'Storm Boy' fuses cultures

Holiday school play invokes Native, western themes

Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2002

This year at Glacier Valley Elementary the holiday performance will not involve reindeer costumes, Hanukkah medleys, or choral versions of "Frosty the Snowman." Instead, the school is putting on a play called "Storm Boy," based on myths from northwest coast Natives.

"I feel that the spirit of the holiday is coming together from different backgrounds and working on something larger than ourselves," said music teacher Lorrie Heagy. "It captures the holiday spirit without putting a label on it. At least that is the hope."

"Storm Boy" will be performed by Glacier Valley and Mendenhall River students. The Glacier Valley performance will be at 1:45 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13. Mendenhall River's performance will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17.

"Storm Boy" is based on an award-winning children's book by Paul Owen Lewis. Heagy found the book in the library and then adapted it and added music, including traditional Tlingit songs and a Finnish round.

The story is about a boy who gets caught in a storm while fishing in his canoe, ending up in a village populated by killer whale people. There, he learns more about his own heritage at a potlatch.

"I like the idea that there seems to be a fusion of Native and western cultures," Heagy said. "Our goal has been all along to have students connect with the community."

The play at Glacier Valley combined activities the students were doing in class on a variety of subjects from Alaska Native culture to killer whales, Heagy said.

"We researched killer whales and read about them," said teacher Deema Ferguson. "We looked at types of whales and compared lengths. We asked questions like how many Mrs. Fergusons would make a killer whale?"

The performance draws on class work, regular academic classes, music, physical education, Indian studies, and the after-school Rally program, Heagy explained.

At a rehearsal for the play in the Glacier Valley's gym, two groups of second- and third-graders filed in, wearing marker-colored paper head-dresses that depicted Tlingit killer whale figures. They were positioned in two chattering "pods" on either side of the room. One teacher stood nearby, holding up peace signs attempting to indicate to the choruses that they needed to listen. Another clasped her hands around her ears and nodded ardently at a particularly chatty pair of whales.

In the center, a young man in a Tlingit blanket embroidered with coho salmon narrated the tale into a microphone, pausing occasionally over long words, like "hos-pi-tal-i-ty," that he needed to sound out.

The character Storm Boy will be played by 9-year-old Alan Young. At rehearsal he performed sharp, authentic Tlingit dance movements for paddling his canoe and pulling in salmon, which he learned at a class potlatch, he said.

'Storm Boy' performances

Who: Glacier Valley, Mendenhall River students

When: 1:45 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, and 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17

Where: Dec. 13 performance at Glacier Valley; Dec. 17 performance at Mendenhall River

In a climactic moment he rides a life-sized cardboard killer whale through waves made by students flapping cotton sheets while the chorus clamors, "Can you be a wha-le, in the sea-ea-ea?"

Young, a serious, round-eyed boy, has been in several church plays at Chapel by the Lake, but he said he is still nervous about his "Storm Boy" performance Friday night.

"Once I get going though, it just all just goes away," he said.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

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