Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the tag “Fear”

It Felt Like Home. Lost and in the Wind.

Sleepy Travelers

My friend and fellow nomad Sarah asked me what my thoughts on home were. Sarah has been doing Project Nomad since September of 2011 which is dedicated to finding “home away from home” by discovering what is means to be at “Home” when you have a lifestyle that constantly keeps you traveling. Sarah works as a flight attendant which keeps her in the air and all over the globe and myself as a touring artist only stay in one spot for a week at a time. Here are my thoughts on “Home”:

I was voiding my bowels from dinner, an egg sandwich, when I noticed a spider in the bathtub. In the Upper-Midwest and particularly in South Dakota during the early spring, all the creepy crawly things come alive and search for a new home. Millipedes, spiders, beetles, potato bugs, Silver Fish, Box Elders and the cunning Earwig wander about the dark warm places looking for a place to nest. There are few better places to brood then a bathroom it’s: warm, dark, moist and full of giant naked beings that cover their naughty bits while running and gasping like babies when an “icky” bug is spotted. I stood or rather sat my ground upon seeing the small prone arachnid. I was more curious what made the tub seem like a good place to live. Nothing seemed, to me, all that interesting among my lost short hairs and the standardized beige plastic fixture. I also wondered if the spider knew the immediate danger of drowning. One quick motion of the faucet and the spider would be washed into the unknown of the drain and in small town South Dakota, who knows what the hell is actually down there. The added thought of the spider dramatically being swept away after heroically searching for food, with a needy spider family back at the nest teaming with hundreds of spider-lettes, was more then I was willing to think about while pooping.

The idea of “Home” has always been elusive to me. In a way, I’ve always been a traveler, a nomad foraging about the country in various caravans looking for shelter and food. I mostly grew up in Central Minnesota after brief stays in Idaho, Oregon and California. Even in Minnesota only constant place was my High School. Otherwise, the places called “Home” were Cokato, Litchfield, Winstead and Hutchinson. The buildings and streets where we lived were very temporary. They served the purpose of sheltering a menagerie of life bitten gypsies. These drafty farm houses and run down apartments were never filled and warm like those of my friends. The places they called “Home” had been lived in since they were born always residing on the same streets and familiar things. My life was neither constant or familiar. Either by place or circumstance things were always changing for better or for worse. I remember being jealous and envious of the people I knew who had a constant life, a dedicated schedule a seemingly normal rhythm in their world. I felt that they must have easy lives not being on the run all the time, they have space to breath and relax I thought. In those days I did not find comfort or solace in the world or people around me. I became a  ghost and a stranger to myself and others. I spent most of my time playing video games, reading Star Wars book, shooting targets and aimlessly driving around. Although it seemed I was the average kid growing into my own and not so equally dividing my time between school and home activities, there was a distinct lack of that “Home” I was longing for.

As I grew older and mistakes were made, hearts were broken, life and my interests changed, “Home” became an ideal. This theoretical cloud floating over me while the application remained implausible. Unlike my friends, I was never homesick, I never needed to return to a place to be at peace, there was nothing to anchor me. I was free to roam as I pleased not having to worry about straying too far from loved ones. My “Home” was my dorm room, my car, my suitcase, my ability to pick up and go without guilt or remorse I was in control of where to put foundations. I quickly found out these places and things I called “Home” were only will filled with solidarity. I was by myself, separated from reality as a spectator and reduced to not living but watching as others did.

I grew older yet. Mistakes were made, hearts were broken, my interests changed and life continued. Even now living as a traveling artist I have no place to call “Home” besides the address I keep to get my mail. This idea, this thing, this ambiguous prospect still remains distant if it is defined by what I’ve been thinking it is. My life is different from those I grew up with. “Home” is not a building with a fence and a dog, it is not being surrounded by the same familiar things. “Home” is being welcome. It is your friends letting you stay in their spare room when your not touring, it is the guy you just met at the bar in Newell, SD that buys you a beer. Home is a place of acceptance and generosity and it can be where ever you choose it to be. Home is never far away.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe,

Leigh

P.s. Leigh and Lithuania is still going! Don’t miss your chance to donate!

P.P.S. Songs about home: Edward Sharp and Hem

Leigh and Lithuania: Romance of the American

Gediminas Avenue toward the Cathedral Square

When I was in college, I had the chance to attend an international writing seminar in Lithuania. I remember the morning before I left being filled with the fear of uncertainty. As the five members of this rag tag crew set out from Sioux Falls on a brisk July morning, our moods change from quite contemplation to excitement to exhaustion to excitement to hunger to exhaustion and back to quiet contemplation. Our journey had taken perhaps 20 hours and four airports so by the time we touched down in Vilnius, the Capitol, we were pretty well spent.

This excursion was my first outside of America and I was eager to see more parts of the world beyond the reaches of the Upper-Mid West and California. The experience proved to be life altering, leaving me wanting to know this place like a friend or a lover. I spent most of my time in Old Town. The above picture is from one of the tourist drags that filter into Cathedral Square which  stands in front of the medieval Gediminas Fortress (this is where the Singing Revolution happened in 1991 and spurred the fall of the Soviet Regime). Now, in Cathedral Square, there is a tile known as the “Wishing Tile” or “Miracle Tile”. It’s said that if you find this tile, spin three times clock-wise and make a wish it will come true.  At the time I was in a complicated relationship and this was my wish: “I want to fall in love again.”

The universe took in my request and scratched it’s head:

“Who is this human boy who wants love? What does he love? Is it a person or a food of some sort? What can this mean?” said The Universe in the face of the vague request.

As it turns out, the universe sent no person or animal or food. It sent me a city pitted with a dreary history of violence and resistance stewed with unparallelled architecture and the beauty of anonymity. I walked the streets at night by myself unable to speak the language, having no idea where I was going or what might be around the next corner but falling in love with this place just the same. My experience there is largely unexplainable. It’s strange and distant in my mind but also close and personal. There are many times, even to this day, I can close my eyes and I’ll be sipping coffee at a side street kavine listening to the sounds of the bazaar in the static of tens of different languages.

Now, four years later, I have a chance to go back. I submitted to the same seminar program Summer Literary Seminars’ (SLS) Annual Literary Contest and won a fellowship (I submitted “Out of Africa” which can be seen as a rough draft as the first post on Acting Like Adults) .  I have dreamed about going back ever since I left and now I might actually get to and interact with writers from around the world. But, I need help: The fellowship only covers a part of the tuition and I still need to acquire a plane ticket and money to cover other travel expenses (Lodging, food, insurance, etc.). The following link is to a fundraiser I have set up for this adventure. Anything helps! And in addition I’ll be writing cover letters to friends, family and businesses.

Leigh and Lithuania Fund

While I’m there I plan to do a video blog of my happenings and send post cards. And who doesn’t like post cards?

Here’s to a dream. Cheers. Skol.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe,

Leigh

P.S here is the link to “Out of Africa” I refined it quite a bit but this is the original.

Out of Africa (Rough)

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

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

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.

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

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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