Awaking a Sleeping Language

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Photo courtesy of Jean Bruce Scott
Pictured left to right: Virginia Carmelo, Seema Sueko, Marie Clements, Jack Dalton, Julie Jensen
To accompany yesterday's post regarding the translation process for Tombs of the Vanishing Indian, Virginia Carmelo has kindly contributed the following reflection which I would like to share with you here:
Last June, I was asked to participate in a theatre workshop for playwrights as a consultant and wondered how I might contribute. It became clearer when I was presented the play written by Marie Clements. The play includes a theme about a Gabrielino ancestor. 
I had expected to translate a “few lines” into Tongva the language spoken by the Gabrielino/ Tongva Indians of the Los Angeles Basin. When I realized the few lines amounted to several pages, it became intimidating, as I have only studied this language a very short time (5 years) and I am one of only a few who have studied what is left of the language. Nevertheless I felt I could make a good attempt with the help of the linguist who has graciously given much of her valuable time to our effort.
While meeting with Marie Clements and Michelle St. John, I was impressed with their interest in fine tuning the various aspects relating to the Gabrielino Tribe, striving for authenticity. It was refreshing to find a commonality of ideas on Native topics and portrayal. This was possible because we all shared a native background and experience. A wave of excitement struck me by the possibility that this now sleeping language might not only be spoken but heard by many people here and in distant places. The thought was inspiring and awesome. It would be a tribute to those who knew no other language.
Then, there was mild concern that Carla-Rae would not have enough time to allow those sounds from long ago become familiar to her. Again, I was impressed by her focus in bringing age-old sounds to life.
I am privileged play a small part in putting together this creative endeavor that brings to light the Gabrielinos, their language, and history.
Virginia, thank you for your graciousness in sharing the language of the Gabrielino/ Tongva people with us. For that, we will be eternally grateful.
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A Story That Will Never Vanish

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Tombs of the Vanishing Indian, which takes place in Los Angeles during the 1970s, features a character referred to as the Lone Woman. She is a young mother who appears to the character Janey to guide her through her own suffering. The Lone Woman imbues Janey with the strength she needs to survive the life that's been handed to her - a life of abandonment and loneliness, of disappointment and seeming hopelessness.

In reality, the Lone Woman led a desolate life. A part of the Gabrielino Tribe, she and her people lived in peace on San Nicolas Island. That is, until the Russian and Aleut hunters stumbled upon the island in the early 1800s and decimated the Nicolenos who were trying to prevent them from hunting the nearby sea otters. Due to the violent nature of these encounters, the missionaries ordered that the remaining island Gabrielinos be brought to the mainland, ostensibly to keep them safe.

In 1835 or 1836, Captain Sparks landed on the island for this very reason. As the Nicolenos began to board the ship, a young woman was allowed to return to her hut allegedly to get her child whom was accidentally left behind. While the woman was away, a storm began to pick up and Sparks was forced to leave the island in order to save his ship, crew, and everyone else on board. The young woman was left behind and her memory became the legend of the Lone Woman. Years later, she was found and brought to the mainland only to die seven weeks after her "rescue."

When Sparks first arrived on the island, he reported that there were about 18 Nicoleno men, women, and children. Can you imagine: a whole culture left to only 18 people to sustain? It's pretty daunting. Needless to say, when these 18 men, women, and children arrived on the mainland, they were forced to assimilate to the dominate culture, coerced to forget their own way of life.

Native Voices exists to allow those who were formerly forced into silence to finally have a voice for their own stories. When playwright Marie Clements wrote Tombs, she included the Lone Woman to represent those who were made to "vanish." Inadvertently, by including this woman in her work, Marie has immortalized her so her story and the story of her people will live in perpetuity. Not only that, but this past summer Marie worked closely with Virginia Carmelo of the Gabrielino/ Tongva Nation to translate all of the Lone Woman's lines into Gabrielino further solidifying this culture's history. Working alongside Marie and Virginia were Assistant Director Jennifer Bobiwash and, of course, the actor who portrayed the Lone Woman, Carla-Rae.

To read about Jennifer's experience regarding the translation of this "dying language", please visit her blog "Floating... around..." The following is Carla-Rae's reflection of this incredible "honor":
What an honor to have been asked to play the role of the Lone Woman in the staged reading of Tombs of the Vanishing Indian by Marie Clements this past summer. 
Little did I know, as I devoured every word of the script, that I would be asked if I would be willing to play my character using the language of the original Gabrielino/ Tongva people. Joy, excitement, honor, and fear all mingled together as I heard my mouth say, "I will be glad to." The joy and excitement came because, as an artist, it is always fun to add new layers to the color and facets of a character. Fear, because as a cultural performer, the thought of “slaughtering” a culture’s language is totally, frightening. However, the honor of being given the privilege of trying speak the language, with all of its nuances, as the character of the Lone Woman, was what motivated me to do it. 
Virginia Carmelo, the wonderful woman who translated the work and helped me bring it to life, was such a joy to work with. When she had to leave to go home during the rehearsal process I felt as though she was entrusting me with a valuable gift. In essence, she did entrust me with a language that is tirelessly being revived by her people. It is a gift and one that I share with honor, to the Gabrielino/ Tongva people, each time I am given the privilege to perform it before an audience of new ears. 
It is my sincerest hope that I bring justice and honor to this beautiful language.
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From Frybread to Tombs

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First, an acknowledgement to last week's Frybread team for the incredible amount of work they were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. Everyone arrived with the shared goal of strengthening the script's story line and providing playwright Carolyn Dunn with the support and encouragement she needed in order to achieve that goal. Carolyn reached a major breakthrough with the script this past week and we have Jere Hodgin, Rob Caisley, our very own Jean Bruce Scott, our amazing actors, and our lovely audience members to thank for that. I can't wait for you all to see Frybread Queen in her full regalia come March!

On a completely separate note, next week on November 16th at 7:30p, we, along with San Diego State University's Intercultural Center, American Indian Studies, and the School of Theatre, Television, and Film will be presenting a staged reading of Marie Clements' Tombs of the Vanishing Indian at SDSU's Experimental Theatre in celebration of American Indian Heritage Month. The cast includes Brian Bielawski, Jacob Bruce, Carla-Rae, Tonantzin Carmelo, David Ellenstein, Elizabeth Frances, and DeLanna Studi with Randy Reinholz directing. Please feel free to join us if you're in the area; the event is free and open to the public. Check back next week for info regarding the translation process for Tombs with testimonials from Virginia Carmelo of the Tongva/ Gabrielino Nation; Jennifer Bobiwash, our Assistant Director from this summer's Playwrights Retreat; and Carla-Rae, who will be reprising her role as The Lone Woman at this November's reading.

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Spotlight on our Frybread Ladies

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As you know, this week, Native Voices will be holding two readings of Carolyn Dunn's The Frybread Queen, as part of our First Look Series and in conjunction with the American Indian Arts Marketplace at the Autry. With that in mind, I thought this would be as good a time as any to introduce you to the incredible actors who will be bringing the play to life at the Wells Fargo Theatre. I've asked each of them to share their favorite Halloween/ Fall photo with us and answer two questions that will surely put you in the "frybread state of mind." I hope you enjoy the read!

LaVonne Rae Andrews, dressed as the Rich Witch, will be reprising her role as Jessie

Carlenne: Have you ever seen a ghost or had a supernatural encounter?
LaVonne: Believe it or not, I hear voices all the time! Usually those "inner" kinds that tell you what off-ramp to take (to avoid a traffic snarl) or one that warns me about "unsavory" behaving people (even though I know that people are basiclly perfect at their core). And yes, I get visits from my now departed family and friends in my dreams. I especially like the visits from my wonderful Dad from time to time, my Wisdom Teacher.

Carlenne: Is there anything you cook that you're the "queen" of?
LaVonne: Me cook?! My best meals are those I've made via "reservations"! No, not Indian reservations but at restaurants! My cooking days are over! Loved it then but have since used up my cooking gene!

Adeye Sahran, dressed as Miss Scarlett O'Hara, will be joining the cast as Carlisle

Carlenne: Have you ever seen a ghost or had a supernatural encounter?
Adeye: When I was a freshman in high school, the ghost of a dark haired girl of about 8 years old used to follow me around for about a year. Even on sleepovers. She never really scared me, I actually got really used to her.

Carlenne: Is there anything you cook that you're the "queen" of?
Adeye: My eggs benedict, french toast, and chicken pot pie have ruined all others for my family. I rule at them!

Arigon Starr, dressed as Judge Ito along with her friend Brian who's dressed as Andy Warhol, will return to the role of Annalee

Carlenne: Have you ever seen a ghost or had a supernatural encounter?
Arigon: The Frybread Queen seems to come with its own built-in ghosts. I was privileged to be part of the Montana cast of Frybread Queen in September and the cast and crew were buzzing about odd happenings. At least five people working at the theater lost their keys, then found them later nowhere near where they were originally lost. I had a sighting of a figure in black behind one of the set flats. I was heading backstage and saw someone dressed in black looking back towards the stage. I was going to squeeze around them, say “excuse me” and was surprised when I got closer that there was NO ONE standing there. As all of the stage hands were dressed in black, I figured it was one of them. Boy, was I chilled when there was no one really there. It must have been one of those “shadow people” they talk about on “Coast To Coast AM” all the time. AAY!

Carlenne: Is there anything you cook that you're the "queen" of?
Arigon: Would have to be rice and beans. I’m a vegetarian and there are usually rice and beans on standby on the stove or in the fridge. There is nothing like the scent of carrots, onions and celery browning on the stove... and then the final product. Make all the jokes you want about beans being the “Magical Fruit” - but I swear by ‘em!

Rayanna Zaragoza, loving the fall crisp air, will step back into Lily's shoes

Carlenne: Have you ever seen a ghost or had a supernatural encounter?
Rayanna: I don't think I have. But once, during a choir retreat, my friends and I were playing with a Ouija Board and we thought we heard something in the bushes. We all were incredibly freaked out. It was probably our imagination.

Carlenne: Is there anything you cook that you're the "queen" of?
Rayanna: No. I'm an absolutely terrible cook. I eat whatever is made the fastest. Whenever I do try to make something exciting it either results in a horrible mess or a horrible meal.

We certainly hope you'll be able to join us this Thursday at 7p or on Sunday at 2p for the next step in the development of Frybread Queen. For reservations or more information, please click here or check out the flyer above. You may also call 323.667.2000 ext 354 or email us. See you there!
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