BY DELANNA STUDI, CREATOR & PERFORMER
This is a story about a journey.
It isn’t just my story about my journey. It is a Cherokee story, one that transcends my own personal identity and experiences. It belongs to the Cherokee people, past and present; to the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina; and to the dozens of people across the country who helped me complete this project.
The Cherokee have a word, gadugi, which describes the tradition of coming together as a community to promote, support, and celebrate each other. Gadugi is a reflection of the tribal mentality and the awareness of our ancestors that we are stronger together. By helping one another, we help the collective.
While the word is often connected to communal work (such as barn raising), it also has a more spiritual meaning. Benny Smith, a Cherokee elder from Oklahoma, once said that gadugi ensures that “no one is left alone to climb out of a life endeavor.”
The thought of standing alone on stage, performing a piece that has consumed so much of my heart and soul (not to mention my days and nights) for the past four years is my current “life endeavor,” and if I am being completely honest, it is a bit intimidating.
What calms me is my knowledge that I am not really alone. I am joined by all the wonderful, beautiful, complicated characters who I will tell you about.
I am joined in spirit by my ancestors, particularly my grannies, who have spoken to me so clearly throughout my life.
And I am joined by you, the audience.
This play is a testament to the spirit of gadugi. My dream of traveling the Trail of Tears with my father was a “life endeavor” of monumental proportions, and so many generous people helped along the way to make it possible. In particular, I could not have done this project without the support and love of my incredible family, director Corey Madden, and the staff at the Kenan Institute for the Arts.
To all of them, and to all of you, I say WaDo—thank you—for coming along with me on this journey.
You can purchase tickets for And So We Walked here, on stage through November 10!
DELANNA’S AUDACIOUS IDEA
BY COREY MADDEN, DIRECTOR
As a creative producer and director of new plays for 30 years, I often ask artists about what fascinates or irritates or activates them. These informal pitch sessions (often conducted over a meal) are how folks in the creative professions conduct business, but it’s rare that a 900-mile, five-year journey begins because of a single conversation.
“What is your dream project?” I asked DeLanna Studi casually one night at dinner following rehearsals for a play I directed and co-wrote in 2013. Without hesitation she declared “I want to walk the Trail of Tears with my father and make a play about it.” The audacity of DeLanna’s answer impressed me, but I had no idea how to respond at the time. “Well good luck with that,” was the best I could manage that night.
While I wasn’t certain whether I could help make DeLanna’s dream a reality, I never forgot her powerful vision. As fate would have it, six months later I moved to North Carolina to lead the Kenan Institute for the Arts at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. In my new role and new home, I had my own moment of creative reckoning: What was my dream project? Not long after, I invited DeLanna to visit Cherokee, North Carolina, home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. What DeLanna learned that day about her family’s history inspired both of us for the next five years.
Since 2013, the audacious idea that came to be known as And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears has received generous support from many individuals and tribal organizations, as well as renowned theatres, museums, universities, and philanthropies. We are deeply grateful to each person who was brave enough to say “yes” and help the project move forward on its path. In particular I want to give thanks to two men—DeLanna’s father, Thomas Studie, and my late husband, Bruno Louchouarn—for their unstinting belief in their warrior women.
The rest of this story is DeLanna’s to tell, but I am forever grateful to her for sharing her dream and inviting me to collaborate with her on this remarkable dramatic story.
Tickets to And So We Walked: An Artist's Journey Along the Trail of Tears are available now by clicking here or calling the Ticket Office at 317.635.5252.
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