Rachel Chavkin ’08 and Directing Student Tiffani Swalley Work on ‘The Thanksgiving Play’

Anastasia Ellis
March 03, 2023

Directing alumna Rachel Chavkin ’08 is set to direct the upcoming Broadway production of Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, with Directing student Tiffani Swalley as Assistant Director. Performances begin at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater on March 25, with an opening night slated for April 20, 2023. The show will play a limited run, ending June 4, 2023. 

The Thanksgiving Play is a one-act satirical comedy about a group of really, really well-meaning white people trying to devise a politically correct school pageant about the first Thanksgiving for Native American Heritage Month. The director in the group, Logan, hires Alicia, who claims to be Native American, in hopes that she will provide cultural context for the production. Logan and the other two group members continue to defer to Alicia for guidance—until it is revealed that Alicia is white and only plays Native American when she isn’t appropriating other non-white identities. A hilarious and poignant examination of everything right, wrong, and woke in America, The Thanksgiving Play confronts ideas of privilege, historical accuracy, and cultural appropriation at the school district level and beyond. 

The Broadway premiere of The Thanksgiving Play establishes FastHorse, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation and a 2020 MacArthur Fellow, as the first Native American female playwright to have a play produced on Broadway. The play is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Rachel Chavkin received the 2019 Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Director of a Musical for Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown. She is a director, writer, and dramaturg, as well as the founding Artistic Director of Brooklyn-based ensemble the TEAM, an internationally renowned experimental company whose consensus-driven collaborative process was the subject of the documentary The TEAM Makes a Play (directed by Emmy winner Paulette Douglas). Additional work includes: Dave Malloy's Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 (Broadway; Tony nomination, three Obie Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and 2017 Smithsonian Award for Ingenuity); Carson Kreitzer and Matt Gould’s Lempicka (Williamstown); Caryl Churchill's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (New York Theatre Workshop), Marco Ramirez’s The Royale (Old Globe, Lincoln Center); Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds (Ars Nova, Off-Broadway, National Tour); Sarah Gancher’s I’ll Get You Back Again (Round House); and multiple collaborations with Taylor Mac, including The Lily's Revenge, Act 2 (HERE). Her first film, Remind Me, was an official selection of the Venice and Beverly Hills Film Festivals. Proud NYTW Usual Suspect and Member SDC.

Tiffani Swalley (she/they) is a third year Director at Columbia University School of the Arts. Their work at Columbia includes new plays such as: God and Girl, Deep Soil, Purgatory for Women who have Committed Suicide and Queen of the Hive, which they also wrote. Other Columbia works include: Shakespeare’s MacBeth and An Evening of Chekhov’s Vaudevilles. This past fall, Swalley Assistant Directed Siti Company’s Radio MacBeth and War of the Worlds, directed by Professor Anne Bogart. Swalley’s directing centers on examining social constructs as well as stories of survival and healing. They do this through thorough text analysis and improvisational play. Swalley is drawn to devised collaboration and new scripts written by women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and non-binary persons.

Tickets for The Thanksgiving Play can be found here.