On The Stage (OTS) continues to shine a spotlight on trailblazers in the world of theatre with Larissa FastHorse – a 2020 MacArthur Fellow, an award-winning writer/choreographer, the co-founder of Indigenous Direction, and the first Native American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. 

A true groundbreaker in theatre and in Indigenous representation alike, FastHorse has already cemented herself as one of the greats. But she’s not done yet. So let’s explore her early life, career triumphs, and legacy, along with organizations to support that uplift Native American/Indigenous voices. 

Early Life

FastHorse, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, grew up in South Dakota, where her Nation laid down its roots. She was adopted at a young age by a non-Native family who worked on her reservation. During childhood and adolescence, FastHorse felt pulled in two directions. 

 “I was always raised very aware of my Lakota identity and my Lakota culture, and they [her adopted parents] brought a lot of mentors into my life, and elders, to help me stay connected,” said FastHorse in a 2023 interview with The New Yorker. “But, at the same time, I was growing up in a very white culture. When I was younger, it was very painful, to be separated from a lot of things I felt like I couldn’t partake in because I wasn’t raised on the reservation, or I’d been away from my Lakota family so long. That was very hard, but now I really recognize it as my superpower, that I can take Lakota culture and experiences and contemporary Indigenous experiences and translate them for white audiences – which, unfortunately, are still the majority of audiences in American theatre.”

Early Career

FastHorse began her career as a ballet dancer and choreographer, though she was forced into early retirement due to an injury. She later sharpened her writing skills and became involved in the Native American drama and film communities, writing and directing her own plays with Indigenous actors and subject matter. 

“My ballet background is hugely influential in my work as a playwright,” FastHorse told The New Yorker. “First off, just in the work ethic. Ballet dancers are expected to be shown something once, and then you work on it on your own and you come back and you’ve got it down. People aren’t going to sit there and spend a lot of time spoon-feeding things or teaching you one thing at a time. You’re expected to learn it, to do your own training at night, after six hours of classes and rehearsal. You’re expected to do a lot on your own, and that kind of work ethic certainly has helped me as a playwright, where you spend months, sometimes, alone in your home writing, and you could miss that deadline.”

FastHorse teamed up with playwright and performer Ty Defoe to co-found Indigenous Direction, a consulting firm that helps organizations and individuals who want to create accurate work by, for, and with Indigenous peoples. 

Alongside writing commissioned pieces for a variety of theatres and networks, FastHorse has also worked for Universal Pictures and Latham Entertainment at Paramount as a creative executive. There, she produced two short films, The Migration, and A Final Wish

Notable Works + Moments

FastHorse gained national notoriety with The Thanksgiving Play, a satirical comedy in which “terminally woke” teaching artists scramble to create a pageant that somehow celebrates both Thanksgiving itself and Native American Heritage Month. The show quickly became a hit and helped FastHorse become the first Native American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. During its opening season, The Thanksgiving Play was in the top ten most-produced plays in America, and FastHorse was the Native American playwright in the history of American theater on that list. 

With her popularity picking up steam, FastHorse has now been able to write and produce her own works more regularly. 

Over the past several years, she created a nationally recognized trilogy of community-engaged plays produced by Cornerstone Theater Company. In order, they are Urban Rez, Native Nation – which was the largest Indigenous theater production in the history of American theatre with over 400 Native artists involved – and current The L/D/Nakota Project.

Additional produced plays include What Would Crazy Horse Do?, Landless, Cow Pie Bingo, Average Family, Teaching Disco Squaredancing to Our Elders: a Class Presentation, Vanishing Point, and Cherokee Family Reunion

FastHorse has also entered into film and television with a series at Freeform, a movie for Disney Channel, and a special for NBC. According to her website, she is currently in development as the creator of projects with Apple TV, Taylor Made Productions, Echo Lake, and NBC.

Indigenous Direction also produced the first land acknowledgment on national television for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. FastHorse and partner Defoe consulted with parade organizers to make the event less harmful to Indigenous people. 

“Things like the pilgrims are really difficult topics and subjects for folks that were on this coast and had their people almost entirely wiped out by those people, whether intentionally or unintentionally,” FastHorse said in an interview with NPR.


Along with the aforementioned accolades, FastHorse has received a slew of awards and recognitions for her work. These include: 

  • The PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award for an American Playwright
  • NEA Distinguished New Play Development Grant
  • MacArthur Fellowship 
  • Joe Dowling Annamaghkerrig Fellowship
  • AATE Distinguished Play Award
  • Inge Residency
  • Sundance/Ford Foundation Fellowship
  • Aurand Harris Fellowship
  • UCLA Native American Program Woman of the Year

Perhaps FastHorse’s most enduring legacy is her radical inclusion process – she has been honored with funding from a variety of organizations and continues to work diligently to increase representation for Indigenous peoples. 

“The Broadway system, the commercial theater system, hasn’t included all of us before a couple of years ago,” she told NPR. “So we’re still kind of getting caught up into the system and figuring out, well, what kind of support do we need? What’s been missing? Where are our big blind spots? Where are the empty holes where we don’t have the casting outreach? We don’t have the cultural support outreach. We don’t have the audience outreach. We’re just finding those holes that exist on Broadway that need to be filled, and they’re going to take a little bit of time. But I’m thrilled that so many plays are getting out there, getting on stage, and getting to be seen, and we’re going to prove that we do all right. We can make money, which is what Broadway is about, right? But we can also entertain people and appeal to a broad audience.” 

Organizations to Support

Feeling inspired to help support the next generation of American Indian and Indigenous creatives? Check at the below organizations and theatres. 

Institute of American Indian Arts 

Through the concept of art as a traditional path of creativity, IAIA excels at skill-building, provoking thought, and providing exceptional educational opportunities. IAIA is a place to embrace the past, enrich the present, and create the future, moving ahead to paths yet unexplored and undiscovered.


American Indian Artists Inc., established in 1987, is a community-based multi-arts organization that works to empower Native Americans, break down barriers, and foster intercultural understanding and appreciation for Native culture through its arts programs and services to individual artists. 

New Native Theatre    

Based in the Twin Cities, New Native Theatre is a new way of looking at, thinking about, and staging Native American stories. Created in 2009 by playwright Rhiana Yazzie, NNT produces, commissions, and devises authentic Native American stories for the stage, which means NNT’s artists are intricately connected to the concerns and voices of their communities.

Native Voices at the Autry 

As the only Actors’ Equity theatre company in the country devoted to developing new works by Indigenous playwrights, Native Voices has become the cornerstone of American Theatre in cultivating opportunities for Native playwrights. 

The Eagle Project 

Eagle Project is a New York-based Native American artistic laboratory utilizing theatre, music, dance, spoken word, and film to investigate and understand U.S. American identity. The organization unpacks the Native American Experience, both past and present, as the primary means to conduct its exploration. Eagle Project is an inter-tribal and multicultural performing arts company with a mission to develop and stage the works of Native American playwrights and theatre artists and to provide educational outreach on Native American culture to audiences.