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Madeline Sayet in "Where We Belong." (Photo by Jon Burklund)

The Subtext: Where Madeline Sayet Belongs

This month Brian talks to the writer/performer of ‘Where We Belong,’ inspired by her experiences as a Native person loving, studying, then questioning Shakespeare.

Each month on The Subtext Brian speaks with a playwright about life, writing, and whatever itches we are scratching.

This month Brian talks to writer, director, performer, and professor Madeline Sayet. Sayet is a member of the Mohegan tribe in Connecticut, where she was raised on a combination of traditional Mohegan stories and Shakespeare. Both have influenced her work as a stage director of new plays, classics, and opera.

For her work she has been named a Forbes 30 Under 30, a TED Fellow, an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, and a recipient of the White House Champion of Change Award from President Obama. She is a clinical assistant professor with the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University, and executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program. Madeline is currently touring a solo play titled Where We Belong, which she wrote and performs. After debuting in 2021 in a filmed co-production by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Folger Shakespeare Library in D.C., it played at Philadelphia Theatre Company in the spring and the Goodman this summer. The show is currently at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival through Aug. 22; next is Seattle Rep, Sept. 8-Oct. 9; NYC’s Public Theater, Oct. 28-Nov. 27; Portland Center Stage, Feb. 25-Mar. 26, 2023; and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Aug. 29-Oct. 29, 2023.

The play, as she explains in the episode, springs directly from her experiences as an Indigenous person from Connecticut studying Shakespeare in England in the context of British colonialism. In Where We Belong, Madeline writes about studying a country that refuses to acknowledge its ongoing role in colonialism, just as the Brexit vote threatens to further disengage the U.K. from the wider world. She echoes a journey to England braved by Native ancestors in the 1700s following treaty betrayals, as she uncovers her sense of belonging in the 21st-century American theatre.

This episode can also be found here.

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