Native Scholar-Artist in Residence role debuts

For the first time in its history, Lewis & Clark has created an official position for Indigenous creative collaboration and leadership. This role, entitled the Native Scholar-Artist in Residence, is filled by Dr. Waylon Lenk ’08. Lenk graduated LC with a double major in German Studies and Theatre. 

Originally from the villages of Ka’tim’îin and Taxasúfkara near the Oregon-California border, Lenk is part of the Karuk tribe and has worked extensively in the field of Native Theatre, particularly with Native Shakespeare.

“I have been eyeball deep in the field of Native theatre,” Lenk said.

Lenk played a large part in New Student Orientation (NSO) by giving a land acknowledgment speech as well as a lecture on Native Shakespeare. Native Shakespeare is a field that focuses on rewriting or translating Shakespeare to fit within the the traditions and values of different world cultures, and deconstruct the legacy of colonialism that is so intertwined with Shakespeare’s work.

The Native Scholar-Artist position grew out of “an institutional commitment to build relationships with Indigenous communities grounded in honesty, respect, and reparative action,” as stated by President Robin Holmes-Sullivan last year on Indigenous People’s Day. As part of this initiative, Lenk is directing this semester’s Main Stage play, Henry IV, Part 1.

Over a year ago, Professor of Theatre Štĕpán Šimek and Associate Professor of Theatre and Department Chair Rebecca Lingafelter reached out to Lenk to see if he would be interested in directing a play at LC. In January plans for the play were solidified. 

“They were looking for a Native play but didn’t know if their department had the demographics to support any plays by Native authors about which they already knew,” Lenk said. “I suggested Yvette Nolan’s English-to-English translation of either Henry IV, Part 1 or Henry IV, Part 2 that she had done for the Play On Shakespeare translation project between 2015 and 2019.”

Algonquin Playwright and Director Yvette Nolan uses English-to-English translations of Shakespeare to clarify archaic English while still keeping the same rhythms and meter. A 2018 interview with Nolan about her process translating Henry IV, Part 1 is posted online on the Folger Shakespeare library.

“After four days of working through the translation line by line, we read the whole thing and it clocked in at 2 hours 20 minutes,” Nolan said. “And still it clipped along, clear and lean and muscular. I wondered about how the archaic English in the original slowed us down because we were working so hard to be clear, working so hard to bring the audience along with us, working so hard to simultaneously translate and deliver the text.”

After the Theatre Department’s student advisory board decided on Henry IV, Part 1, the show preparations began in earnest. 

Nolan has done work as a writer-in-residence at various universities as well as the National Arts Center in Ottawa and the Saskatoon Library. Lenk worked with Nolan as her resident dramaturg, a term for a literary editor and research consultant to the author or director of a play. Lenk has been critiquing and adapting Nolan’s translation of Henry IV with her for many years. In November, Nolan will give a talk about her translation of Henry IV at LC. 

“I haven’t had an opportunity to sink my teeth into this play since 2019, and I am loving getting to work with such a talented group of artists to continue to explore the themes of masculinity and power that have been so fascinating to Yvette and me about this play for the past 8 years,” Lenk said. 

Lenk’s experience directing this play so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I was expecting good things coming here to direct… but I am not being hyperbolic when I say that everyone has been exceeding my expectations,” Lenk said. “I have a fantastic design team, and my Student Stage Manager Piper Clark-White, Assistant Director Skylar Vayda and Assistant Stage Manager Isabella Mercado are all absolute dreams.”

The cast of the show is primarily underclassmen, composed of eight freshmen and two sophomores. During auditions, Lenk was impressed by the caliber of the actors.

“We did not have any bummers of an audition, which gave me the best possible problem to have in casting—I had too many good options,” Lenk said.

The cast was thrown into demanding rehearsals immediately, yet Lenk described members’ composure and perseverance as better than some professionals. 

“We started the rehearsal process with a weekend movement workshop to understand the physical language of the piece and how violence works in the world of this play led by myself and my very-exciting-to-work-with movement director Claire Aldridge,” Lenk said.

The critical work that Lenk and his students are doing deals with the complex legacies of colonialism by bringing awareness to the deep history of the land on which this college sits. 

“My focus is on guiding my artistic collaborators to a production that they can be proud of,” Lenk said. “That is honestly taking a lot of energy—like I say, I have a great team, but the play itself is a beast: five acts long, and the language is dense even when spoken in our English.” 

When considering the future of the play, Lenk intends to widen its reach outside the LC community.

“It is my hope that we can connect this play with the larger Portland community, especially the Portland-metro Native community,” Lenk said. “I think this is too important a work to get siloed on Palatine Hill.”

The creation of the Native Scholar-Artist in Residence position is a profound and historic moment in LC’s evolution. Lenk is paving the way for this role to be a lasting and integral part of the school.

“This is the very first time this role has happened, so we really are making it up as we go along,” Lenk said.

Henry IV, Part 1 will be showing in Fir Acres Theatre Nov. 3-5 and 9-11.

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