5 Questions with Interdisciplinary Artist, Ty DeFoe


Ty DeFoe is a gentle soul with a lot to say.  He is a teacher and activist. Currently on Broadway, acting in Straight White Men, Ty embodies the word “Shapeshifter” in every way. Fun, funny and deeper than most bodies of water, Ty doesn’t lead with the awards or credits of which he has many.  Ty leads with, “How are you”? He speaks in a way that is well, Ty. We met working with Heather Henson on Crane: on earth, in sky, and have continued to introduce ourselves to each other since.  That seems to be Ty’s way.  He’s complex, simple, warm and searching… 

Here’s 5 questions with vanguard, Ty DeFoe.

What does the phrase “I see you” mean to you. 

To know someone or something’s being. A phrase I’m also trying to use in particular moments to vanguard against ableism.

As the understanding of the word “identity” continues to take shape, how do you define two spirit and how do you embody that definition in the modern world?

Embodying two-spirit is a role, as much as it is a responsibility. Traditionally it was a cultural role in the community and still is today. Today, two spirit means to transcend gender. To express. To activate.  To radically embodied you I am inside and all the ways I need to shape-shift through life.

How do you think traditional ecological knowledge could be folded into the mainstream in this country?

Traditional ecological knowledge is simple. Recycle. Give back to the Mother Earth. Treat her like a goddess.

What does your role as educator mean to you? 

My role as educator means to just be truthful to bend and shape when needed. To take care of community regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, gender, religion. It is to also be curious about things I do not know.

Your “job title” is ever changing.  What do you see your next role in life to be?

Desires to be a country music star.

MOST RECENT FAVORITE SONG:  ALL THE STARS by Kendrick Lamar, SZA.  The beats, the voices, the strings as a backdrop, the message.

Ty Defoe (Giizhig) (He | Him | They | We | Us), Oneida and Ojibwe Nations hyphenated-interdisciplinary artist. He is a shape-shifter, a Grammy Award, and a Jonathan Larson Award winner. Book and lyrics, Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon w/ composer Tidtaya Sinutoke (Yale Institute for Musical Theatre, ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop); Hart Island Requiem (The Civilians R&D Group, GoodSpeed Musicals); Red Pine (Native Voices at the Autry; IAIA of Santa Fe); The Way They Lived (by Micharne Cloughley w/ The Civilians at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Netflix guest star, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Public Studio’s, MJ Kaufman’s Masculinity Max. Recently seen on Broadway in Young Jean Lee’s, Straight White Men. Did a Robert Rauschenberg Artist in Residence. Resides in NYC and loves the color clear. CalArts, NYU’s Tisch.  tydefoe.com

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