Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the tag “First Nations People”

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!,_South_Dakota)

(Murdo S.D. is pretty average:,_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:

Start A Riot: (they are connected to The Sitting Bull College:

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


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

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.



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.

Out of Africa

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



Out of Africa in Wakpala
By: Leighland A. Hooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

In servitude is the lesson. For me. Always.

Oct. 5th, 2011

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

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