Thoughts from an Actor - Boarding School Stories

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boarding school stories
UCSD
This was actually my second time working on 'Stories from the Indian Boarding School'. My first go-around was during the Fringe Festival. We were a cast of 7, and I played the character 'Yellow'. I found out I was cast again, this time with a cast of 4, and as the character "Jesse". I got an email detailing our rehearsal, and show schedule and I was shocked at the amount of time we had to rehearse: 12 hours. I'm used to about a 4 week rehearsal process, so this was definitely terrifying for me. It meant I had to go in with all pistons firing, and ready to work. Which, I felt, everyone came into the room with. At the Q&A session at UCSD, I had mentioned how heavily we had to rely on each other to do the work, and I stand by that. My fellow cast members have been phenomenal, and I'm thrilled to have them in this with me. Touring has been a great experience. I love how the show adapts to each new space, and I love hearing how this show affects people. Many people, I've found, haven't really heard about the Indian boarding schools, and I'm grateful that I get to be a vessel for them to learn this part of our history.

By Alyssa Anderson

If you had the chance to see one of the performances, we'd love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page and if you'd like to see the performance live, consider Booking us to come to you!

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Thoughts of an Actor - Boarding School Stories

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After a year in development and a lot of hard work from our Ensemble, we have just finished 2 performances at Universities in California of our Boarding School Stories. 

We'll be featuring impressions of this experience from the cast and crew themselves.  If you had the chance to see one of the performances, we'd love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page and if you'd like to see the performance live, consider Booking us to come to you!

Enjoy.

Carlisle Indian School
It has been a very enlightening experience to be apart of Stories From The Indian Boarding Schools. I joined the company after the staged reading of the play, and before the First performance at the Los Angeles Fringe Festival. It has been a wonderful gift to work on the play almost since it’s inception. What I find most profound about the play, is that the scenes are drawn from journals and first hand accounts of this tragic period. My knowledge of the Indian Boarding Schools before working on the play was not very extensive. I knew that the government mandated attendance. I was familiar with the general purpose of the Indian boarding schools, which was to civilize the “Indian Savage”. In truth, it’s one thing to read about the modernization of Indians in a text book, and totally different to read first hand accounts of the destruction of culture from the students themselves. It truly is a rare gift for an actor to be apart of the creative process. These stories become apart of you and you cannot help but feel as though you know the characters intimately. I would also attribute this to the source material because, the nature of these stories makes you instantly empathize with these poor children.

The company’s vision of the play from the beginning was to educate, inform, and transport the audience to the boarding schools. I am very grateful that I am apart of taking this play to universities and sharing these stories with students and faculty. We recently toured the production to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo on November 17th and at UCSD in San Diego on December 1st. Taking the show on the road has taught me so much about the native community in California. The faculty and students at both Universities were so welcoming and truly engaged in the stories that we shared. There was such a wide range of knowledge from people that were first or second generation descendants of boarding school survivors to people that had never heard of the Indian Boarding Schools. The power of this play is that it brings people together and allows for a healing on a human scale. If the audience is familiar with the stories, or hearing them for the first time. The human experience is that were all struggling together and want to make the world a better place. I’d like to thank Jean and Randy Reinholtz, and Rob Vestal for bring me into this project. I’d also like to thank Heidi at Cal Poly and Julie at UCSD. This was such an incredible experience and I have grown and learned so much as a person.

By Alec Shamas
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Thoughts from the Writer/Director - Boarding School Stories

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I knew nothing about the Indian Boarding Schools just over a year ago. Jean Bruce Scott says to me, we’re going to write a play about them. And so the research and the writing of the play begin simultaneously. For that first stage reading at the First Look Festival in September of 2014 we wound up with a collection of scenes that we tried to arrange, so that they would suggest the idea of a play. There was no denying that scenes were powerful and that the content was heavy, but a play we did not have. The biggest things we learned from all the research we had done was how vast and complex a topic it was and how much more we did not know. And so more research.


Well, to be precise, we let the play sit for awhile until April 2015 when Jean Bruce Scott says to me, we’re going to put this play up in the Hollywood Fringe Fest in June. And so we went to work. More research and adding what we call a “framework” to hang the scenes on. And this time I’m tasked to direct. Our show ran with a rotating cast, adding music, dance, lights, and sound, and a few less scenes, but this time with a framework that tied the scenes, the stories together.
After the run it was decided the play had potential as an touring, educational play for high schools. And so, Jean Bruce Scott says to me, can we cut this down to 45 minutes and cut from 7 characters? And, by the way, our play was heavy. The topic can be downright depressing, and while we added as much humor as we could for our June run, we would need more for performances at high schools. And, we needed a more comprehensive play that would require more research.
This past month we’ve performed the play twice, once at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and once at UC San Diego. Our framework is now a cohesive story. We cut a lot of scenes that we loved but didn’t quite fit into the educational story we needed to tell. We added a couple of new scenes in an attempt to give a more comprehensive overview of Indian Boarding Schools. The play runs under 40 minutes and has a cast (a very brave cast!) of 4. The play was well received by both audiences, one large, one small.
After seeing the play I see opportunities for more humor, a tightening here and there. By no means does our play tell the entire story of the Indian Boarding Schools. The topic, as I said, is incredibly vast and complex. But hopefully this play can inspire you to do a little research of your own.
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Boarding school research (con't)

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Links to research from others:

10 books about residential schools to read with your kids - CBC Canada

Indian Boarding Schools - PBS

Thomas Moore

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Boarding School research

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The stories from Indian Boarding School come from or were inspired by the following sources, personal histories and family stories from the ensemble members.

Carlisle Indian Boarding School

BOOKS
Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940.
Brenda J. Child.  Published by University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

The Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences.
Clifford E. Tafzer, Jean A. Keller, Lorene Sisquoc. Published by University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928.
David Wallace Adams. Published by University Press of Kansas, 1995.

Kill the Indian, Save the Man: the Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools.
Ward Churchill. Published by City Lights, 2004.

Native American Testimony.
Peter Nabokov. Published by Penguin Books, 1991.

They Called it Prairie Light: the Story of Chilocco Indian School.
K. Tsianina Lomawaima. Published by University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

ARTICLES
"American Indian Boarding Schools: An Exploration of Global Ethnic & Cultural Cleansing." Jennifer Jones, Dee Ann Bosworth, Amy Lonetree.  Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways, 2011. Web.

"The Challenges and Limitations of Assimilation: Indian Boarding Schools."
The Brown Quarterly 4.3 (2001). Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research. Web.

"History and Culture: Boarding Schools." American Indian Relief Council. Web.

VIDEOS
Cante Sica Oral Histories, Archival Footage, the Cante Sica Foundation, archived at the Autry’s Institute for the Study of the American West, Libraries and Archives

Montana Mosaic: Indian Boarding Schools.”
Directed by Gita Saiedi Kiely, Montana PBS. Web.

Unseen Tears: the Native American Boarding (Residential) School Experience in Western New York,” Directed by Ron Douglas, Vimeo. Web.  

Witness to Murder at Indian Residential School.” (excerpt, original no longer available)
Published by CBC Canada Web.

If you have done any Indian Boarding School Research, we'd love to know what you found!  Post a link in the comments and we'll include them.

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Meet the Playwright: Randy Reinholz

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Randy Reinholz (Choctaw)
"MEASURE FOR MEASURE adaptation" 2015 Retreat

What is your favorite thing about playwriting?
Time – time to think, to capture what I am thinking about.  The quite in my mind as I imagine the moments I am writing in the play.  Everything else stops, and I enter a trance.  For a brief moment I can see the future and all the details that inform it.  I love the choices of language to best describe and refine the thinking of the characters.  The actions and conflict come quickly. The polish is the thing that takes time.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting?
Interruptions from people and events that are not connected to the writing project are a problem.  They are eternal, but when I really need to be creative, I unplug, get away from the people I love and focus.  I like ambient music at the beginning of the process, but even that gets turned off.
What is your favorite play?
My favorite play is the one I am working on now.  It is always my favorite play.  Today it is They Don’t Talk Back by Frank Henry Kaash Katasse.  I love to discuss classic texts with students.  Hamlet, Death of a Salesman, Streetcar Named Desire, Rez Sisters, Measure for Measure, Antigone, and the list goes on and on
What’s a production that you’ve seen recently and think everyone should see?
I liked a recent production of Come From Away at La Jolla Playhouse this summer.  Looking forward to seeing Blue Prints to Freedom. I loved Off the Rails
What’s the best cure for writer’s block?

To write.  Just choose a prompt.  For instance, “One time with my back against the wall I ….”  Just fill in the prompt and see where the story takes you.  If it runs out quickly, repeat the prompt.  A book with lots of these prompts is Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg.  You can also find them in the newspaper.  Find a headline that moves you – maybe one like “Child in SUV as suspected DUI mom crashes in Santee” Then use it as a prompt, by adding Why does it matter that a … Child in SUV as suspected DUI mom crashes in Santee.   Then follow your thoughts.  Explore / create the people in the story.  Who what where when WHY.  Then push those characters further than you ever thoughts was possible.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life?
Who Would’ve Thought or Really?
What play do you wish you had written and why?
No regrets here – I love so many plays – now I want to work with those texts.  I have so many to write still
Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
Inspiration comes from the artists and stories around me.  There is such wonder at every turn.  I feel blessed.  As a young actor I had to tell stories about myself during audition for commercials.  I could tell right away when people listened or stopped listening.  I found out what about my life and past interested people.  It was a challenge at the time, and now it is a treasure trove of gifts.
I love Tennessee Williams quote from The Glass Menagerie, “Memory takes a lot of poetic license.  It omits some details; others are exaggerated according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.”  My memories come from the heart – both the ache and bliss.   
What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival?
 I love the time in the room with the team is all-together, when we find the key to make the play sing.  It is a magic moment when the play comes alive. 


From Ensemble photos
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Meet the Playwright: Joseph Valdez

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Joseph Valdez (Navajo)
"Timestop" 2015 Playwrights Retreat

What is your favorite thing about playwriting? 
My favorite thing about playwriting is the creation itself. I love the process of taking endless possibility and whittling it down to a specific choice.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting? 
Getting started.

What is your favorite play?
The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis

What’s the best cure for writer’s block?
Snacks! Whenever I get into a writing funk—I eat something that has a crunch to it—chips or crackers are the best. It helps me find my rhythm.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life? 
Little Big Joe

What play do you wish you had written and why? 
I won’t know the answer to this question until I die.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work? 
I get inspiration from the idea that my work may inspire change in someone someday.

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival?
Working with an amazing group of artists!


From Ensemble photos
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Thoughts from an Actor - Boarding School Stories

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This was actually my second time working on 'Stories from the Indian Boarding School'. My first go-around was during the Fringe Festival. We were a cast of 7, and I played the character 'Yellow'. I found out I was cast again, this time with a cast of 4, and as the character "Jesse". I got an email detailing our rehearsal, and show schedule and I was shocked at the amount of time we had to rehearse: 12 hours. I'm used to about a 4 week rehearsal process, so this was definitely terrifying for me. It meant I had to go in with all pistons firing, and ready to work. Which, I felt, everyone came into the room with. At the Q&A session at UCSD, I had mentioned how heavily we had to rely on each other to do the work, and I stand by that. My fellow cast members have been phenomenal, and I'm thrilled to have them in this with me. Touring has been a great experience. I love how the show adapts to each new space, and I love hearing how this show affects people. Many people, I've found, haven't really heard about the Indian boarding schools, and I'm grateful that I get to be a vessel for them to learn this part of our history.
boarding school stories
UCSD

By Alyssa Anderson

If you had the chance to see one of the performances, we'd love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page and if you'd like to see the performance live, consider Booking us to come to you!

Read more »

Meet the Playwright: Frank Henry Kaash Katasse

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Frank Henry Kaash Katasse (Tlingit-Eagle/Tsaagweidí*)
"They Don't Talk Back" 2015 Playwrights Retreat

What is your favorite thing about playwriting?
Since They Don't Talk Back was really the first play I ever wrote, I can basically answer what my favorite thing about writing that particular play was. I really enjoy hearing how people process and interpret what I wrote. They will say with such certainty "Oh in that moment you meant blah blah blah," when actually I hadn't even thought about that. I think that is so cool. It is also awesome when they totally 'get' something I wrote. Like when I'm writing it I'm like, "Does this even make sense?!" Then when someone reads or hears a part and it is right on the money, I'm like, "Oh sweet, it did make sense!"

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting?
It is always hard trying to cut anything from your play. Like I know that scene, or monologue, or whatever doesn't fit in this play, but it still feels like my baby, ya know? 

What is your favorite play?
My favorite play is probably The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh.

What’s a production that you’ve seen recently and think everyone should see?
I think the play that has stuck with me the most from the last couple of years has been Warriors by Dave Hunsaker. A really powerful piece that had its world premiere at Perseverance Theatre in the summer of 2014. 

What’s the best cure for writer’s block?
I have a very slow process to begin with, so I generally don't even start writing until I have a good idea on what has to be written next. I have never been one to sit in front of my keyboard and hope for inspiration. I wait for ideas to pop into my head, then I flesh it out, then I type it all out.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life?
Half 'n Half

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
I get it mostly from stories people tell me, or things I have seen. Then I sort of mold them to fit whatever narrative I had been planning.

Frank Henry Kaash Katasse



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Meet the Playwright: Justin Neal

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Justin Neal (Squamish)
"So Damn Proud" 2015 Playwrights Retreat

What is your favorite thing about playwriting?
When you hit that moment in dialogue writing where it's a conversation between characters that I merely feel like a vessel of some sort, that the characters have a life of their own and I'm merely a scribe. So, then, to see the actors embody these characters, with a director's vision and guidance, and together they make them these completely new spirits—that this character and story is a gift we all get to share together with the world at large.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting?
Knowing that the story I want to tell has to fit within a comfortable amount of time, so creating the structure and the outline may be the least "fun" thing to do, it can then be the place to create and have the freedom to explore within that structure.

What is your favorite play?
Although Johnna's role I felt was greatly trivialized in the film, and I have never seen a production of it, but when I first read August: Osage County I was absolutely blown away by that story.

What’s the best cure for writer’s block?
Perhaps I am showing off a level of naivete here, but I don't believe it exists. When I went through periods of not writing I relied on substances (weed, booze, etc.) for inspiration. After moving beyond that through years of hard work and help from amazing people, I now find that I don't get stuck (knock wood) and when I am paused on a particular moment I know I have to put some thought about these characters and the world they live in, so I don't try to get anywhere in my thinking but rather take multi-hour long walks, or shoot baskets, or throw a baseball around, or sit in a bathtub, all things that will help me meditate on them and possible places I would like t
hem to go to. But not getting stuck on those places either, being open to other outcomes. Much of the time happy accidents—something random I witness in life, or I conversation I hear that informs some particular action. I then have faith these ideas are good and start writing away. And if not I ruminate some more until it's time.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life?
Keep Coming Back

What play do you wish you had written and why?
When I was 20 or so (a long time ago) I saw Raisin in the Sun in Seattle and I had only known a fairly generalized version of African-American history growing up with liberal parents in suburban Seattle with a minuscule Black population. This was the play that opened my eyes to a history I had never experienced, and empowered me to look closer at my own family story, and hence the struggle of other people of color—to write a play with that kind of impact, and create such a profound level of empathy is incredible.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
Childhood, work environments, people I admire, the lives I've lead.

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival?
Definitely the culmination of all our collective efforts focused into the staged reading performance.

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2015

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NATIVE VOICES AT THE AUTRY, LOS ANGELES
March 2015

Off the Rails by Randy Reinholz (Choctaw)
Equity Production/World Premiere

NATIVE VOICES AT THE AUTRY with UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH DAKOTA
March 2015

Stand-Off at HWY#37 by Vickie Ramirez
Joint Equity Production with University of South Dakota

NATIVE VOICES AT THE AUTRY, LOS ANGELES ~ PLAYWRIGHTS RETREAT & FESTIVAL OF NEW PLAYS
May 2015

Timestop by Joseph Valdez (Navajo)
Workshop/Staged Reading

They Don’t Talk Back by Frank Katasse (Tlingit)
Workshop/Staged Reading

So Damn Proud by Justin Neal (Squamish)
Workshop/Staged Reading

NATIVE VOICES AT THE AUTRY, LOS ANGELES ~ HOLLYWOOD FRINGE FESTIVAL
June 2015

Little Big Joe the Bug Squasher by Joseph Valdez (Navajo)

There is No ‘I’ in NDN by Jennifer Bobiwash (Ojibway)

Stories from the Indian Boarding School by Native Voices Ensemble

NATIVE VOICES AT THE AUTRY, LOS ANGELES ~ SHORT PLAY FESTIVAL
November 2015

Crickets by Vicki Lynn Mooney (Cherokee)

Family Matters by Duane Minard (Yurok, Piaute)

On the Threshold by Sam Mitchell (Yaqui)

Red Pine by Ty Defoe (Ojibwe, Oneida)

Reeling by Frank Henry Kaash Katasse (Tlingit)

Siblings by Lori Favela (Yankton Sioux)

Warriors by Joseph Valdez (Navajo)

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