Playwright Beverly Andrews tells us about how she discovered the plight of Native American servicemen, her own Native American ancestry and why she’s excited about staging her play, Annawon’s Song, at VAULT Festival. Read her interview then book your tickets!
The multimedia drama, which follows the stories of a Native American military veteran and a young Afghani orphan, runs at The Vaults on 15 & 16 February 2020.
When the guns are silent and the peace treaty is signed it is only then that we see the true legacy of any conflict.
Following service in Afghanistan, a Native American US soldier returns home, wounded in both body and mind. His story is twinned with that of the Afghani teenager who, having lost his parents, is being groomed to be a suicide bomber.
The statistics around Native Americans fighting for the US army are quite astounding. During the First World War, five percent of Native American soldiers died in action as opposed to one percent of American forces overall. During the Vietnam War, 25% of eligible Native Americans served, compared to 8% of the general population. Native Americans continue to serve at a disproportionately high rate.
Annawon’s Song rehearsal images
Andrews’ work has appeared on stages in both the UK and New York. Her play on the work of Asian suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh, Sophia, was recorded for a podcast and is available as part of the Forgotten Women podcast on Spotify, while her documentary on the work of Arcola Theatre, I am Going to Make a Miracle, was a recipient of three international awards and was subsequently bought by Sky Arts.
Daniel Mark Collins, Jay Rincon and Diana Bermudez star in Annawon’s Song, which is directed by Murray Woodfield.
Annawon’s Song runs at Crescent – The Vaults, Leake Street, London SE1 7NN from 15 to 16 February 2020, with performances Saturday at 4.45pm and Sunday at 3.15pm & 9.15pm. Tickets are priced £13. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Beverly Andrews on Annawon’s Song
Where did the inspiration for Annawon’s Song come from?
I was inspired to write Annawon’s Song after hearing a short piece on the World Service programme called From Our Foreign Correspondent which features long form news stories by BBC foreign correspondents. This particular one highlighted the fact that returning Native American military veterans were experiencing the worst form of Post-Traumatic Stress of any returning veterans. A form of PTS which was only treatable by traditional methods. I was intrigued to find out why. I also have a family connection to this story since my great grandmother was Native American and I also have family members who have served in the military. So the play for me became an important one to write.
Why did you feel it was such an important story to tell, and at a British festival where audiences may know less about the plight of Native Americans?
I think in many ways you’ve answered the question. So many here and around the world know virtually nothing about Native American lives, particularly Native American service in virtually all the wars the country has fought. With the community suffering the most disproportionately from both casualties in those wars as well as struggling to fit into their previous lives. I strongly feel that the more these stories are told, the more connected people will feel to Native American culture. We are a global community and one I think which is very much at a turning point right now, where the cultures of black and brown people are to a certain extent becoming the target of populist leaders around the world, be it in simply being demonised of through punitive immigration legislation. Therefore I feel that the more we tell our stories the more we prevent the erasing of minority narratives from our history.
How much research did you do for the piece?
I researched the piece fairly extensively. I was lucky to find a Native American military veteran living here in London. We’ve become close friends and he helped a lot by telling me about his own personal experiences. I am also lucky to have a friend who is a former war correspondent who was based in both Iraq and Afghanistan and he told me a lot, particularly what it was like for service personal living in the green zone in Iraq; a kind of surreal experience for many since it was, on one hand, almost like a vacation resort inside the green zone which was a direct contrast to the chaos just outside in Iraq at large. And finally I met a former occupant of an Afghanistan refugee camp who is now a UK citizen. He helped me understand what conditions were like living there. We have a misinformed idea of what the camps are like. Yes, you have resources like food and clean water but it can also be a place of other dangers.
What else did you learn from them?
I think in general I started to understand even more clearly what war does to people, how it destroys their lives and how, after any conflict is over, there is always toxic legacy which has been left behind. I think if I ever needed reminding, and in many ways being a Buddhist I feel that I shouldn’t, but this play has actually reminded me that war should absolutely be a final resort to any political impasse. They are always sanctioned by politicians who will not be the ones to fight them so therefore are far removed from their consequences.
How are you feeling about staging Annawon’s Song at VAULT Festival?
I’m over the moon with everything which has happened to the play so far. Murray Woodfield is an amazing director who has assembled an international cast who have major television and film credits. And all three of our main actors are either directly part Native American or are of Native American descent. I didn’t think that possible in London.
Are there any other shows you’re excited about seeing at VAULT Festival?
There are loads, but I’m also directing another show in the festival, Angels, which is about the lives of three table dancers. It opens just after Annawon’s Song, so I’ve been a bit snowed under! I’m also looking forward to A Young Man Comes, which opens now, The Nobodies and Hypnagogue which seems wonderful strange and I suspect will be absolutely lovely.
What can audiences expect from a trip to see Annawon’s Song?
I think they will see an amazing production which will touch their hearts and perhaps challenge their perceptions of Native American lives. I think they will see a different narrative about Afghanistan, and finally I think they will see three extraordinary performances from three actors with impressive national and international credits; Jay Rincon, Diana Bermudez and Daniel Mark Collins. Jay, the lead, has appeared in both Coronation Street and Cold Feet, Diana in some fairly impressive feature films and Daniel is up for the lead of a German television series. I think the quality of their performances will blow everyone away.