History / Inception
Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz is a Post-Punk Rock Opera about the fatal showdown between famed Sioux Leader Sitting Bull and Agent James “White Hair” McLaughlin at Standing Rock in the 1880s. The show chronicles Sitting Bull’s final years as a celebrity performer in the Wild West Show, his friendships with Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, and Catherine Weldon, his involvement with the Ghost Dance, and the struggle leading to his tragic end. This story has not been told until now, and has never been more relevant.
Shaman and Chief, Sitting Bull was also famous as a singer and songwriter among the Sioux, and used this gift of expression to rally and move his followers, so it was only natural that Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz was conceived as a musical, although in a non-traditional style that reflects the spirit of this man in our own troubled times. Anticipating strong protest singers to come, Sitting Bull spoke out on behalf of the disenfranchised, and continues to speak to us now, especially in light of the current standoff at Standing Rock over DAPL.
Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz was written by Nebraska Native John Templin Schliesser, and also produced by Schliesser and his wife, Los Angeles Native Kathleen Dougherty. It debuted at the Dragonfly Theater in Los Angeles in June 2016, and was presented at the Johnny Carson Theater in the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, March 2-5, 2017. The show enjoyed sold-out performances, standing ovations, and stellar reviews. It really struck a chord with the community, and sparked conversations across generations and cultures, showing the allegorical power of the play in this politically charged moment. The recent Lied Center show was directed by Lara Marsh, the musical direction by Rick Avard, with Erik Paparozzi leading the band. It starred Alan Tafoya as Sitting Bull, heading a mixed cast of local and Los Angeles-based performers. All ticket proceeds from this run of the show are to be dedicated to Standing Rock or a related cause.
Schliesser started working on the songs and script for Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz in his adopted home of Los Angeles during late 2013, with early musical contributions from Max Sterling, and Kathleen Dougherty, who also sang on many of the early demo tracks. The process has since involved collaborations with notable Sioux performers such as Mo Brings Plenty and Zahn McClarnon, while Gregg Foreman (Cat Power) proved a big force in refining the music; and along with Foreman, participating musicians included Erik Paparazzi (Cat Power), Guy Blakeslee (Entrance Band), Jared Samuel (Sean Lennon), Ben Lecourt (Emitt Rhodes), Joe Cardamone (Icarus Line), and Will Scott (Wolf Mother). Iggy Pop guitarist and producer James Williamson was a guiding force in the development of the music, helping assemble musicians, and providing input along the way.
On a visit to Lincoln after closing Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz in Los Angeles, Schliesser interested the Lied Center’s Bill Stephan in presenting it at the Johnny Carson Theater in March. Schliesser and Dougherty then approached Omaha-based award-winning Director Lara Marsh (Lost in Whole Foods, Operation Crucible) to direct, and began working with her to prepare the next iteration of the show, with the idea that the funds generated by ticket sales would be dedicated to Standing Rock.
Many things led Schliesser to the point of writing this: growing up in Nebraska on the edge of Lakota country hearing the tales of his indigenous grandfather; the impact Punk and Post-Punk music and style had on him as a teenager in Lincoln; his time at Berkeley studying film theory and the avant-garde; as well as his work for Amnesty International on behalf of political prisoners in Central America. But mainly it was Sitting Bull himself, a most uncommon hero with so much to teach us, and the events leading to his final resistance that have fascinated Schliesser since he was a child.take a listen