A god comes to Earth and makes peace among the Pacific islanders in Auke Bay Elementary School's theatrical version of the Tongan legend of Tongaloa.
Every year, music teacher Ann Boochever harnesses the school's roughly 95 fifth-graders to an elaborate performance of drama, song and dance about some part of the world represented in the student body.
Parent Merridy Davis has had three children in Boochever's plays over the years. One is now a high school junior. Davis likes the way Boochever brings out different portions of the community.
"Kids may not know we have this background in our community," she said.
When Boochever first thought of the play two years ago, there were three Tongan families at Auke Bay. Now there is one, the Tupous. But the family and other Tongans in Juneau rose to the occasion.
Earlier this school year, local Tongans performed authentic songs for Boochever, who used them in the play in the original language but without the seven-part harmony.
"I had chills. I could not believe how beautiful it was," Boochever said.
Parent Paul Tupou and local resident Canesi Talamai taught the dances.
Students at dress rehearsal Wednesday were comfortably using Tongan words for articles of clothes and their characters' names.
"The first time it's pretty hard" to learn a Tongan song, said David Mendivil. "Second time, so-so. Third time, it's pretty easy."
Roma Tupou, who married into a Tongan family and has lived in Hawaii, sewed dozens of authentic costumes.
"Yep. I saw the whole thing," her son Aaron said.
Half the chore is making the clothes. The other half is getting the children dressed, she decided after dress rehearsal.
The costumes include woven mats from the Tupou family and skirts of tapa cloth, which is made from layers of the inner bark of mulberry trees and tapioca paste.
"It's fun to see the students enjoying themselves," Roma Tupou said. "For a lot of the kids that aren't very sure of themselves, it's great. They learn to speak in front of people. They learn to perform."
Some children are painfully shy, but when they put on their costumes, "all of a sudden they take on their character," Tupou said.
Boochever said she makes sure that students in the play don't laugh at or tease each other. It's hard enough to act.
At Wednesday's rehearsal, in every drama teacher's eternal cry from the heart, Boochever urged the students to sing and speak louder.
She mimicked the way two girls, playing tropical birds, should scuttle around the stage waving their arms, scattering people and screeching.
She sat down next to a girl and showed her how to drum.
The play will be performed at 10 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 20 and 21, for schoolchildren, and at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday for the public. Suggested contribution is $4. It is in the school gym.
She tried to coordinate thunder, lightning, a smoke machine and a spear thrust.
"Pig carriers, come and get your pig and come back one more time," she said in what may be a unique utterance.
Ankle bracelets made of dried seed pods rattled above the children's bare feet as they rehearsed.
Boochever wasn't easily satisfied.
"You know what, Aaron? You're hiding behind that spear. We want to see your face, too," the teacher told Aaron Tupou, who has a long spear dance.
Brenden Winters, who plays the god Tongaloa, said he learned that "Tongans have really cool rituals and stuff like that."
"And really cool dresses," chipped in Itaaehau Tupou, a second-grader who was allowed in the play "because I kind of have the personality, I think."
No, Aaron Tupou said. His little brother is in the play so he can be a younger version of Aaron's character, the mortal son of Tongaloa.
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