Overlapping Shakespeare and Tlingit traditions

Proceeds from play will fund Glacier Valley art programs

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2004

In the library at Glacier Valley Elementary School, roughly 60 fourth- and fifth-grade students have been exploring the ways in which the world of William Shakespeare and the oral tradition of Tlingit legend overlap.

"Shakespeare likes to tell stories, and he likes to move, and that's what the Tlingits like to do," said Rachel Sielbach, 11.

Sielbach is one of the musicians in Glacier Valley's ensemble production of "Tides and the Tempest," which plays one night, 7 p.m. Saturday, April 10, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Admission is $10, and proceeds will fund art programs at Glacier Valley.

The script is Dave Hunsaker's adaptation of his play, "Prospero and the Killer Whales," originally presented by Theater in the Rough in August 1999. The story combines Shakespeare's "The Tempest" with the story of Naastilanei of the Dakl'aweidi people. (The Juneau Community Charter School performed a version of Prospero in 2001.)

Both Prospero, the protagonist of "The Tempest," and Naastilanei are abandoned on a deserted island in their respective stories. They're granted magic powers and faced with the option of seeking revenge.

"Naastilanei is brave," said Krysty Carter, 10, a fourth-grader. "I'd say he's sort of generous, nice and very strong. He realizes the moral, violence gets you nowhere. He feels sad that he killed his brothers-in-law."

"There are just so many major themes that are shared in both stories," director Ryan Conarro said. "Mainly, the theme of revenge and forgiveness. The two stories meet at this crucial moment. We see in one story (Naastilanei) has chosen revenge and the regret and the revenge and remorse that he feels after that. In the other story, Prospero witnesses what happened to Naastilanei when he took revenge. It's Naastilanei actions that make Prospero realize that forgiveness might be a better choice."

The project has been a major part of the Glacier Valley curriculum this year. It was funded in part by New York's Carnegie Hall, which chose the school, according to Conarro, as the first Non-New York City school in its education outreach program. Carnegie Hall's program has focused on "The New World Symphony" by composer Antonin Dvorak. Glacier Valley teachers chose to explore the "New World Meets Old World."

"What's exciting about this age group is that they're so comfortable with cultural differences," Conarro said. "We have kids from all different cultures involved: Filipinos, Alaska Native kids, white kids and Polynesian kids. And the kids will refer to something, and say, 'It's like a Polynesian dance.' It's been cool to hear that."

"First of all, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm really glad to have a part in it," said Alan Young, 10, a fourth-grader who plays Prospero. "The whole lesson is to teach us how to have courage and be brave. It also taught me what show business is really about and how much time and energy it takes. I learned a lot from this experience."

The adaptation includes Tlingit, top-of-the-head and traditional commedia masks, designed by Roblin Davis.

On-stage, there will be five platforms. Four of the spaces represent the different "worlds" of the play: the real world of the Tides, the real world of the Tempest, the sea world the Tides and the spirit world of the Tempest. The middle platform is a large, general area. Each of the four world is accompanied by three banners, six feet high by four feet wide, symbolizing changes in action.

The music, as taught by Lorrie Heagy, has also been chosen with parallels in mind. The play begins with "The Matthew," a sea shanty used to keep spirits up and men working on ropes, used in conjunction with the Tlingit canoe song. The Raven peace dance song, "Tsu Hei Dei," a courtship dance, is used with a Shakespearean love ballad.

"We learned four songs in a week over our spring break, and we got those down pretty quickly," said Jordan Jeans, 10, a fifth-grader. "I know some of them, like the canoe song, from Culture Club in school. Other ones like 'Tsu Hei Dei' I learned this year."

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