key to the universe. Frankie also endures unemployment and the woes of struggling to become a gaming sensation. This sci-fi/fantasy/campy odyssey is described by Smith as "a very queered genre buster that blends video game culture, science fiction, Theatre of the Ridiculous, and Choctaw mythology together in a delightful twist on the hero's journey".

Local Classic Repertory Producing Artistic Director and founder Emily Grace Smith says "First off, I think it is incredibly important as a producer to be uplifting the voices of BIPOC artists -- often times people forget about the I, which stands for indigenous, and we've worked diligently to create an inclusive theatre that offers a truly diverse season. Secondly, I wanted to open the season with something that was both fun and meaningful. Daniel's play is outlandish and delightful! It's funny and heartwarming and shocking. It's political. It's indigenous. It's queer. IT'S VIDEO GAMES! It breaks the mold in so many ways and I am beyond excited to pioneer this work and share it with audiences."

Daniel Leeman Smith was gracious enough to provide Broadway World with an exclusive interview about the show, which makes its debut online September 24th. Read below to find out more about this exciting new show!

BWW: Tell us about Perhaps the World Ends Here! What was your inspiration for writing this play?

BWW Feature: Local Classic Repertory's Virtual Season opens with PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HEREDLS: In the fall of 2019, I took a beginning playwriting class at NYU with a fabulous woman named Judy Tate. The play itself was generated as a means of creative problem solving. If I remember correctly, in an early assignment, Judy had us draw cards from a box of writing improvisation prompts called Storymatic that included character ideas and situations. We then plugged the cards into the formula "X is in conflict with Y over Z." I ended up with something like, "A person who knows the future is in conflict with a person who takes shortcuts. They are in conflict over an enormous stuffed animal." The next step was writing character profiles for characters X and Y in the formula.

As an artist, I am someone who likes to break tropes and I often lean toward the political. I knew that I wanted to write something that honored and explored my Choctaw heritage, so the first character that I wrote was called Madame Chu Chu -- as I wrote her I was really trying to break the trope of the mystical indigenous woman that we see in pop culture. Looking at what I've created, I think I ended up with a mashup of my granddad (who I often describe as the Choctaw version of Archie Bunker) and the great drag performer Divine. Madame Chu Chu is this super crass, foulmouthed older woman who was a spy and a code talker, and she also happens to be a seer...and maybe something more (hint). The other character I created at the time is the hero of the story, a young Choctaw man named Frankie who desperately wants to be a professional video gamer and e-sports star, but he's really terrible at video games. I had just read an article in The New York Times about how lucrative e-sports has become and my partner is into video games, so that's where that came from.

To solve the requirements of the formula, I decided that Frankie is unemployed, refuses to get a job, and pawns his personal belongings to stay afloat, which then allowed me to set the stuffed animal up as a point of conflict. One of my guilty pleasures is watching trash TV and documentaries while I doze on the couch. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I had seen an episode of Ancient Aliens about Hitler's obsession with the occult, UFOs, and potentially time travel, and that provided me a way to connect the stuffed animal with the characters in an outlandish way. I'll let you speculate about what that means because I don't want to give too much away.

Originally, it was intended to be a short play about two characters in the same location in a twenty-four hour period. But I found that because of the way I had set the story up, I needed and wanted to hear from other characters in Frankie's life. So, I created Frankie's best friend and roommate, Karl, as well as a Nazi-esque character, Ernst. After a few writing workshops I then added in Frankie's granddad. I ended the semester with a solid four or five scenes, but the play itself was clearly not complete. I had left it on a cliffhanger -- at the moment of departure for Frankie in terms of the structure of the hero's journey. The final for the class was a staged reading with professional actors that Judy brought in. People really loved the play and insisted that I write more. I had every intention of finishing the script, but I felt stuck and it ended up on a shelf for several months.

Flash forward to Summer 2020, a friend of mine from undergrad, Emily Grace Smith (no relation), reached out to me about a new theatre company that she had formed and was interested in collaborating on a project. I sent her over the few scenes that I had written. She loved it and so we were off to the races. We picked dates and began auditioning actors over Zoom before I had finished writing the play. I kept falling in love with actors that we auditioned, so I wound up casting them and wrote characters for them. I honestly think that finding these folks and creating these additional characters is what unlocked the rest of the play for me.

The title of the play is drawn from a poem of the same name by our current Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. The poem is one of my favorites, and Madame Chu Chu actually reads it aloud following an acid trip of a vision that she has of the end of the world. In the scene, the poem serves as a catalyst for Madame Chu Chu to undertake issuing Frankie the call to action. Through Joy's poem, she finds the will to fight for Frankie and for the world.

BWW: What about your own life are you hoping audiences will get to examine and experience with this show?

DLS: So I think revealing my positionality is important in responding to this question. There is a ton of intersectionality in my being -- I am queer, Choctaw, and very white presenting, and my family is very mixed. My oldest sister's three girls are Latinx, and her two boys are black. I taught in a large, urban high school for five years which was primarily black, and for two years before that in a charter that was primarily Latinx. My connection and service to those communities has shaped a lot of my worldview. In regards to who I am, I grew up very poor on a farm in rural Oklahoma in a home with a disabled father and a mother who not only took care of her kids, but her husband. My maternal grandmother was my best friend and her home was my safe place. My mother was my hero because she worked hard and made a ton of sacrifices for her kids, so there is, I think, a good bit of matriarchal power in this play as a result of that.

I was very fortunate to attend Oklahoma City University and earn a BFA in Acting and minor in Directing. The only way that I was able to afford to go to school there was that I was an American Indian Scholar, which paid for my tuition, my room board, and my books in exchange for community service to indigenous communities, the university, and Oklahoma City. The AIS program ran in tandem with the Clara Luper program, which served students from black and underrepresented communities. Our program supervisor told us time and time again that "to whom much is given, much is required."

The AIS program really instilled in me a desire to use my skills and training to make the world a better place, and I have brought that with me into every endeavor I undertake, whether that's as an educator, artist, or community member. It was complicated because my family was deeply religious and evangelical. Evangelical churches, specifically Assemblies of God where I grew up, are toxic certainly for queer folks, but I would say for any sort of other. I was terrified that I would be found out and that I would be disowned.

I was bullied a lot at school for being gay and effeminate, even before I came out, and I stayed silent about it, especially at home, because I knew that the things my peers said about me were true. I became angry and bitter and shut off many of my other emotions. As a result, a good part of my life's work has been about rediscovering who I am and finding my own strength and joy, which in a lot of ways is the journey that Frankie is on in this play. My family did not disown or stop loving me after I came out, though it definitely was not easy.

In all of my work, I try to create a world that I wish I had lived in -- worlds that I wished my nieces and nephews and students lived in. I have all of these intersectional experiences and connections to people that I love who have been othered, and yet I navigate the world as an ostensibly white person and I attempt to use the privilege that comes with my body to open doors and shatter barriers.

Having said all of that, this play tackles white supremacy and the patriarchy in a very ridiculous way through humor. I also think it shares a lot my own journey of healing myself that I try to share with others.

I sincerely hope that audiences recognize that indigenous folks are more than just a stereotype or the acts committed against us by white people and others. We exist in a modern world with modern stories, and we have many of the same hopes and dreams as anyone else.

BWW: Did you see the three cultures - queer, indigenous, and video gaming- as interwoven cultures? Why was it important to you to blend the three?

DLS: Blending the three was in many ways a means to solve the creative problems presented by the Storymatic cards and the formula, but in many ways the three stories were already blended. I know plenty of nerdy Native folks who are gamers, and queerness and indigenousness have been intertwined for centuries. We have this modern term, "two spirit", which is an umbrella term being applied now to all indigenous folks for queerness and gender.

The term indicates that someone possesses the spirit of both a male and a female, but many indigenous tribes have had their own terms in their respective language for this concept and even have terms for multiple genders beyond male and female. Many tribes prior to colonization honored two spirited folks and believed they were closer to the gods.

BWW: What are you hoping comes out of this difficult time for the arts?

DLS: I hope that we are able to make major changes to the oppressive and exclusive system that has existed in our country for such a long time, especially in the arts. And I hope that we emerge in a world that is ready to consume new works.

Perhaps the World Ends Here is written and directed by Daniel Leeman Smith, with original musical compositions and sampling by Michael Max Kohl. Perhaps the World Ends Here streams twice daily on the Local Classic Repertory's Mighty Networks Platform, September 24-27, 2020.

Performance times are:

Sept. 24th at 8pm EST & 8pm PST

Friday, Sept. 25th at 8pm EST & 8pm PST

Saturday, Sept. 26th at 8pm EST & 8pm PST

Sunday, Sept. 27th at 2pm EST & 2pm PST

For tickets and access to the online performances, visit local-classic-repertory.mn.co/.


Related Articles View More Oklahoma Stories   Shows

From This Author Adrienne Proctor