MIAMI — These are busy times for Spencer Battiest, and that’s just fine with the multitalented 28-year-old full-time musician and part-time actor from the Hollywood Reservation.
Battiest finished up 2018 by acting in a Broadway-hopeful musical in New York City. He started the New Year by joining his Mag7 teammate Supaman for an appearance at a Miami Heat game Jan. 10.
Later this year, a documentary about Mag7, which was partially filmed on the Big Cypress and Hollywood reservations, is expected to be released along with a new album from the group.
Indeed, there’s plenty of activity filling up Battiest’s days.
“I can’t be anything but grateful for the opportunities that have come my way in 2018, and the really cool opportunities that are coming up in 2019,” Battiest said during a break from the performance in Miami. “I’m very happy where I’m at, but I’ll always be working for the next thing and I’ll always be striving to be the best version of myself on any stage.”
The stage Battiest occupied in early December was full of fellow Native Americans in “Distant Thunder,” an all-Native musical that is trying to reach Broadway.
Battiest, who has been part of the production for a few years, plays one of the lead kids in the play, which is about the Blackfeet Nation.
“Bringing culture like this to the Great White Way is so cool and it definitely gives us that extra buzz and extra push to be our best and shine our best for all Native America,” he said.
Battiest is no stranger to performing in New York City, but he never takes for granted any opportunity he gets to work in the Big Apple.
“I’ve performed on Broadway a few times since I was 14, but anytime I get the opportunity to act, which I don’t do every day, and then singing, which is what I love to do, and do them together, it’s a wonderful time,” he said. “Live theater is tough. You’ve got to trust your counterpart. You’ve got to remember your lines. You’ve got to remember your dance moves. It was a wonderful experience to keep me sharp in my every day performing that I do, but also help me keep my acting going which is something I like to do in my career, also.”
Here’s a description of “Distant Thunder” from Broadwayworld.com: “In ‘Distant Thunder,’ Darrell Waters, a brash young attorney, returns to his childhood home in Montana to broker a deal between a large energy company and the impoverished Blackfeet Nation. In the process, he is forced to confront his reclusive father about their painful past. Through a childhood sweetheart, Dorothy Dark Eyes, he rediscovers his identity and feels his perspective shift: his clever business deal will destroy her language school, further erode Blackfeet culture and taint their land. Darrell must grapple with the paradigm of being Native American in America.”
Rehearsals were held at Playwrights Horizons, the same venue where the megahit “Hamilton” rehearsed.
“Distant Thunder” hasn’t ascended to Hamiltonian status yet, but Battiest said the performances, which were held at A.R.T./New York Theatres on West 53rd St., received positive accolades. The goal, Battiest said, is for the musical to get the backing it needs to become a full-blown Broadway show.
“We got great responses. We had three major performances where each one we had the public along with very high profile producers who are looking to produce the show,” he said.
The responses were positive, too, when Battiest and Supaman (Apsáalooke) took the stage in Miami for pregame and halftime performances. They performed in the American Airlines Arena’s Xfinity East Plaza, an open-air gathering space on the east side of the arena that overlooks scenic Biscayne Bay with massive cruise ships and towering skyscrapers nearby.
The pair sang the highly-acclaimed “Stand Up/Stand N Rock #No DAPL” in both performances. The song, from their all-Native Mag7 group that includes Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas, won an MTV Video Music Award in 2017. It was created to show the group’s support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The song hit the right note with the movement and within the music industry. Thanks in part to be an MTV Video Music Award winner, the song has helped propel the career of Battiest and his brother Zachary “Doc” Battiest in many ways.
“Ever since the winning of that, it’s created much more opportunities for us to get on bigger stages and get our names out there and our music out there along with our culture as well, which is what we aim to do as artists and as performers, speaking on behalf of me and Doc,” Battiest said.
The song has blossomed well beyond expectations.
“The song itself has built so many connections with other Native artists and activists,” Battiest said. “I think when we wrote it we just wanted to show our solidarity with the people of Standing Rock and those on the front lines; nothing more than just to let them know that we were there with them through music and through our voices.”
Using their voices to lend support to the movement has meant a lot to the group.
“It wasn’t a vanity song or something that we were looking to draw attention to ourselves; it was just our way of letting the people of that tribe know that we stood with them and that we believed in the fight and the people that stood for months on the front lines; we released it and expected it to do just that,”Battiest said. “Months later, when the (MTV Music Award) nominations came out and we were informed that the video was nominated, that just made our hearts explode because not only did it bring attention to that specific issue, but it also brought attention to each individual artist and activist who were a part of that song and whatever it is that they were pushing for at that moment, whatever fight they were currently in.”
In the Miami performance, Supaman, aka Christian Parrish, of Montana, also performed other songs, danced a Fancy Dance and discussed its significance for Natives, and brought up a few members of the audience for an impromptu mini recording session.
As for the road ahead, Battiest is excited about the release of the Mag7 documentary and the new album.
“It’s a documentary that explores our individual upbringings, our culture, our tribes, our hometowns. We have new music that is being released at the same time of the film. It will be later this year. It will be a major release for us,” Battiest said.
Besides the Battiest brothers, there will be additional Seminole flavor to the film.
“Elder Bobby Henry is featured and a few other Natives who came to help and make sure we spread our culture and our message in the right, appropriate way,” Battiest said. “That’s how we’ve always been raised is to include our family and our teachers, especially when we get a big platform and opportunity like this one.”