GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR – CONNIE LASSITER
Oh what a show!
Trickster Theatre Company led a one-week artist-in-residency program at Piikani Nation School in Brocket.
This residency involved the entire school from Dec. 3-7. Students and staff, through daily workshops, lectures, demonstrations and rehearsals, created and performed an original performance based on the theme relationships to the natural world.
The final performance titled “Where I Receive a Gift” was presented on Dec. 7 for the community. The play was based upon the teachings of the medicine wheel principles which are found within all human groups; sharing, kindness, humility, trust, honesty, and respect.
The medicine wheel provides a model for who we all are as individuals. We have an intellectual self, a spiritual self, an emotional self, and a physical self. Strength and balance in all quadrants of the medicine wheel can produce a strong and positive sense of well-being and enrich one’s quality of life.
The spiritual life of the Blackfoot people centers upon medicine bundles and their associated rituals. These bundles are taken care of by individuals, and ultimately originated from an encounter with a supernatural spirit. These encounters took the form of dreams or visions, which were sought in a typical plains type vision quest. A young man, often under the tutelage of an older medicine man, would go out to some lonely place and fast until he had a vision.
Out of reverence for the Blackfoot culture and traditions, the playwrights sought the counsel of three Piikani elders, Les Plain Eagle, Louis Smith and Alvin Prairie Chicken. Under their guidance, and supported by the Blackfoot language instructors, Jeannie Davis, and JoAnne Yellow Horn, an original play was crafted.
His love of drama and many talents made Randy Plain Eagle, a returning Grade 12 student, the obvious choice to play the role of seeker. The opening scene had his younger brother, Duke Provost, portraying a more youthful Randy.
The dream effect was enhanced with black light style drama which produced an alluring vision of turmoil and angst. This was followed by a mesmerizing performance by the Grade 9 class in which they fashioned a sweat lodge from bamboo. This set the tone for the vision quest which followed.
The morning nursery class provided the sunrise and sunset scenes accompanied with some poignant music. Titled “Dancing in the Dark” the Grade 9 class performed a hypnotic piece which focused on the struggles one endures when undertaking a vision quest. The Grade 7 class had the daunting feat of setting the stage for the seeker’s return home through movement and song.
Any Native gathering would not be complete without an approved amount of humor, and this production met the grade. Along his arduous journey, Randy was attacked by some clever coyotes (Grade 2 class), ravaged by some nasty blood thirsty mosquitoes (Grade 4 class), and enticed with food by a whole township of crafty gophers (Grade 1 class) which all tempted him to give up his quest. The amusing performance by the Kindergarten class included audience members being asked to play the part of bannock baking and then horses.
In the end, it was the power of the four gifts of tobacco and pipe, sweet grass, sage, and red ochre he received, along with the elders’ guidance and teachings, which allowed seeker to overcome all of the obstacles he met along the way.
The Grade 3 class provided the fire in which seeker once again met the elders to share the significance of his journey. The entire quest was then played out on the screen in shadows performed by the Grade 6 class. The play culminated with a celebration and a performance by the Piikani School drum and dance troupe.
First Nation Student Success Plan funding has given us the chance to bring many new programs to assist us in promoting student learning. Although these programming enterprises have met with success, we continue to look for new activities to engage our students in the learning process.
Education with a holistic perspective is concerned with the development of every person’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potentials. It seeks to engage students in the teaching and learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility. The residency provided the school with these unique opportunities. Our request for a theatre residency at the school provided us with further opportunity to actively engage the students and community within the school. Ultimately, the students were able to learn more about an essential part of the Blackfoot culture.
Trickster Theatre has been in the educational touring program in Alberta since 1980. Since that time, the company has presented over 1,000 performances and over 600 week-long residency programs in Alberta schools. They have performed in Canada at the Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary International Children’s Festivals. As well, the company has toured internationally to Denmark, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. Piikani School thanked Trickster Theatre and acknowledged the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for the generous grant that enabled the school to host this art-in-residency program.
Shell Canada provided funding so that a DVD of the performance could be produced. Every family with children at the Piikani School will receive a complimentary DVD of the performance to commemorate the very worthwhile and memorable experience. Tribute was paid to the staff of the First Nation Student Success Plan program for its vision and making it possible to initiate this process and to the parent volunteer co-ordinator, Lorna North Peigan, and the many parents who helped out in making it a reality.