In April, the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program (YIPAP) announced that Manhattan Middle School Assistant Teacher Tomas Endter was one of two winners of the 7th Annual Yale Native Playwright Contest for their play Built on Bones. As one of the contest winners, Mx. Endter will be paired with a professional Native playwright mentor and director to further develop the play before a staged reading performance at the YIPAP Festival next month. The entire cast of the staged reading will be Indigenous actors, and the performance will be available on YIPAP’s Facebook page.
Built on Bones is set in the Saskatchewan province of Canada, where police are targeting Indigenous locals by picking them up in their vehicles and dropping them off miles outside of town in the middle of the harsh Canadian winter, leading to many freezing deaths. This practice, known as “starlight tours,” comes to the forefront as the play highlights how a couple—an Indigenous woman and a White male attorney—navigate their own relationship when the lawyer is called to defend a police officer who perpetrated one of the killings. Built on Bones explores the history of this specific type of police brutality towards Indigenous people and the moral dilemmas posed when confronting the complexities of integrity, justice, and truth.
Mx. Endter began writing Built on Bones during the Summer of 2020 but has developed several other plays over the years, all with a focus on telling Indigenous stories.
“I want to write Indigenous stories with majority Indigenous characters. They are hard to get staged, but I want to define the narratives for the stories that I want to do. My ultimate goal is to get something staged on Broadway that is Indigenous written, directed, or acted,” said Mx. Endter, who is a member of the Nehithaw, or Cree people, from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, a reservation of Canada.
Although playwrighting is their preferred medium now, Mx. Endter has also acted and was a founder of the Fair Verona Shakespeare Company at their high school in Wisconsin. In fact, it was during a performance of The Tempest that Mx. Endter realized that theater was what they wanted to pursue in earnest.
"There’s something wonderful about how theater is temporal in nature, in that each individual performance brings something new and will never be the same,” said Mx. Endter. “The next day’s show might be similar, but every performance will be its own exciting capsule that can’t be repeated. Something can always go wrong or go brilliantly, and that is what’s so exciting about the stage.”
Mx. Endter graduated with a BFA in dramatic arts from The New School of Drama shortly before joining The Windward School as a non-instructional aide in November 2020 at the Manhattan campus. They were struck by Windward’s care for language as its core mission, sharing, “The ability for someone to have the capacity to tell their own stories is one of the most important things someone can have for self-determinism in life. Learning how to tell your own narrative and advocating for yourself is critical, and those skills have helped me become someone who can choose who I am and what I do. I wanted to get into education to facilitate that for anybody who might need it.”
This school year, Mx. Endter began a new role as a Manhattan Middle School assistant teacher, working in both language arts and drama classes. Although there have been some COVID-related restrictions for the drama program, Mx. Endter is looking forward to contributing to future performances at the Manhattan campus soon.
Please note that they/them pronouns and gender-neutral honorifics are used in this article.