Indigenous Performance

Each indigenous performance project aspires to identify and reaffirm indigenous and traditional expressions, worldviews, and performance structures. Rather than adopting western dramaturgical and performance expressions , each project seeks to identify and articulate a place-based performance on a group’s own terms. In many ways the performers are activated as tradition bearers, bridging the two worlds that they inhabit, the contemporary and the traditional. In turn, their unique cultural expression and worldview is given expression, enriching not only personal and cultural identity but also the dialogue of globalization. Each culture holds a unique perspective and each voice of the earth must be heard.

Most of his work has to do with the bringing up of the memory and knowledge of what has been forgotten. One of the goals of his work is to bridge the gap between the modern and the traditional which would give indigenous people a way of relating to the modern world on their terms.
— Dagen Nyheter, Stockholm, Sweden

Andegna (the first)

Lul Theatre, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


By crossing boundaries he explores and finds the means by which to tell the story of indigenous societies and cultures. He then transplants and transforms what he finds to serve as expressions of contemporary society.
— Sub-Saharan Informer, Ethiopia

Makhanda Mahlanu

Natal Performing Arts Council, South Africa & kwaZulu Natal Tour


photos: Shelley Kjonstad

Like a modern day Pied Piper, a singing man in a mock Roman helmet ran through the Cato Crest squatter settlement outside Durban trailing hundreds of tiny children behind him. The 50-minute play, a traditional Zulu folk tale called Makhanda Mahlanu, espousing democracy, understanding and tolerance used mime, magic, percussion, music, humour, and audience participation to tell the story of an autocratic five-headed snake’s search for the perfect wife. Wide-eyed children, as young as two and three, watched the performance in rapturous delight while grey-haired men and old toothless women chuckled alongside their families.
— The Sunday Times, South Africa

The Eagle's Gift

Tuma Theatre, Alaska


The characterization of legendary figures comes across as though in a dream, the imagery may not seem to make logical sense. Instead, the surreal atmosphere creates an emotional response, providing a primitive, inner understanding. This dream world allows the audience to bridge the gap between ancient culture and the modern. The dreamy quality of the production evokes a sense of eeriness and wonderment of the unknown.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Alaska


Kwasa Group, Durban South Africa


Perhaps the most astonishing thing about ‘Emandulo’ is that is was devised and directed by an American, Thomas Riccio, on his first visit to South Africa. NAPAC is to be saluted for bringing someone of Riccio’s caliber and commitment to South Africa. I recommend you drop you defenses and let yourself have an extraordinary experience.
— The Natal Witness, South Africa

Qayaq: The Magical Man

Tuma Theatre


Inspired by an ancient Inupiat legend, the drama is conceived and directed after years of research by Tom Riccio. Qayaq: The Magical Man is a mesmerizing celebration of the richness of Alaska Native culture an impressive achievement.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Alaska
Qayaq Script

Qayaq Script

KUNA-Korean National University of the Arts

Twelve Moons


The man who is insisting that Koreans embrace their own ways is ironically an American a person we might usually consider an imperialist. Regrettably Thomas Riccio, a director and playwright, is not Korean.
— Che Min Ilbo, Korea


Centre for the Arts, Lusaka, Zambia & National Tour


‘Imipashi’ re-imagines Zambian rich resources in mythology, songs, dances, ritual and ceremonial practice to create a ritual performance for today. Using traditionally inspired performance language, it explores through metaphor, the collapse of traditional values in modern Zambia. The story continues with the evolution of a renewed cultural awareness and creative spirit that ultimately establishes a new hope a modern, multi-cultural Zambia.
— The Weekly Standard, Zambia


Sakha National Theatre, Siberia


The much anticipated and written about season finale has come with a sensational play: ‘Sardaana.’ After two months of intensive preparation by the director Thomas Riccio and the actors of the Sakha National Theatre, the play opened to an appreciative audience. It raised laughter, caused surprise, and in the end left something in the soul of the viewer. The most astonishing was the plethora of connections and ties.
— Sakha Daily, Republic of Sakha, Siberia


Tuma Theatre, Alaska

by Paul Jumbo


Anyone who won’t let go of concepts like “traditional theatre,” English language,” “mortality,” and cause and effect,” or the idea that spirituality only inhabits human beings will probably be lost and disappointed. Those who are willing to accept the play on its own terms will experience a highly imaginative and rewarding spectacle. This year’s Tuma Theatre offering is striking in its unity, depth of meaning, as well as sight and sound imagery....Utetmun explores a complex landscape of a spiritual development, from self-denial and fear to acceptance and love. 
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Alaska

Shadows from the Planet Fire

Metamorphosis Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia


A ritual devised in collaboration with the Metamorphosis Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia., 1992. The group was devoted to the exploration of pre-Christian, Slavic rituals and was an organ of the White Doves, a five hundred-year-old spiritual cult. The performance was subsequently shown on Russian national television and subsequently toured to the Ural Mountain region. Devised/Directed by Thomas Riccio. Created through improvisation of trance experiences. A selection from the ending of the performance. Presented in the Baltic House Theatre lobby.

Naam/Gen eehu

Tuma Theatre, Alaska



Community Health Awareness Puppets, Kenya


Puppetry in Kenya has flourished because it is non-threatening and has the uncanny ability to entertain and communicate simply and directly. Curiously, puppetry, or the animation of figures within a narrative context, was never developed into a performance tradition in Africa. Puppetry per se is not indigenous to Africa except for a few West African traditions, most notably the thousand year old “kotébe” from the Niger River area of Mali. The absence of puppetry from the otherwise vibrant and varied African performance traditions is most likely due to Africa’s use of totemic, fetish, and mnemonic figures which have been associated with witchcraft in a number of ethnic groups. Puppetry was originally introduced to Africa during the colonial era and then used sporadically, in combination with Theatre for Develop- ment activities, since the 1980s. However, the fact that puppets have no history or tradition in Africa is a part of its success. Because there are no preconceived notions, expectations, taboos or traditional contexts attached to puppet performance in Africa, puppets remain a novelty, neutral and free to define their own place, expression, and function.
— from Kenya's Community Health Awareness Puppets

Eagles' Gift, Tuma Theatre, Alaska