Friday, December 20, 2013

Teaching Napi - Piikani students present unique Christmas play

Hand drummers sing while Napi naps
C. Davis photos
Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

The Piikani Nation Secondary School (PNSS) gymnasium in Brocket was the site of an unusual Christmas play on Wednesday, December 18.

Awaakaasiiks (Deer) - grade 3 students educate Napi
'Teaching Napi' told the story of how the Old Man of Blackfoot legend is brought to an understanding of what Christmas means. MC's for the event were Principal Mr. Schuh and Vice Principal Mr. Provost. Performing in the original play were students from Grade 1 through 6, with a special appearance by high school students who presented the entertaining 'Riding in my Indian car' skit.

Riding in the Indian Car
Along the way the large audience crowding the high school gym were entertained by hand drummers, dancers, and the play.
Thespian and educator Randy Plain Eagle
Teaching Napi was organized by Randy Plain Eagle, a 2012 graduate of PNSS who is now studying at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto. "The theme of our graduation was 'The world's not ending, we're just taking it over'," he said after the lights came up. "I felt it was such a good theme, because it feels like I am taking over, and it feels good."

"My role in organizing the show was creating a format to follow," he explained. Each grade portrayed a different animal, each drawn from their traditional roles in Blackfoor storytelling. The were to teach Napi the meaning and spirit of Christmas. "The right way of Christmas, and how to treat people at Christmas," said Plain Eagle.

Some of the Grand Entry dancers
The schedule for putting the complicated project together was tight, and made even tighter when extreme weather forced the cancellation of school during the process. "That really limited us on what I really wanted to do, but the students here at the school worked so hard, and were so open and ready to learn from me," Plain Eagle explained. His own schedule has been quite hectic.

"I got back late December 2, and went straight to work on December 3, organizing the show. It was a lot of hard work. I came in here with this format and a schedule. I head back to Toronto on December 28."

Grade 2 Piitaiks - The Eagles
Plain Eagle said he was quite gratified by the response he got from students and teachers upon returning to the school. "It was crazy how much hugs I got. I felt a sense of family when I walked back into this school, where I graduated from."

"Being in Toronto has been very hard on me emotionally, physically, the training that I'm doing. It felt really good to come back into the school and re-charge."

"I'll be ready for my next term."

Grade 4 Aspi'siiks - The Coyotes

I asked him what it was like to go from the small community of Brocket to the bright lights of Toronto. "It was such a cultural shock," he replied. "It was a true story of the country mouse going to the big city. Seriously, it was very overwhelming. All the people, all the traffic. It's so busy, so chaotic."

"It took a while to adapt to. I remembered my focus, and why I'm up there, so I'm ready."

Some of the K4 Spoopkiiks - The Mice

I asked him why someone who describes himself as "shy" would chose a theatrical life. "Theatre has always been a part of our ancestry," he replied. "Telling stories, oral traditions, sharing our songs and dance at powwows or gatherings of different clans. So I felt that theatre was a good way to express yourself, creativity. That's why I chose theatre."

Grade 6 Kaahsiinooniiks - the Ancestors
The lighting of the show was dramatically impressive, casting the shadows of those dancing high up the gymnasium walls. I asked Plain Eagle if the captivating effect was intentional. "I didn't know how the flood lights were going to work in the show, but it fit so well. It was like telling our story from shadows," he said. "It was crazy good. I started tearing up because it looked so beautiful. How the fancy dancers and their fringes were going throughout the whole play, silhouetting them.

He was appreciative of the large audience that came to watch.

"We had a very supportive audience. I believe that our audience really considered our time constraints, because we were cut off of 4 days of rehearsal." He also praised his actors for their efforts in difficult circumstances. "As soon as I let them know we're going to have to work really hard, we're going to have to push ourselves to the limits, they were ready to work." He said some of the students wanted to stay with him even during his lunch breaks.

"I did leave a student, and come back a teacher. It's a very tough and responsible role. You have to really know how to work with young children."

"The teachers, my colleagues, were great people to work with. They always have respected me as a student, and they respected me as a teacher, as a performer."

Almost time to wake up, Napi
"So, coming back to Piikani Nation Secondary School as a teacher was tough, but I kept professional, I came ready to work, and we created a great show."

"It was very hard work. I traveled 61 hour on a bus from Toronto to Alberta, I got here late December 2, got up December 3, I would work from 9:00 to 3:00 with a half hour break."

"No great work comes from not-hard work."

"It was great, it was awesome, and I really enjoyed it. I'm glad that I put my time into this."
"It was very rewarding. I didn't realize how much these students look up to me. I'm a very positive role model in their lives, and I really cherish, and honour that role."

Plain Eagle said of his future plans that if he doesn't intern at a theatre company he plans on writing a grant for Piikani youth and education for a week long workshop to teach drama voice and movement.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous20/12/13

    What a great story!!! Having taught at NPES and knowing Randy, this was an amazing event!! I wish Randy all the best in his studies - remember YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL AND HERO to these little ones!!! Savi


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