Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the category “Dakota Players”

The Silver Lining in All This Mess

Today I let the kids roam free. Well, I let them roam in their playground which is chain-linked from the rest of the world. Something happens when kids eat food. No matter what it is. No matter the quality or quantity, size or shape, they get really excited. Here in Lake Benton, Mn, the kids go wild for food. All I hear during rehearsal is: “When are we going to eat?”. After the horde consumes sufficient stocks of fuel, chaos ensues.

The weather has been nice out here, so I let them out. It would seem that their whole lives have led to this moment in time when they have a chance to explode among the budding trees. As I led them from the cafeteria to the paddock, their feet became sounded. Their hands anvils and hammers of old medieval wars ready to crush the enemy. Like a cowboy, I try to keep the herd calm before a thunder storm worrying more about my safety then theirs. They know what to do when the gate opens. I just need to be out of the way when it happens.

Kevin and I give a brief lecture called: “Several Easy Steps to Being a Better Actor by: Kevin and Leigh” usually on Wednesday when we have all the kids for the first time. In this talk, we give four defined groups of actors we see:

1. The Flopper: This person has no bones and collapses their form on stage.

2. The Zoner: The one who does not pay attention to anything on stage.

3. The Spaz: The persons who constantly move for no reason and/or flail on stage.

4. The Diva: This actor has attitude up the butt.

Gate lets loose and a stampede ensues. Any sort of polite society is thrown free and smashed on the concrete. The Spaz’es spaz, The Floppers flop, The Diva’s preach and The Zoners find a blank patch of sky. I realize in this moment, trying to keep the killing and pain to a minimum, that no matter how we try to act or who we want to be, there is a place where we are all nine and nothing matters. We slap or friends on the back, call loved ones stupid names, and scream to the wind as if no one is watching and the “adult” world has died out. We are who we are no matter the age or location. Sometimes we just need to let our flag fly high and proud marking our territory as a sovereignty among the wasteland. Never stopping, never quitting being relentless in our persons. Smiling in the face of the doom bringer. We are the things that make a life and we will never stop living them.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe,

Leigh

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The Outcasts of Valley Spring

It’s been a few weeks but here is a short one:

Master Classes can be a very interesting thing. When I was in college, the opportunity to ask and learn from a professional was always a treat. I remember when I was a sophomore, we brought in The Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) out of New York (I think) and they had improv. classes and a really great show. Now if you don’t know, UCB is the same comedy troupe that Amy Poehler began with. The touring troupe that visited Augustana had members including: Charlie Todd (Improv. Everywhere), Ellie Kemper (Blow Job Girl, Bridesmaids) and Bobby Moynihan (SNL, Bro Rape). I actually took a class with Bobby and did a scene with a a very recent ex-girlfiend at the time. I think there were good parts to the scene if you overlooked the horror and blasphemy of what actually happened on stage. It was the worst. Worse then the time I decided that a few members of BNI (Augie’s Improv. Troupe) should do a game on the legendary IO (Improv. Oylmpics) stage in Chicago on a class trip. And believe me, the game of freeze was awful but the scene that Bobby saw was like something you would find at the bottom of a sewer that’s under a dump. And that is all I can think about when I see Bobby on TV:

“Oh wow Bobby made it on SNL! Man that was a bad scene…”

Like anything with sociology and theatre, you take the good with the bad.

Well, as fate may have it, the tides have turned in my life and I teach aspire artists. As we may all know, a lot of bad performance has to happen before an acceptable performance happens. I just hope every time we take the stage the kids see a good performance from me. I don’t know what I would do if this happened:

8 year-old: Leigh…yeah…what were you doing out there?

Leigh: My part. Didn’t you hear them laughing?

8: Out of pity you mean?

Leigh:   😦

I do feel pressure to be as perfect as possible because the kids always have their eyes on both Kevin and I. Doing Master Classes amps up the feeling because we’re teaching what we know or claim to know and it would be a poor practice to teach someone something that is wrong.

Valley Spring is a sleepy rural community just outside the suburbia of Brandon, SD (part of the Sioux Falls metro-area). The school building is an amalgamation of the original school building and a series of add-ons/renovations that have happened over the years. The school is just k-5 and hold less then 300 students and it is actually easy to get lost in the place. The building has been cut up so many times that, when we arrived, we had a very intense tour on how to navigate the hallways.

As the week began, Kevin and I had to decide what we felt comfortable teaching. With the younger ones we did a lot of games and minor movement exercises and with the older ones we decided to teach some serious stuff. Kevin did some choreography and stage combat (both of which were super fun). I taught tumbling, stretching and some trips and slips. I was a really good experience being a student of Kevin’s as he taught his combat techniques and dance. When you’re on tour with the main objective of teaching a show, we rarely get a chance to delve deeper into what our skill set is as artists and with only 20 hours a week to get a show up, things have to move quickly. Kevin gave those kids the sweat and they loved it.

It was fun watching the kids tumble. Some had gymnastics training and some had never done a somersault. In some cases I had to spent extra time with the tumblers and talk them through it. Sometimes it was safety concerns (landing on their heads or not tucking right) but most times it was just a simple matter of confidence. Believing in themselves that they could do this. With my time at Dell’Arte I gained a huge amount of personal confidence in my body and person. First with my physical presence as a very tall person and second with the capabilities of my body. I suffer from scoliosis (acute curvature of the spine) and had been told since the day I was diagnosed that I was fragile and easily hurt. I never thought I would be able to do acrobatics because I was afraid of hurting myself. And as it turned out I was able to run and jump with the best of them contorting my long frame in all kinds of impossible ways. Of course I fell down a lot, bruised myself, bleed, sprained a few things and knocked my head on a wall or two but gained the skill and confidence to be willing to be hurt in order to learn something. Getting up is the most important part of falling down.

After the combat workshop, we were talking with some teachers in the hallway and some kids just starting slapping each other and laughing hysterically. Kevin, myself and the teachers gasped in horror of this street brawl until Kevin realized they were showing off what they learned. We gave them some applause for a show well done. I wish we could go back and watch as the teachers are helpless in a sea of tripping and slap happy kids.

As Kevin and I had lunch one day in the teachers lounge by ourselves (which was in the basement), I was suddenly reminded of a story I read in high school called “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”. It’s a western short story written by Francis Bret Harte about various people exiled from the town of Poker Flat for many reasons as told by a gambler John Oakhurst. I’m not entirely sure why because the events of the story take a turn for the worst and Kevin and I were definitely at our best (check the link at the bottom).

Allen, Sioux Falls, Wall and North Platte are coming quick.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe

Leigh

Links:

Outcasts of Poker Flat: http://www.bartleby.com/310/4/2.html

Improv. Everywhere: http://improveverywhere.com/ (Charlie Todd)

Bobby Moyihan: http://bobbymoynihan.blogspot.com/

Ellie Kemper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellie_Kemper

Numismatist: The Collector

I walked out of the bank with a tightly bound roll of quarters fresh from the teller’s drawer. My teller, who was Australian, spoke softly making her accent barely audible along with her voice. I wanted to ask her so many questions about her journey from her homeland and how she ended up here, Sioux Falls of all places. But I held my tongue and said instead:

“Australia! Wow! I’ve always wanted to go there! I recently found a work visa program where you can live and work there for a year.”

“They’re really hard to get. Especially right now.” She said without enthusiasm

“I’m a clown. That makes everything easier right? Or at least I think so.”

I tossed my roll of quarters in the air and said goodbye in a funny french accent. She laughed and said goodbye.

As I strolled through the parking lot playing “Catch the Roll of Quarters”, I walked by two guys in a truck talking about something. I made eye contact as I threw the roll high into the air. I mouthed Oh No! as they lifted from sight. The guys in the truck looked like they had just seen a murder. They had no idea what to do or think: Who is this guy? What the hell is he doing? I caught the quarters without looking, bowed for my audience and marched a away like a Drum Major with my prize roll of quarters held high singing She’s a Grand Old Flag. I would like to think the “Truck Men” laughed. I don’t think they even smiled.

Naturally, whilst playing my game for the parking lot and a dead bird, I dropped my roll of quarters. I was not mad that I had to kneel in the slush to retrieve my lost coins, but more mad that I had failed the biggest stunt: The Behind-The-Back-Catch-a-Roo. As I went about picking up the, perhaps, three dollars in change from the ice, something caught my eye. What could it be? One of my favorite things…a bicentennial quarter. Marked: Liberty, 1776-1976 and E Pluribus  Unum (Out of many, One). I became a greedy kid again, hiding candy from him mom, keeping secrets in his pockets for later. I picked up the treasure from the slush and stuffed it into my change pocket just under my belt line next to my typewriter key and Ammo Coin. I collected the rest of the silver walked briskly to the van. I had laundry to do.

My family has always collected money, not for the study of currency, but like pictures of places you’ve been and family photos. My Grandfather, August, collected money from all around the world. He was a bomber pilot in the South Pacific during WWII then became a career Aerospace Engineer and traveled the world. He kept a huge binder of both paper and coin money from all corners of the globe. Mostly Asia and Polynesia is where Grandpa and Grandma would go. I would flip through the pages and see a nations history. Leaders I never knew existed that had left their mark in inked fiber strands. The binders were like textbooks to me, maps and roads of places I could only read about and ponder where they were. The pages filled me with a sense of wonder that kept me turning each plastic sheet to find out more. They were the best books I ever read featuring pictures of Gorbachev, Mao Tse Tung and some guy in a coconut hat. He was my favorite.

As I stuffed the small, over priced, hotel washing machine full of dirty socks and embarrassing underwear, I kept thinking about my new prize resting in my pocket. This was not unusual to me because I maintained an old coffee can packed with trinkets: A note from my friend Jamie, several small gemstones, coinage from eastern Europe, an Egyptian dollar, one buffalo nickel, two Kennedy half-dollars, one Susan B. Anthony silver dollar, four Sacajawea dollars, one William Henry Harrison dollar, one 1950 Philadelphia or Denver mint dime (which I think is aluminum),  a handful of wheat back pennies and five dollars worth of bicentennial quarters. I couldn’t wait to put the new George with the others and let them talk about their journeys and how they ended up in an espresso can:

“So George.”

“Yes, George?”

“How did you find out about this spectacular place?”

“I was saved from a Washington machine!”

Snobby laughter

“Oh, George! You are insatiable. Another martini? Of course. Another round Abe, if you please.”

Maybe not, I thought, I don’t like martinis.

What I did want to hear was where they came from. When I was a waiter at the illustrious Cracker Barrel in Sioux Falls, I would receive dollar bills marked with “wheresgeorge.com” (a site to track where this bill has traveled and how it came into ones possession). Some of the bills had traveled thousands of mile from all across the states and Canada to be laid on jam slathered tables. I took each bill into my care and transferred their serial numbers and watched as the program slashed a line through a map of the states, the Heartland and right to me.

After my laundry was done, Kevin and I decided to make some food (we were staying in a nice hotel which had kitchens in the rooms). We ran about the 49th street Hyvee collecting what we needed for a nice meal. We went to check out. I’ve always had a hard time reading the screen on the card swipe thing because I’m tall enough the digital numbers turn grey and mesh with the screen. So, I did what my Dad always does. He’s really tall too and an old track star and he would awkwardly spread his legs super wide, not bending at the knees leaning into the key pad like one of those drinking dippy bird things. While doing this and taking up as much space as possible, I decided it was a good idea to make eye contact with the guy in line behind us:

“Hey”

“Uh…does the key pad work better like that?” -unsure what was going to happen

“It makes it magical.” -Crazy smile

I paid for my half of the groceries, picked up my bags and suggested to the guy that he should do the same stretch:

“It makes the experience so much better. Trust me.”

He smiled and did it. Boom.

After dinner, I cleaned my kitchen, put the dishes in the washer and stored the leftovers. I noticed my pile of quarters oozing out of the broken paper roll. I began to sift through them, making shapes and looked for messages in the coins. I became lost in my mind while my body made rudimentary shapes (I think one was a dolphin) with the silver. As my hands moved, artfully finger painting the table top, my eyes we filled with memories. Things in my past I had not thought about in years: bad decisions, people I had lost contact with, ex-lovers, expired coupons and the places all these things resided in my skull. Where did they come from? What was their journey into my life? What would they talk to each other about? How did I go about storing them?

As I travel the state, in some of the most remote locations (like Hoven or Allen) the kids ask where we are from. Kevin and I tell them about the states we were raised and explain that our company is based out of Sioux Falls:

“Wow! Sioux Falls! That’s so far away!” Like a map in a textbook

The kids collect our information as if we were rock stars or celebrities, carefully holding on to what they can hold and stash it away with their other trinkets. Keep them safe from the world as hidden treasures. What would we talk about in their lives? How did we influence them? How did they influence us?

As I collect my trinkets and gaze at them longingly, I will only put them into an old coffee can and let them talk and keep my secrets and memories. Let them remain with me to remember where I have been and what I have done. Let them renew the wonder of turning the plastic sheets with faces and cities I know, and a guy in a coconut hat.

That damned bird was the best audience. What a stiff.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe,

Leigh

P.S.

American Numismatist Association: http://www.money.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home

Where’s George?: http://www.wheresgeorge.com/

The Lords and Minor Gods of Children’s Theatre

Rapid City Reduex, a dub-wise remix if you will. Last week Kevin and I found ourselves once again in the eclectic and windy, Rapid City. This time we were working with the kids at Grandview elementary on the south side of town.  This time around we had less time to go about the city and discover more as we were not located near downtown but rather near a Sanford hospital in a retirement community. However, what we lacked in downtown accessibility we gained in community warmth and hospitality.

We were split between two private homes (The Browns and The Chrests) just a block and a half from each other. Kevin was staying with The Browns in a lovely split level home that was the childhood home of the husband. Mr. Earlywine had the advantage of being able to spit on the school, staying just across the street while I had to lumber myself allllll the way down the street (middle schoolers are really starting to make an impact). I, with The Chrests a military family that had lived abroad in the U.K. and Germany, kept in good company down the block.

Auditions were complicated. We were dealing with a much younger crowd (k-5) instead of the usual spread (k-8). Which meant we had to cast very carefully because it is easy for the younger kids to become overloaded with the responsibilities of a larger role. It was also their first residency (which means they don’t really know what is going on or what is about to happen). We began in the normal fashion of introducing ourselves and joking around. Things were going great, until my pirate auditions came up. Now, mind you, I’ve done pirate auditions the same way for 5 months and never had a problem. I first line them up and ask them some simple questions for the kids to ponder: What does a pirate look like? How do they move? What are their faces like? Are they missing limbs? Are their bodies and bent and broken from work? Then I ask them to do their best “ARGH”! for me all together as a group. The first time is usually lack luster and I ask them to do it again, then we move on to individual pirate “Arghs” or sounds or phrases. What ever they want. Naturally, this time I was not so lucky. The first kid makes a sound for me:

“Argh…”

“Oh you can do better then that!”

“No I can’t.”

“Sure you can. You haven’t even tried.”

“I don’t like to try things.”

Instantly my mind is irate with questions regarding his decision to voluntarily try something new and waste my time, the group’s time and, most importantly, his time. Kevin and I had recently watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the Chrest family is partially Greek, so I say, turning to the crowd of parents:

“He don’t eat meat? He don’t eat meat? He don’t eat no meat? Is ok. I make lamb! You can do it! Try just this once it might be fun! Now with me: the most terrifying pirate “argh”…..GO!”

And we “argh’ed” a most terrifying sound. Rang the bells of heaven and muted Gabriel’s trumpet we did! But, the kid suddenly got red, called me a dirt name and stormed out. I didn’t know what to do so I called in the parents for back-up. I thought maybe I had hurt this kids feelings or made him feel uncomfortable in some way. Kevin and I continued with auditions. The kid soon reappeared from the back of the room with his book bag and was headed for the door. I told Kevin I’d be right back and caught him as he crossed the playground:

“Hey! Wait up! Hey, I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable back there. We would love to have you stay and finish the audition…

Without looking up and quickening his pace: “I would like it if you wouldn’t talk to me.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I returned to finish auditions with Kevin and to cast the show (I think 29 of 50 parts were cast). Later, the parents told us not to worry about the angry kid. He was known in the school as a perfectionist and a “Crybaby”. Kevin and I said: “Oh. Well…” and moved on.

At first we had a hard time getting the kids to focus on what we were about to embark on. It was like herding cats or squirrels in the beginning and as the week progressed, we turned rodents and felines into a well tuned and oiled machine. With the younger cast we had to break more often and keep them physically active to avoid the deadly nap epidemics that sweep the young ones. Kevin’s ingenious Ship-to-Shore game and my loud unfunny jokes keep them attentive.

During the week, we were treated like kings. Our host families made sure we were fed every morning and evening, we had coffee and snacks, quiet time and space to play music. One of the cast members Mother’s bought us Subway and volunteered her older daughter as a technician! High offerings of food and stage ninjas to The Lords and Minor Gods of Children’s Theatre. We accepted the tributes with much enthusiasm.

One of The Brown’s kids ( that turned out to be a pirate of mine) was taking guitar lessons. So, one night Kevin and I got together and played a few songs with him. He was really good! He was talking about chords I’ve only seen on charts and posters like they were common major chords:

“Yeah I’m working on B7th minor right now.”

Never heard of it.

The evening turned out to be an hour long sing-a-long with the entire Brown household. Katy Perry, Kid Rock, Pearle Jam, Johnny Cash were all played. The Browns invited us out later that week to see a movie. We saw Women in Black which turned into an hour and a half “make fun of Harry Potter session”.

“One to see Harry Potter go Equus all over this lady.” The ticket guy just laughed

The Chrest family bestowed upon us many gifts. The husband is on active duty in the Air Force and works in munitions or “Ammo”. He showed us 88mm artillery rounds, 30mm armor piercing bullets, cluster bomblettes, and Ammo Coins. The custom and tradition behind the Ammo Coin goes something like this:

One can only obtain a coin if it is presented to you by a Commanding Officer in person

The Coin is to be kept on your person at all times

If you don’t have your coin and some one does a coin check. You buy the next round of drinks

If you call a coin check in the accusation of someone not having their coin and you are proven wrong. you buy the next round.

The Ammo Coin can be expensive. But, the Ammo symbol the “Piss Pot”, is the oldest symbol in the American military. Besides getting an official Ammo Coin, we also received bomb fuse safety tags from bombs that were dropped on Lybia during the Gaddafi Revolutions and a map to a tourist stop near Wall SD that’s an old missile silo from the Cold War. NIFTY! Now Kevin and I decide minor disputes and decisions by flipping the Ammo Coin (which reads: Peace Through Superior Firepower and depicts a warthog with an A-10 tattoo) .

With the closing and strike of the show, we got more shoulder claps, thank you’s and firm handshakes than ever before. The community really loved the show and the experience of seeing their kids do something out of the ordinary. I was sad to leave this place behind but not without the appropriate hugs and goodbyes from our wonderful hosts.

Valley Spring is next on the block. Stay tuned.

With Love, All the Best, Safe Travels

Leigh

P.S. Kevin and I saw The Grey with Liam Neeson. This is how we ordered our tickets:

Kevin: I want to see Liam Neeson fight the Wilderness!

Leigh: I want to see Qui’gon go Taken on some wolves!

Kevin yelled like an angry bear and I high kicked a snowflake that was strung from the ceiling.

Broken Heart Ranch, East of Firesteel

“Oh he haw” I say

“Oh wah-hee” Says Jane

“Oh flan-hee”

“Oh waaa-heeee”

“Oh waan-flee”

“Close enough” Says Jane

“My French never was very good.” Says I

Mobridge is tucked away on the shores of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe (oh-wah-hee) in North Central South Dakota along Highway 12. Oahe, in Lakota, can mean: “A place to stand” or “foundation”. Which is exactly what Mobridge was established as during the Cowboy era. From the late 1800’s through perhaps 1915 the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba were tied to the boom and eventual bust of the cattle industry. Hundreds of thousands of Cattle moved through the Dakotas, and more specifically through Mobridge and Evarts, to be transported all around the continent. In Ike Blasingame’s Dakota Cowboy: My Life in the Old Days, Blasengame describes in pristine detail the environment and circumstance of 1911 Central Dakota. Mobridge also served as an important railway stop for all kinds of freight and passengers. Cattle Barons like Murdo McKenzie and G.E. Lemmon would make connections, to the now ghost town, Evarts to check on their herds. When they left the cattle business, they bought land and founded their towns: Murdo and Lemmon South Dakota.

(Lemmon S.D. has the worlds largest petrified wood park! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemmon,_South_Dakota)

(Murdo S.D. is pretty average: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murdo,_South_Dakota)

Mobridge is an interesting town. It is on the edge of both the Standing Rock and Cheyenne Reservations and is mostly pedestrian in nature. The community serves mostly as a service stop for the area, it has: 2 banks, 1 library, 1 chamber of commerce, 5 gas stations, 5 or 6 bars, 3 liquor stores, 1 abandoned rail depot, 1 pet shop and 1 coffee shop. The coffee shop was particularly interesting as it was also a book and floral shop: Bridge City Florist and Gourmet Coffee. Nothing says fun like roses, trashy romance novels and mocha’s! During one of our visits there, the barista asked why I was in town (she said I look like a foreigner and had to inquire to satiate her curiosity) and I explained what we do. She said: “Oh I thought you would be in town filming the Australians.” WHAT?! As it turns out, an Australian film company, Start A Riot, had been filming a documentary  about the Lakota on the nearby reservations. This was sparked from the ashes of and ideas that the Rez is full of broken and battered people. From personal experience I can say that such ideas are simply not true. check it out!:

Synergy Youth Movement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbPB1BSZDDY&feature=related

Start A Riot: http://startariot.com.au/ (they are connected to The Sitting Bull College: http://www.sittingbull.edu/)

Needless to say I was very excited to hear that people across the planet had even heard of South Dakota. On another note, I get asked if I’m from anywhere but America. People has asked: Poland?, Egypt?, Iraq?, Spain?, Native?, Mexican?, Greenland? I always feel flattered but ultimately joyous when I tell them I grew up in Minnesota. Surprise and disappointment all mixed together. The Barista was happier to hear that I work with kids and liked my coffee.

The kids of Mobridge were great! We had a lot of older kids turn out for the show which makes it a lot of fun because they can help teach the younger ones and they learn faster so you can do more! At one point I threw them a curve ball: after meal breaks we would try to collect them back into the theatre as quickly as possible. I took to yelling random Spanish and German phrases and pointing the the direction of the theatre. Some of the kids had no idea what to do. Some would freeze up not knowing what to do. Other would question what I wanted and some would just hurry to the theatre. Some would trip other themselves trying to both move towards to door and decipher what I was saying at the same time. While they made piles with each other, I would be yelling “The Chair! The Chair! Right Now from the Library!”

Whilst running my language experiments, I really pushed them that week. My pirates were still pretty young so I had them set but, we had three cousins that were 13-15. I gave them all kinds of feedback and ideas to try and fiddle with. I was especially strict with movement and placement of their feet, how they look at each other, how they look at the audience and their relationships with each other. Admittedly, I threw a lot at them in 20 hours but they seemed to catch on and retain much of it, even in front of an audience. And the best part: they had fun! We had so much fun leading and learning from them all week it was hard to say good-bye. Our host family, Jane and Lowell, said we had done very well with them and the show and that we erased any doubt they had about bringing us in.  Another week put on the top shelf.

When leaving Mobridge to the West, one has to cross a beautiful American Gothic two-lane bridge spanning Lake Oahe and into Cheyenne. From there you might head South on Highway 20 just past the casino. The road runs out over a patch of hills forgotten by Eisenhower but make great cow paths. Cresting the last hill, the old highway can be seen stretching like a varicose vein into the range lands. The new black top curves hard to the right leaving its brethren to roll out into the lost fence lines and lazy hawk tracks of the horizon. Highway 20 converges and marries Highway 63 through Trail City with its junk yard lawns. Abandoned and broken by time. Just after Timber Lake, which has no Timber left, 63 cuts South through a fallowed field. As you turn left, in just the drop of a lash, Broken Heart Ranch beats crookedly to the North. Under grey thunder heads and barren trees it bleed coal and cattle as did most of Cheyenne. Leaving towns stripped to Historical Markers like Firesteel to the West. 63 takes you away from this tortured earth, South to Eagle Butte. Broken Heart becomes a reflection in the dust.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe

Leigh

P.S. From Faith SD to Isabel SD is a stretch of 72 miles with no services. Thanks for reading.

Cast No Shadow

Fear. The thing that holds us back. That death grips and headlocks our ambitions and mines the veins of our goals. Fear.

I tell the kids: “Try it. Try something. If you don’t try I will think you’re lazy. I don’t have time for lazy. Be willing to risk and gain. Right now, in this room, you have nothing to lose. Try it again. Like you mean it.” Working with Middle School kids is riddled with pit falls. They are so afraid of everything: of themselves, what their peers will say or think, what they look like, how they will look, what might happen if they fail. They are so stuck thinking within themselves, at many points, they miss opportunities to expand themselves. To think of something else besides how they appear. I always have a hard time getting them to loosen up and explore what is around them. More importantly: What is inside of them.

In many ways the self conscious road of middle schoolers reflects on all of us. How do we act in society? How do we represent our company with out presence? How are we perceived in the world? All though, for those of us outside of puberty, I still find myself afraid for no good reason at all. I fear that I will not be able to give the kids I teach what they need. That I cannot fulfill their needs and wants out of what I do. They expect me to be an all knowing prefect being of exceptional talent. As a teacher, I don’t have the option to fail. I need to lead these kids in the path of the show and gain as much trust as possible even if it is into the jaws of hell.  But I still fear that I will not meet their expectations and I will fail them, the residency, my partner, my company and myself. The fear is unnecessary. I know what I’m doing and how to do it. I know that I’m good at it. I know that I go into work everyday without the conscious presence of fear. But it will always be somewhere stalking me, waiting, hungry.

Naturally, for the kids, to have no fear is to show you have no fear. Walk with confidence and have complete faith in what you are about to do. Even if you know it’s the worst decision ever. My clown teacher, Ronlin Foreman, told my class: “You must stop all the wars! You must go into Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, The Ivory Coast and stop all the killing. When they put you up against the wall, ready to kill you. You had better damn well be funny.” That was week 3 of clown. In life, perhaps the game of life and death, there is no room for fear. Fear does not take control. Fear does not cripple you. Fear does not exist. Fear cannot exist. Fear takes us away from what we are doing. Away from our passion, our play, our joy. With no guarantee of success we have to risk as much as possible to take success. Steal it. Be opportunistic scavengers. Life is take or be taken. We must risk. We must try. Fight for what we want without being afraid of not having it. Be decisive, be spontaneous, be anything! Be exceptional.

The kids don’t always understand how passionate I am about risk and I think they take it as me being mad at them sometimes. I’m not mad at all. They need a teacher and I need someone to teach. I need to know where they are comfortable and where I can push them. Make them step farther and father from the safety of shore until they are in the middle of the ocean swimming towards the island in the fog. But not alone. I’m with them. As an ensemble we are never alone. We are always together listing in the tides keeping each other from drowning. The question of death never comes up. We are not afraid together and I am not afraid alone.

With Love, All the Best, Safe Travels,

Leigh Hooks

Rapid City Shuffle

Rapid City reminds me of a place in a folk singer’s lyrics:

“…It’s a dusty old Jewel in the South Puget Sound…” (Thrice All American– Neko Case)

“…There’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered…” (Paradise- John Prine)

“…Drinking whiskely till he’s had his fill, Inspired by, a summer storm…” (Where is My Love?– Lucinda Williams)

Nestled in The Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota is the sprawling, ever stretching, Rapid City. Here lies the second most populous place in South Dakota with 59,607 residents (second to Sioux Falls: 123,975). Living mostly in the flatlander’s paradise of Sioux Falls, the bastion of East River, Rapid was a great stop. Leaving out the chinky tourist attractions, Rapid has a lot to offer. Being situated so close the the boarders of Montana and Wyoming right along the infamous I-90, it is a welcome pit stop. A beautiful spot in the valley of the buttes.

While on our residency there: myself, Kevin and Jacinta (who stuck around just for kicks) we met a friend of ours: Eric Hedlund. Eric has previously worked for The Dakota Players (aka CTCSD) and knew exactly what a touring artist needed in a town:

1. Coffee. Most of the Theatrical crowed runs on coffee (also reference point 4) . Not just in the Morning but at all times of the day and sometimes night. And not the dirty-water gas station stuff that a Nomad can find at any Sinclair. Real, Imported, Espresso-infused, sleep shaking, kick in the pants, coffee. Rapid has several such luxurious establishments. Of course there are Starbucks and Seattle’s Best but also home grown stuff like: Alternative Fuels. If you don’t mind the Christian atmosphere it’s a great spot to juice up on main street and watch the traffic.

2. Free Wi-Fi. For communication and a bulk of our entertainment. Luckily most Coffee Houses have free wi-fi (bonus).

3. Food that is not Fast. Something that might be green and not served in a wrapper. A nice meal that takes time and can be called adult. Even if it’s Three Cheese Pasta aka Mac n’ Cheese. Rapid has a plethora of great food and nifty spots like: The Firehouse. A restaurant built in the first established firehouse in Rapid. It also serves as a mirco-brewery (see point 4).

4. Beer and Wine. After a long day with the kids, you might need a stiff drink. Now mind you, all around Dakota one can find plenty of Domestics, such as: Bud Light, Bud, Miller Light, Coors Light, Coors, Shiner Bock, PBR, Grainbelt, MGD, Bud Select, MGD 64, etc. What the traveling artist needs is something tasty and new. Luckily, Rapid is full of great drink spots which also serve food! The Firehouse, Paddy O’Riely’s, Murphy’s, all have great food and exciting drinks.

5. Social Events. Other people to talk to and not about children. With this job we meet a lot of people and get invited out every now and then. It’s important to get out by yourself sometimes and talk to a stranger or dig the city with a friend. Rapid has a seasonal ice rink, movie theatres, music shops, open mics and a Hookah Bar (Ifrits). Not to mention (which I will) the Downtown district is full of great shop to stop into (lots of book places, a comic and gaming shop, thrift and antique).

6. A place to stay. A nice bed to sleep in and is preferably close to points 1-5. Working with kids makes you take the easy going conveniences of life very seriously.

Eric pointed us to all the right places flawlessly and with enthusiasm. It’s always good to meet a friend on the road. He’s been living and working out there with The Black Hills Community Theatre, Cherry Street Children’s Theatre and The Dahl Arts Center. Eric was also our contact person for this residency. He warned us that he wasn’t sure how many kids would audition and from that he could not discern their experience level. So, Kevin and I auditioned the kids and cast the show. 20 of 50 parts were filled (only 20 came and we usually need 23 to make a minimum.) Eric said he was pleased with the turn out. This was a call for the entire community of Rapid, not just one school but the whole city. Eric said he pulled a few strings.

As we found out, most of the kids have never been in a show before. So, most of the week was trying to get them to come forward and be heard. Be seen. The cast consisted of a lot of middle school girls. My Lex Luther: giggly, smiley, self-conscious, quiet girls. It’s not that I dislike working with them, I just have a challenge trying to get them to open up and be confident. They don’t respond well to loud, intimidating men that have expectations of them and have no idea what it’s like to be a 12 year old girl. I’d like to say there is a formula to fix it but, I’m not very good at math and I haven’t found one so…

Throughout the week we had a lot of issues with information retention. I had to do the blocking with the pirates several times before they even began to memorize it and Kevin had a hard time with his group of Cousins. Besides the lack of personal responsibility and focus that came with this particular cast I can attribute most of the problems with the experience itself. Working in a theatrical environment is drastically different from any other. Public School generally does not prepare someone for the massive amounts of attention and responsibility this field requires. We are not here for the kids entertainment. We are not babysitters. We are not machines that conjure up answers to all life’s mysteries. We are teachers. We are artists. We need you to do what we ask and try. We cannot do it for you. We cannot do this show alone. We need you to trust in yourself and risk looking stupid just for a minute. We look stupid too. I dress as a purple pirate! A GIANT PURPLE PIRATE!

All in all, the kids did well for their first experience in theatre. I hope they learned an incredible amount from us.

One of the kids, Collin, had a farting problem. He farted all the way through auditions. He farted during rehearsals. He farted on stage. He farted backstage. He farted loudly. He farted louder. Collin farted a lot. And not like a normal child of 8 farts. Small wimpy poots of cheerios but middle age steak and broccoli hurricanes.

pootweeee! THFFFPPPPPPPPPPPT!…p p p p p p….pwung!

“Collin! Holy Moly Dude! Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

“I think so?”

“You think so? It smells like napalm! Go!”

5 Min. Later

“How was it?”

“It was bad…” -shell shocked

It was so common that even when Kevin abruptly farted during rehearsal he blamed it on Collin. Collin protested that “It wasn’t me this time I swear”. It was bad too. It was like a lingering cloud of Chinese food and road rash. Everyone blamed Collin. It wasn’t until our show that Friday that Kevin confessed to the cast that it was him. Collin received a formal apology from both of us.

I’ll be posting about Mobridge just as soon as I can. Travel Safe.

Until Next Time, With Love, All the Best,

Leigh

Fun Fact: South Dakota is 46th in the National Average Population Density, marking 10.86 or 11 people per 1 mile sq. or 4.19 people per Kilometer sq. (For the Metric crowd)

Sturgis: Life Behind The Rally

Last week we competed our Residency in South Dakota’s most infamous party town. As you may have guessed, people live in this town. Not just bikers and commercial advertisements. The scoop behind the rally is some thing like this: Pappy Hoel liked motorcycles and wanted an event to share his enthusiasm with his friends. so, in 1936 he and a few others started The Jack Pine Gypsies (an official AMA club) to hold short track races. As time went on, the small race event began to attract bikers from all over the region. It eventually grew into a weekend event, which Sturgis embraced. A small one year event that brought business from all over. As more time went by, the event began to attract bikers from all around the nation and world. Gangs, drugs, trafficking, alcohol and Rock bands eventually took over. According to our host family (Duwayne and Diana Hayes) Sturgis, a once thriving community full of local gems, was being sold off to Rally vendors. So this annual event has come to consume Sturgis as the vendors have bought buildings (which once held local business and infastructure) that are only used for two or three weeks a year. Thus, most of Sturgis’s business moved to Rapid City or Spearfish. Some of the residence of Sturgis dread the Rally (which is held in early August) and the 500 thousand visitors that pass through. For more info: http://www.sturgis.com/rallyhistory.html

This does leave some interesting summer work for the area: Technical Theatre (for the bands), Bikini Bike Washers, Tattoos, Graphic Arts, Iron Cross work, wholesome beer sales and Girls Gone Wild! The Rally has it all, even Religion!: http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=25707

The kids of the Sturgis community are wildly imaginative! We had a full cast of 54 and they all had a blast. They were so willing to be silly and have fun. It made the week a real treat! One of my pirates decided she was Russian and instead of a hook for a hand, she had this weird two fingered antenna thing that squirmed and some kind of facial paralyses. I just about pooped my pants I was laughing so hard. She reminded me a lot of Boris from Rockie and Bullwinkle (Moose and Squirrel!)

Sturgis also marked Kevin’s first residency. Jacinta tagged along to give Kevin some pointers along the way. The first couple weeks are always the toughest. Right out of training you have to figure out how to teach the show most effectively in twenty hours. Kevin did well. He took what he needed and wanted from Jacinta and added some of his own work along with it. At one point Kevin, playing Larry the Dog, pees on my leg. A hilarious turn of events! It looks like we’ll have a pretty great team for the spring tour.

I’ll post about Rapid City just as soon as I can.

Until next time, With Love, All the Best,

Leigh Hooks

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.”
“Oh.”
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.

Stop.

“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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