Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the tag “Travel”

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

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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

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.

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

The Road to Sturgis

And we’re back! Dakota Players hits the road again starting Sunday Jan. 8th for the 14wk Spring tour! out first stop will be far into West River Territory: Sturgis. That’s right. The infamous home of The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Home of the rowdy Bike Week and tattoos that people get and then immediately regret. However, in January, I doubt that any of the kids are going to break bottles over their heads to ZZ Top.

I’m excited to go back on tour and continue to discover the people and places of of South Dakota. And especially to Sturgis in the off-season to see what it’s like as a town. I suspect it’s something like Las Vegas when you get off The Strip, minus the angry off duty hospitality staff. Perhaps just another small town? Perhaps the answers to all my questions? I guess I’ll have to find out.

Where we last left off, I had mentioned I received a new touring partner: Kevin. Well this past week, I’ve been training with Kevin to try and him acquainted to the company operates and how we conduct our business. I was really afraid to meet him. I kept thinking: “What if I don’t like him?”, “What if he doesn’t like me?”. With an looming 5 month tour coming up I didn’t want to be stuck with someone who I couldn’t stand. Communication and toleration is particularly important when you spend a majority of your time in close quarters to other with a person. To my great relief, Kevin and I get along great. We had Chinese food at The Golden Bowl in Soux Falls after training today. It was great to get to know him more before we have to make awkward conversation on the 7 hour drive to Sturgis. Now we can at least make intersting conversation on the way. Kevin has a musical theatre degree and plays guitar which, of course, means we’re going to have a tour band. His nickname is “K-Train” and my name is Leigh.

Possible Band Names:

K-Train and L-Wagon

Leigh’s Caboose and K-K-Klack

Buffo-lumps

August Earlywine

Hooks Grips Kevin

Kev and the Electric Leigh

High Plains Scooner

Betty White and Her Cohorts or Betty White and Her Traveling Men

Eccentric and on the Prarie

Deb, Seriously, That didn’t Happen

Which one will we choose? (To explain a couple: Deb is one of our Managers and Betty is the name of our touring van, a white van.) Find out in the next installment and leave your vote in the commentary box!

Until then:

With Love,

All the Best,

Leigh

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