Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Wakpala Continued

With all the challenges and issues that plagued our time in Wakpala some really amazing things happened:

The importance of laughter: Working with kids has taught me so much about how to laugh. Kids are constantly laughing and giggling over small things or nothing at all. Laughing just to laugh. One of my favorites examples was in Rosholt. Two of my green pirates, Kadie and Shelby, spent at least 20 min. naming vegetables and laughing hysterically.

“Shelby…Shelby! Carrot! Hahahaha”

Wrought with laughter, the two could only be reduced to little puddles.

In Wakpala, the kids laughed mostly at each other and pain. However, I did find the universal vessel of farting. One of our students, Mya, was constantly getting into trouble (or the “T-Word” as Jac says) and taking our attention away from the group. Before our show, we were all getting into costume and she was lying on the floor, as dramatically as possible in the death throws of a Victorian melodrama.

“What’s up dude?”

“I can’t do anything. I can’t go anywhere. I hate this.”

I lightly put the toe of my shoe on her stomach and made fart noises as I pressed down. Poor Mya was back in the land of the living with a big smile.

pfffff, phrfffff, pbbbbbbrrrrp, erp?

“Hahaha you’re weird hahaha” She’s missing her left front tooth.

Living in an environment of constant laughter is only infectious. Being able to be in a state where laughter is always possible is a gift. It makes the days and horrid moments so much easier to deal with. With the kids, it even makes problems disappear thru the simple means of a joke or a look or playing dumb. It even work with the parents:

White Lake:
“How is Tyler doing?”

“He’s great. Attentive. Loves hoagies.”

“Hahahaha sure does.”

That’s just the truth. The kid was hoagie love sick.

Over lunch:
“Hey Tyler having a hoagie for lunch again?”

“Yeah. I love hoagies. My dad makes them for me every morning. It has two cheeses and three kinds of meat. Mayo and spice.”

“Would you say that this is the one hoagie to find them. the one hoagie to bind them in the darkness?”

“Yeah. It’s pretty filling.”

I nearly peed I was laughing so hard. Tyler is 11 and was our Assistant Director for our Residency in White Lake, SD.

In my life off the road, I have tried to find as much laughter as possible. When I left Dell’Arte, I had little humor or laughter left. As if it was drained from me like blood letting. Nothing was funny or funny enough to laugh at (a bi-product of my training). The kids have taught me how to laugh again. How to bring light and joy to not only my life but those around me very easily. It’s funny how light something can be when you’ve felt so heavy for too long. Hahahahaha

Also, Jac and I did a phone interview in Wakpala to promote the show on the local tribal radio. After which, I learned of a whole news network: National Native News (current native news and issues like: Crazy Horse, The UN Human Rights Committee). South Dakota is also home to the Lakota Nation which is, unfortunately, famed for The Pine Ridge Reservation (the economically poorest patch in the entirety of these United States). Pine Ridge is not someplace you vacation. I’ll post a few links at the bottom here but also in the links menu:

National Native News Homepage: Headline Archive for current native issues

NNN Internet Radio and News:

Pine Ridge (Graphic Content):

Lakota Times:

Out of Africa

Go to where the dreams are thickest, sleep, let them in.



Out of Africa in Wakpala
By: Leighland A. Hooks

Something struck me as I looked into the eyes of a girl named Dreamer. She couldn’t talk but she could smile. Wide and deep all the way back to her fillings; which were silver but her eyes were an earthy brown with green specks. The playground is hot. The high plains day, in late summer death throws, grinds the turf to a nice gooey consistency. The kids I’ve been working with suddenly set free move like wild horses. It’s in their blood at Standing Rock.

Earlier in the week they had asked if “I was Lakota” like them. “He’s brown like us!” they giggled. Before I could answer: “No, I’m half-black.” And add the only native word I know (as if to impress them like a high-brow New England merchant who reads too many Louis L’amour books) “Tatanka”. I imagined them looking at me cross-eyed, missing toothed mouths agape, then uproarious laughter: “Buffalo?” So much for watching Dances With Wolves…Luckily, my touring partner stopped me from speaking and moved on with auditions.

Regardless of my obvious deficiency knowledge of the local tongue, the kids talk to me in Lakota. The only translations I received were from passer Byers. “Ze” means no. Strength and age grant authority and middle fingers probably mean “hello”. I take no offense to the, in Minnesota terms, crass treatment or aggression. I am an outsider to them. Worse than a stranger, a white-man educated theatre teacher with nothing they want to know.

What can I bring them? What can I give them that fills their needs? Their wants? As one of my teachers, Ronlin Foreman, said: “For us! For us! The play is for the delight of the audience and the pure joy of the player!” In servitude is the lesson. For them, always.

But what use can a show about imagination and pirates be to these kids? Kids who don’t want pirates and talking dogs. During a rehearsal early in the week, a group of boys were talking:

“What’s this show about? Is it Native?”
“No, it’s a white-man show.”
They catch me ease dropping.
“Hear the one about the orange?”
“Fruit punch.” Says a boy, Michael
Out classed by eight year olds

I came to realize that day; I have encountered the true west. Not the one in the pages of Sam Sheppard’s domestic violence infused play, but the heartbeat of the Middle-American Plains. And this, the children and descendants, the blood forced to reservations to pool and stagnate. Although, I grew up in central Minnesota amongst farmers and mechanics with rusted pick-ups and horses, my west is fake. It is the west of progression and expensive educations, debt and material. Nothing to do with customs and ancestral traditions.

Back at the hotel, I say goodnight to my touring partner and friend Jacinta (I call her Jac for short):

“’Night Jac. Sleep well dress rehearsal will be tough tomorrow.”
“Yeah. I don’t know how we’ll get them to listen. It’ll be what it will. ‘Night.”

We’re staying at The Grand River Casino Hotel just outside Wakpala. It smells of stale smoke and empty pockets. I feel conflicted staying at a casino. Happy to have a room but uncomfortable in a house of chance. I sleep disheartened.

In the mornings, I liked to watch the wind sweep the prairie grass over my oatmeal and tea. It is beautiful to me. I imagine mustangs running freely across the range, through the wind like blunt knives forcing a cut. Running. Always moving. Away from a home they never had. I never gaze too long. The plains turn into the African Serengeti and I see myself speaking African or Bush, Swahili with the Masai warriors. Carefully hunting gazelle. I look away; I have always looked away, back into my furnished room with my guitar and smart phone. All these things I’ve carried with me: clothes, hats, broken hearts, beer bottoms. For a second I compare myself with Christ. I laugh at my complex, absolve myself and get on with my day.

I made the mistake of wearing my western pearl snap shirt and bandana one day.

“I like your cowboy costume” laugh the kids.
My face begins to match the peach tones of my shirt. Then, in reference to my bandana:

“Are you a crip?”
“What Shaylin?”
“Your blood rag.”

Little did I know that several students had been expelled or suspended for gang related activities the previous week. I had always thought that gangs were for cities like New York or Los Angeles, not small town South Dakota. I considered this as I turn a corner in the school building. My attention turns outward as the commons engulfs me. The after school drum circle is rehearsing. One drum and six players. The singular heartbeat of a people. All at once I am consumed with the memories of growing up bi-racial in rural Minnesota. The passive glances, the marginal tolerance and disgust (which I came to hold against myself). I want to cry. Slump against a wall and sing of my people, the world as my forefathers have told. Of the Ivory Coast and ships. A world I have no connection to anymore…the circle seems grotesque in the shiny new federal school. I turn into the theatre and think about something else:

Dreamer is reaching for my shoulders. So I stoop down to ask what she wants. She takes my arm with, surprising strength, and pulls me to the monkey bars.

“She wants to go across but have to help her up,” says her sister Harmony.

The drive to Wakpala is only seven miles. I use the time to think about my day: What needs to happen? What do I want to happen? And the day’s foreseen challenges. Dress rehearsal promises to be…creative at best. These kids do not agree with silence. Backstage is just another room to be filled. However, this one has canvas walls and nobody wants to hear about who kicked whom.

Out the window are the dissolute plains of cowboys and cattle. The range spans for miles in its way. Nothing to claim the wind, nothing to chain men’s hearts but barb wire and abandoned ranch homes. The early sun sets fire to the Missouri as molten gold drifts to the grasses. The wind blows north in little concussive bursts signaling the tides to pass into winter. Into isolation, frozen as ever ready for the spring to come.

I close my eyes. Perhaps my answer is in there amongst the dark and motion of the van. Hidden here in spaces and unfurnished rooms I’ve given myself. I drift. What can I find?

Dreamer falling into my hands and wrapping her arms around my neck. She laughs and squeals

“You might be able to do this on your own one day” I tell her. She only gallops off to start again. Expecting me to help her.


“You ready?” asks Jac
“Yeah. Lets go.”

In servitude is the lesson. For me. Always.

Oct. 5th, 2011

P.s. As I later came to find, “Ze” is a derogatory term for no. Wakpala was our second residency during the fall tour and a tough one.

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