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Indian residential school focus of play to be performed at Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod

GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR – VICKI ARNDT Ramona Big Head and her son Carl Brave Rock remount a play first performed at the 2002 World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education next month at the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod.
“The Ugliest Girl Meets Elvis” will be presented on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m.
“The Indian residential school is not just aboriginal history,” Big Head said. “It is Canadian history.”
Big Head, a residential school student, co-wrote the play with her son Carl.
“The Ugliest Girl Meets Elvis” features a 20-member cast, the youngest being seven years and the oldest 31 years.
The scenes within the play are based on actual residential school survivor stories, but Big Head and Brave Rock used fictional characters to portray the stories.
“The Elvis part of the play is my dad’s story,” said Big Head, whose father attended a residential school.
The residential school system, originally established in the 1840s with the final school closing in 1996, was devised to convert students to Christianity and to “civilize them.”
As has been revealed in recent times, many students were exposed to physical, emotional and sexual abuse while attending the schools.
In recent years government officials have set forth to assist those wronged by the system with healing projects, support work and compensation for tens of thousands of former students of the school system.
“The Ugliest Girl Meets Elvis” was written before the 2007 Indian residential school settlements, Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s apology in 2008 and the more recent 2013 revelations of students being used as test subjects for a study on the effects of vitamins and malnourishment.
“You will laugh, you will cry and you may even get angry,” Big Head said.
The story depicts atrocities students suffered, but they also chose to create a sense of balance throughout the play which depicts some of the more humorous aspects of the residential school experiences including some dancing and even the music of the legendary Elvis Presley.
Big Head is the new principal of Tatsikiisaapo’p middle school on the Blood Reserve. She is a PhD candidate out of the University of British Columbia and is a former member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge.
Big Head has directed 25 drama productions during her career with her most notable play “Strike Them Hard!” produced in 2008.
Based on the 1870 Baker Massacre or Marias Massacre in Montana, “Strike Them Hard!” was presented in New York City just off Broadway and performed to two sold-out audiences at the Empress Theatre.
Big Head, who taught English and drama for 14 years at Kainai high school, will be stage manager during the production at the Empress Theatre.
Brave Rock will make his directorial debut with “The Ugliest Girl Meets Elvis.”
Brave Rock is no stranger to the stage. In 1997 his mother Ramona Big Head was making her directorial debut with a play written by Ojibway playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock. Brave Rock received an honourable mention for this role from the Southern Alberta High school Drama Festival in 1997.
Brave Rock has been involved in drama ever since. He spent a couple of years in theatre training at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto and wrote most of the plays his mother produced at during her tenure at Kainai high school.
Brave Rock’s most recent work was during this summer’s production at the Fort Museum in Fort Macleod with their summer school program.
Brave Rock is attending the University of Lethbridge.
“The Ugliest Girl Meets Elvis” is presented by the Blood Tribe Department of Health Inc. Indian Residential School Program.
Tickets are on sale through the Empress Theatre box office at 1-800-540-9229 or by visiting www.empresstheatre.ab.ca.

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