4/8-4/12 Diné Nishłį or, A Boarding School Play


Diné Nishłį

(i am a sacred being) or,
A Boarding School Play

by Blossom Johnson 

APRIL 10 – 13, 2024

Staging by AlterTheater

Directed by Daniel Leeman Smith

Produced by Karen A. Smith

Cast: Honokee Dunn (Shawna), Sage Hemstreet (Rosie), Lea McCormick (Ms. B), Zoey Reyes (Kaylene), Sabrina Saleha (Jolene), and Shawna Shandiin Sunrise (Ms. K)

Co-sponsored by a partnership between the Arts Research Center, the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, and AlterTheater, with support from generous donors to the Berkeley Crowdfunding initiative promoting Equity and Inclusion and the Venturous Theater Fund

STAGED READINGS | AlterTheater @ ARC, Hearst Field Annex D23, UC Berkeley

Wednesday April 10th – 7pm
Friday April 12th – 7pm
Saturday April 13th – 2pm

$10 students/$20 gen admission
To request a pay-what-you-can ticket code, please email boxoffice@altertheater.org.

READING & TALKBACK – free to the Berkeley community

Thursday April 11th | AlterTheater @ Durham Studio Theater, Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley
2pm Staged Reading
3:30pm Talk-back with Playwright Blossom Johnson & Director Daniel Leeman Smith

*Admission is free, open to the public, and available by reservation HERE with the code DNBerkeley or on a first-come, first-served basis at the door. Underwritten by Berkeley’s Indigenous Performing Arts Residency program and the Arts Research Center

Alternative Theater Ensemble (AlterTheater) is proud to present Diné Nishłį (i am a sacred being) or, A Boarding School Play, written by Blossom Johnson and directed by Daniel Leeman Smith. AlterTheater’s commission culminates in a workshop production of Johnson’s script April 10-13, 2024, hosted at UC Berkeley. The reading will be featured as the inaugural showcase of AlterTheater’s Indigenous Performing Arts Residency, a collaborative initiative piloted by Berkeley’s Arts Research Center and the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. AlterTheater’s residency extends from 2024-2026, offering the opportunity to produce new work by an Indigenous performance-based artist each spring of the residency’s duration.

Diné Nishłį (i am a sacred being) or, A Boarding School Play is a humorous and poignant exploration of coming of age and coming into identity, set in 2001-02 at a prep school on the Navajo Reservation that was formerly an American Indian boarding school. With the backdrop of the events of 9/11 and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, four teenage girls participate in a traditional song and dance group to celebrate their Navajo heritage. Along the way, they encounter the spirited opinions of their teachers, the ghosts of the school’s history, and the visions of their future. “This play celebrates Diné language, songs and culture in the best way I know,” Johnson shares. “There are so many elements of Diné storytelling in this play, and I hope Diné people feel empowered and encouraged to learn something new about their culture. Maybe they will walk away with one song or remember a time when they were young and heard their grandparents singing.” The staged readings will feature performances by Honokee Dunn (Shawna), Sage Hemstreet (Rosie), Lea McCormick (Ms. B), Zoey Reyes (Kaylene), Sabrina Saleha (Jolene), and Shawna Shandiin Sunrise (Ms. K).

One staged reading will be free & open to the Berkeley community, featuring a talkback with the playwright and director, with three additional opportunities for students, families, and the public to attend an AlterTheater reading on campus.

Blossom Johnson


Blossom Johnson is a Diné storyteller, playwright, teaching artist and screenwriter. She is from the Yé’ii Dine’é Táchii’nii (Giant People) clan, and her maternal grandfather is from the Deeshchíí’nii (Start of the Red Streak People) clan. When she creates, she writes for her people. In her writing, she reveals truths that are hard to face but she balances the darkness with humor, so the viewer has a chance to breathe and laugh. Blossom was awarded a residency with Willowtail Springs/Durango PlayFest. Additionally, she has been awarded AlterTheater Ensemble’s AlterLab 2020-21, the 2022 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellowship, La Lengua/ AlterTheater Ensemble’s Decolonization Stories Commission 2022, The Playwrights’ Center 2022-2023 Jerome Fellowship, and is proud to be a recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support for Individuals 2023. Blossom holds an MFA in Dramaturgy from Columbia University and a BA in Theatre from Arizona State University. A proud member of the Dramatists Guild, and the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA).


Daniel Leeman Smith is a proud two-spirit citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma currently based in New York City. He is a director, playwright, and theater educator whose work is often positioned at the intersection of community, art, education, and activism with a focus on Native joy. Daniel is a doctoral candidate in the program of Educational Theatre in Colleges and Communities at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, where his work is grounded in applied theater and ethnodrama with a focus on decolonial practice in the theater. He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Theatre Studies in the Department of Drama at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he currently teaches Approaching Indigenous Theatre. He is a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, as well as an alumnus of the SDC Observership Program, and Lincoln Center Education’s Teaching Artist Development Lab. He earned his BFA and MA at Oklahoma City University and completed the graduate theater conservatory program in physical and devised theater at the SITI Company. Daniel is also the 2014 recipient of the New York City Pride Award.


The Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) in collaboration with the Arts Research Center (ARC) have created a multi-year Indigenous Performing Artist Residency Program, which allows us to host a performance by emerging Indigenous performing artists yearly, along with a visit to campus by the artist for a public talk and an opportunity to work with students in class visits. AlterTheater was chosen as Berkeley’s inaugural residency company. Their residency will run 2024-2026, and offer them the opportunity to workshop or present a play by an Indigenous playwright each spring on campus. 

AlterTheater seeks to create a more just, equitable community by supporting the creative growth of theater artists from historically underrepresented communities, and telling stories that reflect the full complexity and diversity of our community. Their work centers the spiritual and emotional well-being of Black and Indigenous people, casting roles in ways that break stereotypes rather than reinforce them and creating opportunities for both established and emerging artists to learn and support each other in their craft.

The mission of the artist residency program is to strengthen relationships with Indigenous community partners and to create ongoing financial and material support for upcoming Indigenous performing artists so that Native stories can be told on our campus now and into the future. It utilizes the longstanding collaborative partnership that ARC and TDPS have established with each other over many years, and utilizes both our units’ connections to local California theater and performing arts organizations off campus. 

The program stems from the idea that embodied theater and performance practices are a site of historical remembering and knowledge production. The Indigenous Performing Artist Residency builds a relationship with a local performance company for multiple years, to premiere Native or Indigenous creative works in their theater/performance space. ARC and TDPS will then collaborate to reprise those artistic worksin one of our campus performance spaces. During the presentation of the performance, the artist(s) will be invited to campus to meet with our community, give talks, engage with our students in a variety of ways that best support the artistic production. 

Brianna Nez, a Diné cultural consultant, gives a tutorial on pronouncing Diné Nishłį.

On ARC’s YouTube here.