Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

Here Ends the Journey…

Our residency at Wanbli was the last of the fall tour. And with the last stop comes the last time I will work with Jacinta. I have been issued a new partner for the spring tour. His name is Kevin. That’s all I really know. Jacinta has been my only companion, captive audience for my music and a friend for nearly four months. I wish her well on her future travels and adventures in the world. I hope that Kevin is ready.  I hope he knows what he’s getting himself into. I hope I do to…

 

To finish out Wanbli and Kadoka…what can I say? The kids, in many ways, were better behaved and more agreeable then those at Wakpala. They were a handful-and-a-half but, they showed a side of themselves that I’m not sure anyone has seen. When they would let go and would allow themselves to enjoy what they were doing, they lit up! Absolutely phenomenal things would happen. One of my pirates, Carlos, would fight tooth and nail about doing anything: walking, breathing, not being a pain in the ass. However, when Carlos would forget about being a jerk: he had fun! He really got into being a pirate maybe like a quarter of the time, but he was damn funny for that quarter. He’d lose himself in wat he was doing, and do it, then realize what had happened and bury his face in his hands as if to say: “What have I done?!” And the play. These kids could could play and laugh better then the rest. Much more engaged and active in what they were doing and so much laughter. Sometimes at the wrong times, but always laughing and smiling. I really hope we gave them something that they can use everyday. Something inside themselves that they can hold onto and build. Something that they can believe in with the knowledge that they do matter and can change their lives if they want to.

Working on the Rez is always terribly enlightening and scary. It’s a whole world in isolation. Unknown, unrealized. I could on and on about social issues and government infringement and Tribal Rights and so on…But, the fact of the matter is that these people are there, with lives and dreams and hopes and nobody on the outside cares to look. Or listen. How do we live? How do we survive? How do we continue after the wars change from battlefields to courtrooms? Is there an answer or only more questions?

And for Kadoka, that weird little Interstate town, I leave this:

Off the Rumble Strip

By: Leighland Hooks

Out where the electric lights don’t reach. Past where the gravel runs out though the fields and into the cold. Into the Badlands where Custer was slain and Red Cloud still walks the hills, ghastly and proud. Coyotes and loafers howl mourning’s to the dripping moon. No vultures or buffalo hide in this night, just the haunting wind. Ice cold and sharp, dry like bad wine to a drunk. Familiar and comfortable as it numbs the hands and face. These blankets for cow puncher and farmers knowing the frost all too well. Too many livestock found wearing the mask of winter. Too many fingers and toes lost to it. Death drifts those places between dream circles and ravens. Where words those their meaning with so many inflections of peace, of life. This place where we are dying without living. Not here where the lights can’t reach and the barb wire has rusted through. Not here in the Badlands. Not here in the murderous quiet. Not here. No. Where bones whisper and crack. Where the only the prairie dogs will listen as they tunnel through the graves. Here where the electric lights will never reach.

 

Dec. 5th, 2011

 

Thanks for reading these past few months. The posts will keep coming just as soon as they can.

 

Best,

Leigh Hooks

In the Land of Red Cloud

Chief Red Cloud

(Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota)

Well here we are this week in Wanblee, South Dakota. In Lakota “Wanbli” means Eagle, a symbol of strength, intelligence and freedom. Wanblee is located on the Pine Ridge reservation 28 miles south and west of Interstate I-90 through Kadoka. At a glance, Kadoka is a strange place. Old motels and motor inns litter the place like obscene memorials to the Eisenhower Interstate System. As I have found out, Kadoka is famed as a town of horse thieves and run away criminals. In the cowboy days, gangs would rob banks in Rapid City and flee to Kadoka for shelter. It seems all too fitting as a scene from “The Twilight Zone” where you can meet yourself on a street corner.

However, for what Kadoka lacks in comfy home feelings it makes up in pristine Black Hills beauty. From my room at The Dakota Inn, I can see for miles and miles without interruption. All the way to the lights of Rapid City, North Dakota, Saskatchewan and the back of my own head.  As you drive out of Kadoka to the south, only 4 miles out of town the hills begin to rise. Ancient river beds and glacial drifts spire out of the plains topped with stringy pines. and I wonder how people lived here on the high plains desert. For there is nothing. Not even birds. No eagles or hawks or sparrows or crows. Nothing. Silence. Except for the ever-present Dakota wind. Now with winter creeping in it only brings ice and hostility. No more friendly tumble weeds and little bugs.

As you pass the rise into the reservation a sign reads: You are Now Entering “The Land of Red Cloud” (One of the most predominate and well-known figures in all of the Lakota Tribes. He is supposedly buried on the Pine Ridge Reservation akin to Sitting Bull being buried on Standing Rock. A whole other debacle.) The school in Wanblee is called Crazy Horse High with its team the “Chiefs”. Although both Red Cloud and Crazy Horse are members of the Oglala Tribe, I find it a bit funny that the school is not named for Red Cloud. Crazy Horse was a BAMF warrior but had little tact. I suppose it’s similar to why we have memorials to generals and not teachers in mainstream white society. Red Cloud was also a warrior but also served his people as they were being forced to reservations.

Crazy Horse educates children mostly of the Oglala Tribe but also of those who live near or on the Rez. I knew this going in and hoped this experience would not be as trying as Wakpala. So far, being two days in, it’s going pretty well. The kids of both places have similar traits: they both hate authority, have a hard time with loosely structured time and love to spin. Not like kids at other school that randomize their twirls. But together (seemingly secretly organized) and always counter clock-wise. They loll their heads back to look at the ceiling and spin to the left. Not one person I have asked can tell me why. I could deduce it away and say that kids do weird things. But it’s not that. It’s a part of their being and has more importance. I may never really know. I tried it a few times and just got dizzy.

I like how the kids laugh here. A vast majority of them are missing their front teeth, so it makes it that much better. And they love falling down. Some slide others tumble but always fall. They are loud though, tell you what, they love to yell. I wish I could create a collection array that would harvest all their scattered energy so I could redirect it into something productive though. They lack focus. But I like them anyway.

Something else I’ve notices between Wanblee and Wakpala is the school staff. The administrators are all well educated federally trained white people while the teachers and support staff vary in tribal members. Even way out here Uncle Sam still has a firm grip on things which resonates through what the kids learn from the federal level and the tribal level. Most Rez schools have Native Culture programs that educate the youth on their own people. These classes are tough my tribal members and tribal scholars who have dedicated their lives to continuing the language and stories of their people into the modern age. Now, the secondary students must learn to speak and write Lakota. Which is great but, they must also learn Spanish or French as a federal language requirement. It makes sense to me that being bi-lingual in a Native language would qualify as a credit and knowing how much of the high school Spanish i learned and never needed or used, Lakota would be more than fitting. Especially when living on the Rez and being able to communicate in your own language. More to come on that topic later.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.

Bonus Features:

Red Cloud became Chief in 1868 2 years after the Dawes Act of 1866 (which enabled white settlers and industry to harvest resources from tribal land) and continued to help his people until his death in 1909. Red Cloud partook in The Battle of The Little Big Horn, The Sioux Wars and several other engagements.

The Natural History Preservation Act of 1966 also inhibited Native land rights and sparked the Fish Wars of Northern California.

“Sioux” means “snake in the grass” and was only used by enemies of the Lakota. Note that the most populous cith in South Dakota is Sioux Falls which is located in “The Sioux Empire” and is 1 1/2 hours form Sioux City, Iowa.

Beatitudes

The Beat of Hoven
By: Leighland Hooks

The time of harvest marks one of two very busy times in the agricultural year. The first, naturally, is planting and maintaining the crops until harvest. After which, field rotations and those at fallow share the burden of use and disuse. Throughout the growing season, fields must be sprayed, trimmed, weeded and kept alive through storms, floods and pests. But, harvest is where heroes are made and generational skills are tested.

Harvest is usually a period of joy mixed with danger. It seems to be cyclical of the canning and selling of the summer’s labour and the loss of fingers and toes. Accidents do happen reaping and sowing grain. Fire remains a very real threat to farming communities. As combines turn lazy circles, collecting and chewing stalks, it is not uncommon for over worked machines to spark or clip a rock thus bringing excitement and life to the dry fields. This is the case in Hoven, where in one week, two fire broke out only a few hundred yards from main street. The tumble weeds and southern gales held the flames like a lover, keeping the embers nurtured through dark times until they were strong enough to carry on by themselves.

The open plains around Hoven are home to whole herds of tumbleweeds. Growing up in central Minnesota, we never got to see them. I thought they just existed in movies until I saw real ones in Rapid City. Now surrounded by a nest, I find endless joy watching them spar with the wind. Jac just looks at them as a common sight, she’s seen many of them from her previous year on the road with CTCSD. I see them as something like hamster wheels. Carrying seeds and little insects where ever they go. Stopping just long enough to say hello and observe you then kindly move on (as prompted by the wind). The skeletal sage also marks a time of sleep. Once green and alive, these bones roam the prairies as warnings for the harsh Dakota winter to come. A time to move on.

The thing about Hoven is that it’s called “The Cathedral on the Prairie”. At first glance, I could only imagine it was some strange farmer metaphor about serenity and salvation. But, as we came over the hill on highway 14, sure enough, two gothic spires rose from the flatlands.

“Oh, cathedral on the prairie.” I stupidly say
“What did you expect?” Inquires Jac
I tell her my ideas
“I guess that makes sense too. Why would you think that first?”
“Would you expect a gothic structure just to rise out from the fields?”
“Well, no. But, there is a huge grain co-op here.”
“Yeah, like a pilgrimage to Mecca only it’s Pioneers and cow-pinchers to Hoven.”

And I could see them. Thousands of gaunt souls and livestock dragging across the high plains desert like plows to the Oasis and promise of Hoven. And to this day, droves of hunters flock to Hoven to hunt pheasant. Not only the state bird but also, also the source of the states most predominate income ($25 million annually). With that, the four-horseman ride all along the range to cut down creatures for sport: deer, puma, bison, fish, the sick, the elderly but pheasant, the most popular.

This holy city inhabits about ninety people but draws others for miles around to store grain and to hold mass. A dense collective of the faithful joining bodies and spirits. The communion of life in the human experience wrapped the isolation of the plains. Drowned out by the sound of threshing machines and trucks. Barely tactile, ever slipping away and returning as tides that leaves pools with life teaming just below the surface. Just below…

The children of Hoven are excitable. They meet us with sideways glances and cautious eyes. We must look strange to them, laughing and being generally over excited for a children’s show. Also, we’re from Sioux Falls. The most populace city in the state. To the kids, Sioux Falls might be the same as Italy. A far away rumored place that only exists in textbooks. The two places (Hoven and Sioux Falls) are not that far apart, but just far enough over the horizon to be worlds different. (There are many noted differences between those who live in Sioux Falls and those who do not. Some slickers think they’re shit don’t stink and any farmer knows the smell.)

The grown-ups, busy with the season, are pleased to have us here:

“We had Missoula last year so we thought we’d try a local company that’s cheaper and better.” Says Ladeen, head of the Hoven PTA.

Being the outstanding businessperson I am, I say:
“Yeah cheaper. But better is up to you guys.”

Ladeen, Jac and I share awkward laughter. I was never a good sales man.

We’re staying at the Weber’s hunting lodge, the “Hilton of Hoven”. High ceilings, video games, booze and plenty pictures of dead things. Jac and I create a nightly ritual of drinking vodka tonics and sometimes playing pool.

“We’re livin’ the high-life Jac. Now we just need a shuffle board court to complete it.” I say over my drink suited for people in their eighties. Eventually we start playing Wii sword fighting with hordes of virtual combatants. I use this opportunity to hone my Jedi skills. The dark side prevailed at level six. The Force is not strong in this one. Average at best.

In the mornings, I watch the dust and tumbleweeds in the seasonal winds. Now seemingly stronger without the crops to buffer me from the gales. One morning, a small tumbleweed stopped in of the kitchen window, rocked against the wind just long enough to take a look and ask how I was doing. I didn’t answer which the little guy must have taken sharply because rolled right on into his day. Given that I had to start mine.

The week needs to be filled, the kids need more rehearsal and the characters need developing. Ben, who is playing one of the cousins, decides to make his character into a nerd. Of his own accord, he produces black glasses complete with jock tape. Jac and I find this hilarious and ask him to say common phrases as his nerd. It is a voice so nasally and coupled with the underwhelming sounds of a science textbook, we couldn’t stop laughing. I get him to say:

“I says to the guy: Ukulele? More like Urkle.”
I may have peed a bit.

The performances go pretty well. For the community and extended community of Hoven, we gave them a good one.

Earlier that day, I took the time for a short trip to the cathedral. Built in the late thirties, after some sort of disaster, the sanctuary doubles as a local historian. Every event of the town’s history, from marriages and funeral to celebration and honorary ceremonies have been and are still held here. The cathedral is the centerpiece and slick sinew that holds this place together. It is a house of St. Anthony, the patron saint of miracles. Quite fitting for the rigors of farm life. I ask St. Anthony for a light and ten bucks. The statue, complete with a friar’s horseshoe, only smiles back gently as if to say:

“No you asshole. Get a job.”

I chuckle, salute the saint and push through the fortified heavy oak doors. The door, with surprising quiet, closes and clicks behind me. I realize I’m alone here. Only the old marquee style lights fitted to the arches hum with company. I walk around the edge of the pews being careful not to disturb the bulletproof silence. Saints and apostles cover the walls displaying their tales of love and fear faithfully in pretty glass and marble railings. I fell as if I should say a prayer at the altar. None came to mind.

I take my leave down the broad concrete steps at the entrance, and there inscribed in pink granite stand “The Beatitudes of Matthew”. One reads:

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

After the show, the teachers and parents invite Jac and myself to go “Uptown” (which really means going up the street to the liquor store which is also a bar). We are met with cheers and applause! Jac laughs in slight embarrassment and I do a bow. It feels good to have our presence welcomed but strange travelers make temporary celebrities.

Nonetheless, drinks are bought for both of us. The women sit at a table and talk in polite tones whilst the men stand at the bar, boisterous and happy. The men welcome me with toothy farmer smiles and caliced hands. I feel inadequate, I’ve always hand soft hands and been skinny. Literally half the person of the average plowboy. My advantage has always come with a charming smile and soft tone not brute force. However, in this case there are all to excited to tell me about themselves! Where they have been, what they want to do, business ideas and most importantly: where they want to be.

All the while, beers are being bought with frightening frequency. Parents of appreciative children, people who saw the show, people who know people that saw the show all seemingly plotted together to line the bar with drinks for me. I try to refuse the third round:

“Guys I really appreciate the beer but, I need to take it easy tonight.”

“Oh really? I think there’s a spare seat at the ladies table.”

The ninth round gurgles down to meet its friends. I know all to well the fate of drinking too many cheap beers. The mornings are payback: Hell hath no fury like Miller Lite. But it doesn’t matter now or will it the next day or ever. I am laughing with them, sharing with them, forgetting the past and blurring the future. A piece of advice floats my way:

“When I was your age I was so concerned with getting married and having kids. Now I have those things and two grocery stores and the only thing I want to do is leave here. I wish I had spent more time traveling. You’re doing it right. Never stop and drink up young man.”

With a cheers the tenth round begins and the night spins on.

26, Oct. 2011

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