Thursday, October 9, 2014

This North Coast Weekend: A Special Event

Back in 2006, a community-based play was presented at HSU and elsewhere called Salmon Is Everything. At 7 p.m. on Friday October 10, several participants in that process and production will be at Northtown Books, with their book about it all: Salmon Is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed.

Scheduled to be present are Theresa May, Jean O’Hara, Suzanne Burcell (Karuk), & Kathy McCovey (Karuk) and special guest Marlon Sherman.

The invitation reads: "After a devastating fish kill on the Klamath River, tribal members and theatre artists developed a play to give voice to the central spiritual and cultural role of salmon in tribal life. Join the authors for readings from the play and hear their own stories about the creative collaboration and the significance of salmon among the people of the Klamath River."

Here's my Stage Matters commentary from 2006:

Going to theatre is an act of faith in its potential, and an act of hope that this will be one of the times it is realized. Of all that theatre is capable of, the expression and even creation of community around public issues is one of the most complex, and possibly, the most rare. But on a Friday evening early in May in the Studio Theatre at HSU, I saw it happen.

 It was the opening night of three performances by the Klamath Theatre Project, an ad hoc group of Native and non-Native faculty and community members, and some 30 students, most of them from local tribes, who worked for two years to collect interviews, studies and stories, and to create presentations arising from the 2002 Klamath River fish kill, a watershed event in all senses. But I doubt anyone involved could have predicted what would happen on that stage.

 Salmon Is Everything dramatized a series of interweaving encounters of fictional characters---a young Yurok-Karuk fisherman and his wife, a non-Native rancher and his mother, a graduate student in biology and a Hupa fish biologist, several Karuk, Yurok and Klamath elders, plus family members, a farmer, tourists, a reporter and a priest, among others. Their interaction illuminated some of the ways the Klamath water crisis affected them all, though the emphasis was on the Native communities where salmon has been the center of life and culture for untold generations.

 The cast was composed of Natives and non-Natives (as was the audience): elders, youth and children. Not many had acting experience, but there was not an abashed breath of amateurism anywhere--from the first moment everyone was poised, clear, warm and authentic. It was an illuminating ninety minutes, and a powerful night of theatre.

 There were heartfelt declarations presented with such conviction and authority that several actors (Native and non-Native) were moved nearly to tears by their own words. Yet the cast also moved in and out of dramatic scenes with the skill of theatrical veterans.

 There was power also in a simple scene of women beginning to weave baskets as they talked: this clearly is from their lives. And when two Brush Dance skirts were brought out, you could feel the intake of breath in the audience. As Native and non-Native characters talked of their lives and those of their forbearers, such historical terms as “Termination” and “allotments” attached themselves to real consequences and fates.

 The Project’s attempt to bring a community together without any culture losing its integrity, to find common interest and common ground, turned out to be mirrored in the form of this presentation. It brought together key elements of European-based theatre with elements of Native cultures derived in part from storytelling and ceremony.

 Though they are sometimes reluctant to express their concerns to outsiders, I have heard Native people speak their thoughts and from their hearts in primarily Native gatherings. I have also seen several well-meant, polished but inadequate theatre pieces concerning Native history and culture presented by non-Natives. But even as a work-in-progress, I have never seen anything like this. I wish I had space to name everyone who had a hand in creating it. I felt my faith restored, and my hope rewarded.

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