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Between Two Knees is an outrageously funny ride through American history written by the acclaimed intertribal sketch comedy troupe The 1491s (writers of Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls) and directed by Eric Ting. Following acclaimed runs over the past five years at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Yale Repertory Theatre, McCarter Theater, and Seattle Rep, this play makes its New York premiere at Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) in lower Manhattan from February 3 to February 24. The hilarious show takes a hard look at the effects of systemic oppression long after our textbooks typically stop teaching Native history. 

Many of the Native cast members have been with the show from the beginning and they cannot wait to share this play with New York City audiences. Four members – Derek Garza, Justin “Jud” Gauthier, Shyla Lefner, and Shaun Taylor-Corbett – answered a few questions in advance of the run at PAC NYC, reflecting on their journey with Between Two Knees.

Why should those in the Native community come see the show?

Derek Garza (DG): They should come to see our stories and ourselves being represented on the American theatre stage and to laugh in community with us. Laughter is healing.

B2K STC YaleJustin “Jud” Gauthier (JG): I think our communities are starved for this type of entertainment. It represents something novel in that it portrays us in so many different ways and allows for an audience to experience the use of humor as both a shield and a sword. I feel that Indigenous communities would recognize a lot of what is built into the play and considered “new” to the wider theatre-going audience.

Shyla Lefner (SL): It's about you, for you, specifically, collectively.

Shaun Taylor-Corbett (STC): Indigenous audiences need to see this show for its tremendous healing power through laughter, empowerment, truth, historical representation, and comedic genius.

What made you want to be part of this show?

DG: This show has always been special to me. From the moment I read the first few pages that we started with, to the script we have today, I knew this play would be special. It was giving voice to the countless tragedies of Native people in a powerful and humorous way, and done in a way that was like no other show I had seen or been a part of.

JG: Being a part of this show gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream of being an actor. Knowing that The 1491s were behind the production gave me all the confidence that the play would be something special.

SL: This show has been a journey and continues to be so... this show chose us in whatever cosmic way - we were all brought together to tell this story and the [Between Two Knees] family continues to grow. It's the people, the Indigenous communities that came together to bring it to life. From the minds of the aggressively stupid and brilliant 1491s, we started with a couple scenes and mostly bullet points at the beginning to what we have today. I'm in awe of all the artists in the room and utterly grateful.

B2K Company Rehearsal PACThe company of Between Two Knees and Choreographer Ty Defoe at PAC NYC. Photo: Rebecca J. Michelson

So many of this company & team were a part of the first production at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF)… what does it feel like to revisit five years later?

DG: It's like coming home to a big family reunion where we get to retell an old and familiar tale.  We get to find new meaning and richness from the text and find new jokes that make us, and hopefully the audience, laugh!

B2K JG DG SL YaleJG: Having this be my first theatrical acting experience has been a major blessing to me. I’ve learned that being attached to a show that travels and maintains a majority of the cast and crew is a real rarity, unheard of for most plays. Throughout the multiple runs of the play, I feel I’ve developed as an actor and especially as a person. It feels surreal to bring this work to the theater capital of the world. I’m anticipating a great reaction from audiences because we all believe in the work and the message.

SL: It feels like the first time. We're always inventing, laughing, playing, and highlighting the story. This will be well over 200 shows collectively now at this point and we all feel like we have helped to birth this thing, so it's like coming home. As corny as that sounds, it's true - for me at least.

STC: I think the biggest thing is that we had no idea how the audience would respond 5 years ago, especially to a song entitled “So Long White People,” so it was a happy surprise that it was so well received. I believe it’s because the show invites everyone in to laugh at themselves. Going into this production we have all these years of experience of interaction with the audience and we are so excited to bring that to NYC.

How would you describe the show or what it means to you in seven words?

DG: Intergenerational tragic comedy that leaves you changed.

JG: A family that beats the odds.

SL: Experience Unabashed Native Joy, Resilience, and Future.

STC: Unadulterated free expression, joy, laughter, and subversion.

To celebrate and honor members of the Native and Indigenous community, free tickets are available for the entire run of  Between Two Knees at PAC NYC to those who are a part of the Native and Indigenous community. Use promo code B2KPAC during checkout at https://link.pacnyc.org/NNOB2K.

Regular ticket prices start at $29. Located at 251 Fulton Street, PAC NYC (pacnyc.org) stands on the former sea-gardens of the Lenape people, whose past, present, and future generations PAC NYC honors. They are mindful that this island, in the center of the Lenape homeland Lenapehoking and including what is currently named the World Trade Center, has long been a gathering and trading place for many tribes. PAC NYC commit to repair and regeneration – through their actions as well as their words – for the entire local Indigenous population, the largest of any city on Turtle Island.

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