Tonya Gonnella Frichner ( Onondaga Nation / Snipe Clan )
September 19, 1947- February 14, 2015
She was a woman of great integrity and vision. Her vision at times took me to a different level of my work that I never thought possible. We did many projects together on how to bridge the gap from the political world to our communities. And we always discussed, what was the best way to bring this important international work for outreach. After many late night discussions, we decided that theater and the arts was the way to bridge that gap.
The first pages of the piece was done in her bed room in tiny pieces of paper. I did all of the parts for her and sang all of the songs and danced all of the dances until her husband kicked me out of the house and told me to go home! But I would go back the next day and I would have more of the script and read her more of the ideas and sing different songs and I would have more jokes and I would test it on her once again. If she didn’t get a joke she would take a beat and then would say “ oh I get it now” and I would tell her that if I have to explain the joke then it ain't funny. But the other important thing was that we would sit together and just discuss on what each word meant in the Doctrine of Discovery and the Declaration and I would tear it apart and approach it like Shakespeare. And she would sit with me as we discussed for hours on end what one word meant and how to exchange it for another and how that could change the entire sentence and meaning. She would approach it as a lawyer and I would approach it as a playwright. But we both approached it as political activists.
We understood each other’s work and we felt that one was just as important as the other. We admired each other’s gifts, supported each other and found strength in each other’s passions. Tonya was a rarity in this world and I don’t think there will be a time in my life that I will not miss her. We were true partners and true collaborators and that is a very hard thing to find in this world.
This was originally written as a valentine for my aunt Elizabeth but I also dedicate this piece to Tonya and thank her the only way I really know how and that is through my work in theater.