Cherokee Nation citizens Adam Childress, left, and Amanda Ray, along with actor and Northeastern State University Drama faculty member Chris Miller star in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Feb. 15 at the NSU Playhouse in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Ray stars in ‘Virginia Woolf’ production
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen and Sequoyah High School drama teacher Amanda Ray starred in Northeastern State University Drama’s production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” which ran Feb. 15-18 at the NSU Playhouse.
Ray, a NSU graduate, said as an acting teacher she’s a firm believer that if she’s going to teach it she needs to do it well.
“I think coaches should play a game every once in a while. I think it’s good for you.” Ray said.
“In my career I have been fortunate to inhabit numerous different roles, whether it was a straight drama or a fun musical, but no experience comes close to playing Martha in Edward Albee’s Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, ‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ It has been one of my favorite plays and by far my favorite role, and one I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to play. NSU Theatre Company, which is my home stage, gave me that chance this past February, and I can’t thank my director, Dr. Robyn Pursley, enough for choosing me for this role.”
Ray said it was “exhilarating” being on the stage again in a role that was “emotionally draining and so rewarding.”
“It meant so much to me that so many of my students, friends, family and a few of my fellow faculty members were in the audience. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of how much work goes into a production like that and also that the heart of theater is to make you think, feel, contemplate, and that supporting the arts is more than just getting off your duff and going to see a play, but as teachers it is setting an example for our students. The heart of the theatrical experience is empathy. A concept so basic and yet so fleeting in this day and age that we have classes devoted to learning what empathy actually is and how to implore that emotion.”
She said the arts can be overlooked in this part of the state yet they are beneficial.
“My former speech/debate/drama students are excelling at the college level at NSU, Harvard, Brown, NYU (New York University), OU (University of Oklahoma), OSU (Oklahoma State University). Some, but not all, are pursuing theater degrees, but what they have in common is a work ethic, a broad and exploratory intellect, writing and public speaking skills that were utilized and enhanced through their involvement in the performing arts. I love what I do, and feel so extremely lucky to have a career in the arts in Tahlequah.”
Ray started working at Sequoyah in 2008. She started its speech and theater program. Her classes range from acting, theater history, musical theater, Native storytelling and performance, speech/debate and honors competitive speech/drama/debate, which are devoted to preparation for the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association’s speech/debate tournaments.
Along with teaching full time, she directs, creates costumes and choreographs one act plays and main stage productions each year for Sequoyah. She also oversees a traveling troupe that performs Cherokee children’s play and puppet shows at the Cherokee Heritage Center, as well as elementary schools.
TAHLEQUAH – The Encore! Performing Society on April 8 previewed its reimagined production of “Four Moons,” which highlights the careers of five Native American ballerinas.
“The history of the five ballerinas was always interesting to me because they are so unique. There’s only a handful of Native American ballerinas in the world,” “Four Moons” Director Lena Gladkova-Huffman said.
The production features 12 female dancers, nearly all of who are Cherokee, and uses digital backdrops with archived footage, pictures and interviews to showcase the life and careers of Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief.
The group became known as the Five Moons and rose to prominence in the mid-1900s during a time when ballet was largely considered a Russian art form. The women represented the Cherokee, Osage, Choctaw and Shawnee tribes.
Four of them danced together for the original 1967 production, which occurred during the Oklahoma Indian Ballerina Festival. It was titled “Four Moons” because the Tallchief sisters were highlighted together.
“When we picked up this production, the girls had to do a lot of research and find out who each ballerina was. So they come out of this production with bigger knowledge of the world in general, and hopefully our audience will too,” Gladkova-Huffman said. “There were these five amazing women who, from children, decided to dedicate their life to art.”
She said her fascination with the Five Moons and the original performance sparked the need for a reimagining featuring her choreography.
“They met and danced, and it was a unique occasion because everybody danced, with the exception of Maria Tallchief, who was retired, and then nobody video recorded them. So from then on everybody that has recreated this play has used original choreography,” she said.
Gladkova-Huffman studied ballet in Volgograd, Russia, and though she pursued a career as a doctor after immigrating to America, she’s “closely connected” to directing and choreographing.
Many girls featured in her reimagining come from her dance studio, though each “handpicked” ballerina had to meet select criteria. They also vary in age from elementary- to college-aged students to highlight the Five Moons as younger and older versions.
Cherokee Nation citizen Natalie Walker, 19, studies at Northeastern State University and is dancing as the older Chouteau. She said she and her younger partner unfurl a ribbon during their dance as a nod to the Cherokee people and Chouteau’s heritage.
“There is a part in my dance where we pull a white ribbon and it separates the stage, which is supposed to represent the Trail of Tears,” she said. “It separates us from our Cherokee heritage, as well as the younger and older versions of (Chouteau).”
Walker said the dancers have rehearsed on weekends for months to prepare.
“We all are very good about taking criticism from Mrs. Lena very well, which I think helps us improve in dancing and for the production,” she said. “It has taken many, many practices since then to get ready for this, and I love dancing in front of people.”
CN citizen Lacy Ullrich, 13, portrays the younger Marjorie Tallchief.
“I didn’t really know much about it the first time I did this, but it sounded fun,” she said. “They’re all very interesting, and they’ve accomplished a ton of really cool things throughout their lifetime. All these girls come from different tribes, and one of them is Cherokee, and they were all born in Oklahoma, so it’s fun to get to dance the Cherokee variation.”
Portraying Hightower is CN citizen Hadley Hume, 17, who will attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock this fall to major in performance dance. She said audiences should expect to see a mix of traditional ballet and Native American aspects. “You’ll see us dancing on point, on flat, but we’ll also have one girl come out in a traditional Cherokee dress. It’s just really amazing to be able to bring all of their tribes together, and it’s just a really cool way to say, ‘hey look, we’re all here.’”
Her mother, Dayna, is the vice president of Encore! who secured the rights to composer Louis Ballard’s music from the 1967 production. She also designed the traditional costumes.
“All of the coral dresses that you’ll see and the ribbon work, I’ve done,” she said. “I tell (the girls), ‘I create it, you bring it to life. You make it come to life when you dance.’ We’ve also had some various local Cherokee National Treasures that’s worked on other pieces.”
The preview was held ahead of scheduled performances in Washington, D.C., for the annual Cherokee Days on April 13-15 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Phoenix peeked in on Sequoyah High School’s drama department as it rehearsed for its upcoming adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical “Into the Woods,” which musically tells the darker side of the classic fairy tales Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.
“Into The Woods” will be held at the Sequoyah’s The Place Where They Play on the SHS campus.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. on April 26, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on April 27 and 2 p.m. on April 29.
For more information, visit <a href="http://sequoyah.cherokee.org" target="_blank">http://sequoyah.cherokee.org</a> or the Sequoyah Speech/Drama/Debate Students Facebook page.
TAHLEQUAH – Seasoned and newly emerging Cherokee artists gained business information during a Native Artist Professional Development Training on April 4-5 at the Cherokee Arts Center.
The First Peoples Fund hosted the training as part of its community workshop program, and its goal is to help Native artists become successful entrepreneurs. The FPF provided the course materials while Cherokee artists Matthew Anderson and MaryBeth Timothy taught the training.
“Most of us don’t have that business mind, and so First Peoples Fund comes in and helps us with that,” Timothy said. “I know with me, when I took the First Peoples Fund training here it just opened my eyes to so many things that I wasn’t sure of. Now that I realize that we have so many resources, I’m not afraid to go out and look and ask for help, and I think that’s really important for a lot of artists around here."
Training topics included creating a business plan, writing for grants and loans, marketing, crafting a successful portfolio and balancing time between operating a business and being an artist. Each participant was also asked to give a presentation at the training’s end.
“It’s a chance for them to step outside the box,” Timothy said. “Some of them have never done that before, and so we give them a little guideline and it shows how to present yourself because part of this whole thing is not just selling your art, you’re selling yourself.”
Cherokee Nation citizen Isaiah Soap, who completed both training days, said he attended to learn from established artists.
“It’s hard to start, especially being a Native artist and getting your business out there, but the people here are really nice and great with helping,” he said. “I think it will help out a lot of artists around here that took the training because I know they’re already well established, so it was good to get their knowledge.”
Soap said he comes from a line of artists specializing in beadwork and realized he wanted to make that passion into a business while attending Northeastern State University. “When I was in college at NSU is really whenever it hit me that I could make money while I was in school because I didn’t have a full-time job, and it would have been a lot to do. It would have been more stress if I had gotten a full-time job, whereas my beadwork was like a stress reliever from school and then I could still make money doing it.”
During the training, Soap pitched his artwork and began setting goals.
“The training definitely helps us to know where we want to go from where we are now,” he said. “In the training we were taught to set some goals for like five years from now or 10 years from now and where we see ourselves as an artist. It also gave us a lot of insight on how we can promote our work and the clientele that we have and how we can set up our work.”
FPF President Lori Pourier said the national program began in the 1990s and that the community training in Tahlequah is made possible because of its “Teach Back” component.
“MaryBeth and Matthew are there to do their ‘Teach Back’ because they’ve already gone through the training, and now they’re testing it to see if they want to continue doing it and working with the curriculum,” she said. “Several folks down in that area have gone on to be a trainer and then those folks usually train within the tribe or within the state. I think we have 50 or more certified trainers now across the country from Maine to Barrow, Alaska, to Cherokee Nation.”
For more information, visit <a href="http://www.firstpeoplesfund.org" target="_blank">www.firstpeoplesfund.org</a>.
TAHLEQUAH – While many area teachers joined a statewide walkout on April 2 headed to rallies at the state capital in Oklahoma City, others, including teachers who are Cherokee Nation citizens, held hometown rallies to build local support for better public education funding.
Contingencies of teachers inside the CN were seen rallying from Bartlesville to Sallisaw. CN citizen and fourth grade Grand View teacher Jeanetta Glory was one teacher who braved the rain to rally in Cherokee County.
“There are about 10 teachers out here, and we are standing for our students and to raise funding at the state capital. We feel very positive in the way things are going right now. There’s a lot of discussions going on, but we have been encouraged to keep this going,” Glory said.
Glory said one reason the teachers walked out is because enrollment in public schools has increased by more than 40,000 students while funding has decreased by $200 million.
“Oklahoma is the worst in the nation for public education cuts, by 28 percent since 2008,” she said.
In Adair County the same solidarity was visible as teachers and staff from Stilwell, Dahlonegah, Zion and Maryetta schools gathered, held signs and waved to supporters who honked their car horns. CN citizen and kindergarten teacher Paula Unger was among them. She said she’s seen the Oklahoma education issue from different sides, including being raised by a Cherokee teacher.
“I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and I am Cherokee. I’ve spent the last three days at the capital in Oklahoma City, leaving around 7 in the morning and returning around 9 p.m. at night. It’s been quite a historical experience,” Unger said. “In the early (19)90s, my mother, who’s a retired educator who taught for 30-some years, was in on the rally that happened then. This time it’s been so encouraging to see the support that we’ve received from numerous people, even out of state people. A man visiting from New York ordered 500 pizzas for us.”
Unger added that teachers on spring break from other states came to Oklahoma to support them, as well as workers from other professions.
“The steel workers who are working on the outside of the building at the Capitol didn’t work in support of the teachers. They wouldn’t cross the protest lines,” she said.
Unger said other supporters included the custodial and maintenance people inside the Capitol.
“Even the people who cook in the Capitol told us ‘this is awesome. We’ve never seen so many people inside the Capitol. Keep it going,’” Unger said.
Rallying teachers and public school employees said they were hopeful they would triumph. “I’m a speech pathologist in Tahlequah Public Schools, and I’m a parent of two kids,” CN citizen Robyn Rowland said. “I have an investment here not only for my students but for my own kiddos’ future.”
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen Winnie Guess-Perdue recently shared her life’s journey as part of the CN’s Community and Cultural Outreach’s Lunch and Learn series.
According to CCO’s Facebook page, she was recognized as one of the five women featured in the tribe’s exhibit “Cherokee Women Who Changed the World.”
Guess-Perdue is a direct descendant of Sequoyah and an accomplished ballerina, fancy dancer and artist. A lifetime athlete, she has competed in the Oklahoma Senior Olympics and the National Senior Games. In 2002, she competed in Melbourne, Australia, at the World Masters Games and in 2004 was named Oklahoma’s Senior Athlete of the Year.
She is one of two to three females in history to have mastered the old school traditional version of the Hoop Dance and is recognized as an honored elder of early female “fancy dancers.” In addition to awards and honors, she was a finalist in the 1957 Miss Indian America competition, received the Moscelyn Larkin Greater Tulsa Lifetime of Cultural Achievement Award in 2008, and in 2015 she accepted the Oral Roberts University Lifetime of Global Achievement Award. She serves on the Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs Commission. She has also performed on television shows, including the Ed Sullivan Show and Today Show.
To view Guess-Perdue’s March 15 presentation visit, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQPab0qW4lk" target="_blank">https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQPab0qW4lk</a>.
VIAN – Less than a mile from Interstate 40 and 5 miles from Lake Tenkiller, two Cherokee-owned businesses are thriving in Vian.
Morning Sky Boutique and Evening Shade Mercantile are the idea of Cherokee Nation citizens Suzanne Sullivan and Callie Prier, who are also mother and daughter.
“We opened this store (Morning Sky Boutique) a little over three years ago, and we carry clothing, jewelry, shoes,” Prier, the daughter, said. “And we have another building, Evening Shade Mercantile, and it’s home and gift.”
Prier said her family worked together to make the idea a reality.
“Well, originally we bought Morning Sky Boutique, which was the old Vian Sundry Store and many things before that. My mom and I purchased the building. My husband remodeled the building,” she said.
Prier said they started with just clothing and jewelry on a smaller scale.
“We got good responses from the community and tourism and all that,” she said. “So, a year after we purchased Morning Sky, we purchased Evening Shade Mercantile, and we’ve made that into the home and gift side so the boutique could be women’s clothing, shoes and jewelry and things like that.”
Prier said it was her mom who knew about the tribe’s Small Business Loan program.
“They (CN) actually helped us a lot,” Prier said. “We got the small business loan quickly, and they have been super helpful with anything we needed afterwards.”
Sullivan said she knows the area well. Born in nearby Sallisaw, she’s been a community volunteer and organizer in Vian for the past 30 years. Sullivan said the advice and information she received from Commerce Department Executive Director Anna Knight and Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelly was crucial to her and Prier before making the decision to open the businesses.
“They, along with (the) Commerce Department’s Steven Highers, have so much wisdom and knowledge of the area and just how things work. We work really, really hard to find items that are interesting and unique, while varied in price range. We think we have something for everyone here,” Sullivan said. “We’re getting ready to start a new men’s line, but we already carry men’s products. We carry some Pendleton and Ted Baker and some Gentlemen’s Hardware, but we’re really excited about just getting approved to carry Patagonia. Plus, Callie just picked up a line call The Normal Brand.”
As for women’s brands, Morning Sky Boutique carries Sympli and Joseph Ribkoff, Comfy and others.
“We carry a lot Johnny Was women’s wear. In jewelry, we have French Kande and Love Tokens and many others. We also carry children’s Kickee pants,” Sullivan said.
Morning Sky Boutique and Evening Shade Mercantile are located at 106 S. Thornton St. They are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
For more information, call 918-773-5000 or visit <a href="http://www.morningskyboutique.com" target="_blank">www.morningskyboutique.com</a> or search Facebook.