http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation citizen Thaddeus Strassberger became interested in theater and opera early in life after his parents took him to shows at Theatre Tulsa and the American Theater Company. EVGENY POTOROCHIN/COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Thaddeus Strassberger became interested in theater and opera early in life after his parents took him to shows at Theatre Tulsa and the American Theater Company. EVGENY POTOROCHIN/COURTESY

Cherokee citizen enjoying opera production career

Cherokee Nation citizen Thaddeus Strassberger first directed the Italian-language opera “Nabucco” in 2012 at the Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., and will do so again in October at the LA Opera in Los Angeles. “Nabucco” originally premiered in 1842 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy, and follows the plight of Jews who are conquered and exiled from their homelands by Babylonian King Nabucco. COURTESY In 2014, Cherokee Nation citizen Thaddeus Strassberger directed the opera “Satyagraha,” which is loosely based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. The production garnered him the 2014 Bravo Award for Best Production and two 2016 Golden Mask Awards. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Thaddeus Strassberger first directed the Italian-language opera “Nabucco” in 2012 at the Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., and will do so again in October at the LA Opera in Los Angeles. “Nabucco” originally premiered in 1842 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy, and follows the plight of Jews who are conquered and exiled from their homelands by Babylonian King Nabucco. COURTESY
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
07/26/2017 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – When Thaddeus Strassberger began attending theater shows with his parents as a child, they couldn’t have guessed their casual interest would lead him to a career of directing and designing operas that have graced world stages.

“I was 4 or 5 years old, and my first theater experiences were with Theatre Tulsa and American Theater Company where my parents took me to see shows,” he said. “I don’t think they were interested in it in a professional sort of way. I think it was just part of the whole cultural life.”

Raised in Tulsa, Strassberger attended The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City after high school. And being a 2001 Fulbright Fellowship recipient allowed him to study the Corso di Specializzazione per Scenografi Realizzatori program at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy.

“In the beginning, it’s intimidating because you’re surrounded by people who are really knowledgeable about something that you want to do, but then you sort of get into a rhythm of it and realize nobody was born knowing these things,” he said.

Strassberger’s professional career began in 2005, the year he won the European Opera Prize in 2005 for “La Cenerentola” for the Opera Ireland and Wiesbaden State Theatre. His most recent achievements include the 2014 Bravo Award for Best Production and two 2016 Golden Mask Awards for “Satyagraha,” which is loosely based on Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

Strassberger compared his job to a Hollywood movie director as he works with the orchestra, casting, scenery, props, lighting, marketing and media departments to bring an opera to fruition.
“I’m responsible for the entire visual concept of what the production is going to look like and for all of the acting once we have the singers, what their movements are, what their intentions are,” he said. “I also work with the music director to work with the actual interpretation of the music and the text together with the singers to get the story told in the right way.”

Strassberger challenges himself to complete three to four productions annually in different world markets and takes on the task of bringing individuals together from multiple backgrounds to create a single idea. “I’ve worked in Russia, and when I walk into a place that has maybe a thousand employees, all with a very different background and culture and language and ways of working and mentality, then I have to make sure I get all of those people to focus their energy and talents in the way that I want to.”

While leading such projects can be overwhelming, Strassberger said the challenges are also what makes his job rewarding. “You get to take all of these incredibly talented people and focus their energy in one coherent direction that has a really emotional impact at the end of the project.”

Strassberger begins prepping for productions anywhere from a year to 2-1/2 years in advance of opening night. He said when his career was beginning, the decision to take on a project derived from its title and story. Over the years, his relationships with certain collaborators in the business have instead driven his decisions.

“I think the more experience I’ve gotten, the more interested I am in working with certain kinds of people and figuring out, once you’re together with those people, what story that it is you want to tell,” he said.

While his portfolio is vast, Strassberger said one of his favorite productions is 2016’s “The Passenger,” produced for the Ekaterinburg Opera and Ballet Theatre. The opera tells the stories of an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate and guard.

“It deals with guilt and responsibility over actions that took place during Auschwitz and concentration camps in World War II,” he said. “It wasn’t just talking about something and everybody nodding their heads and going, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, we understand what Auschwitz is,’ but really sort of opening up a new public’s eyes to the aspects of our history that are really difficult but need to be talked about in order not to repeat them.”

Strassberger’s next production, “Nabucco,” will premiere in October at the LA Opera in Los Angeles and stars the “King of Opera” Plácido Domingo.

“That’s just an exciting personal project for me because he’s kind of like the closest thing that opera has to royalty, and he commissioned the project from me five or six years ago for the Kennedy Center, but he wasn’t able to perform it at the time,” Strassberger said.

For Cherokees aspiring for an arts career, Strassberger advised to not to get too caught up in practicalities.

“I think we live in a world now where nobody’s job is very secure, no matter what kind of industry. I think that the world really benefits from are people following what they’re passionate about. Not letting the obstacles of too much reality get in the way because the reality is going to be there no matter what you do,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter where you’re from, it matters where you’re going and the kind of people you seek out to collaborate with and be inspired by.”

For more information on Strassberger, visit www.tstrassberger.com.
About the Author
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band.  She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors.
 
While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college.  
 
She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department.
 
Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.
brittney-bennett@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band. She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors. While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college. She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department. Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.

People

BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
02/22/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – For the past 15 years, Cherokee Nation citizen Janice Dreadfulwater has been perfecting the craft of loom weaving that she learned from her sister-in-law and Cherokee National Treasure, Dorothy Dreadfulwater Ice. Since she was 5 years old, Dreadfulwater said she’s always “dabbled” in some type of craftsmanship. “I was sewing when I was like 5 years (old), making doll clothes. My first (craft) was sewing. Then I went over to crochet and cross-stitch. I’ve done some silversmithing, and I’ve done some beadwork. You know, I’ve dabbled in a lot of areas,” Dreadfulwater said. Once she learned how to loom weave, she said she thoroughly enjoyed it. “My first attempt was awkward, of course. But once I got the hang of it, it started going really fast,” she said. “It was just addictive.” In a two-month span, she said she made approximately 20 loom-woven blankets. Aside from making blankets, she makes scarves and shawls, but blankets are her specialty. To loom weave, Dreadfulwater said she uses Ice’s loom. However, she’s making her own loom. “One of my projects is to get my big loom together and hopefully have a place that I can put it. You’ve got to have the space in order to do it,” she said. “I’m in the process of putting one together. I’ve got the frame made, but as far as the hardware, that’s hard to locate for a larger loom.” She said loom weaving one quilt can take anywhere from a day to a day and a half. “It takes (time) to get it all set up to start weaving, which I don’t like that part, but it’s necessary. The fun part is actually weaving.” Dreadfulwater said she uses diamond, herringbone and non-traditional patterns in her work and different-sized yarn. She also said she’s never marketed her creations and has only sold one blanket. She said she mostly makes them for “enjoyment.” “I’m proud to carry on the traditions that the Cherokee people have established and to be creative,” she said. “I just hope that whoever receives the blanket respects what labor of love that went into the project.” Her donation to the Phoenix is a blanket with a diamond pattern. The drawing will be held April 2. For every $10 spent on elder fund donations, subscriptions or merchandise, one entry is entered in the quarterly giveaway drawing. For more information, call Justin Smith at 918-207-4975 or email justin-smith@cherokee.org, or Samantha Cochran at 918-207-3825 or email <a href="mailto: samantha-cochran@cherokee.org">samantha-cochran@cherokee.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/11/2018 02:00 PM
WEST SILOAM – Tulsa resident Elizabeth “Beth” West manages an hour and a half commute to Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs each workday but still makes time to give back to her community. The YMCA of Greater Tulsa recently awarded West with an award for her dedication to the organization. “I started off as a contributor but quickly realized that I wanted to do more to help children and families in my community,” West, a food and beverage manager at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs and Cherokee Nation citizen, said. “The Y helps people in the community in so many different aspects, from early education and after school programs to families affected by cancer.” West is originally from Colcord, where she graduated high school. She received a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in 2008. She then started her career at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs, accepting positions at various Cherokee Casinos through the years, including Cherokee Casino Ramona, Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. “Beth has been an asset to our department since returning to the property in 2015,” Don McClellan, property director of food and beverage at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs, said. “She explains to newly hired employees that she started here in 2008, and that if they want additional responsibilities and to be able to be promoted, the opportunities are available. It has been a pleasure working with Beth and watching her navigate her career path. We are very proud of her dedicated work in the community.” West began supporting the YMCA of Greater Tulsa as a donor but quickly grew into the role of campaigner by helping to raise awareness of the organization’s cause and by finding those willing to help support. West was honored as the 2017 Goal Buster Campaigner of the Year for the YMCA Community Services Campaign. The annual campaign unites volunteers, donors and participants to build upon the strengths of each individual in our community. Financial assistance is made available from the annual support campaign to any individual or family who wants to participate in YMCA programs or activities but may not be able to afford the fee. “As we move into our 2018 campaign season, we are thankful to have Beth’s big heart and passion for change. Our community services goal this year is $15,000, and we are confident the funds will be raised to ensure programs continue to be available to those who need them most,” Emma Sikich, senior director for community initiatives at YMCA of Greater Tulsa, said. “Beth is a great example of someone who works hard, plays hard, but gives more. She is a key player in ensuring the YMCA’s Community Services campaign is a success,” Sikich said. The staff at YMCA of Greater Tulsa is passionate about making a difference in their communities and bettering the lives of the people around them, and that has inspired West and the other 16 campaigners to do more. “I feel it’s my responsibility to ensure that others are afforded chances and opportunities to do more, to grow and learn, to be everything they hope,” West said. “Strength of character comes from helping people succeed, not in holding anyone down.” For more information about YMCA of Greater Tulsa, visit <a href="http://www.ymcatulsa.org" target="_blank">www.ymcatulsa.org</a>.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
01/25/2018 08:00 AM
FAYETTVILLE, Ark. – When 15-year-old Gaby Nagel isn’t listening to music she is playing it, particularly on the Native American flute. Her enjoyment and talent with the instrument has led her to playing numerous events and partaking in flute competitions. Nagel, an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian citizen, has been playing the flute for five years. She was introduced to it while walking Fayetteville Square and coming across a man playing one. Listening to him play, she said she became mesmerized. Her mother bought her a flute and she began taking lessons from the same man, Jerry Doubting. She said the flute just came “natural” to her. “A lot of the tricks it took him years to learn, all came natural to me. He would be sitting there and telling me about a technique, and he would say ‘it’s OK, don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it on the first try.’ Well, I would get it on the first try,” she said. Nagel has competed in eight flute competitions of all sizes. However, she said the biggest competition she’s won was the Musical Echo’s in Florida. “I was the first female and youngest competitor to ever win. I got a blue ribbon from them and a check. It was really cool.” In addition to competitions, she’s played at festivals and events such as Indigenous Peoples Day in Fayetteville and the annual Trail of Tears Association Conference this past October in Pocola, Oklahoma. She’s also been invited to play for senior citizens and children at schools to interact with them and share Native culture. She said her most memorable performance was getting playing for a young girl who was battling cancer. “I played for a girl who had cancer in Chattanooga (Tennessee). She was a friend of a flute maker of mine, and we raised money for her to receive treatment. It was such an honor, especially because they invited me.” To be able to travel different places, she said she is thankful for having supportive family and friends, especially her mother. “My mom is my number one. She has driven me around so many miles I can’t even count. She is my number one, and she has always got my back.” Nagel said she is proud to be Cherokee and shares her heritage through the flute. She said her plans for 2018 are to travel more playing the flute and visit more elderly and hospice patients. She said she’s also been learning to play the piano and guitar. “Playing the flute, I feel like I am honoring my ancestors and what they had to go through so we don’t get hated on for being Native American as much anymore,” she said.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
01/24/2018 08:15 AM
COLLINSVILLE – Since age 5, Cherokee Nation citizen Trett Charles has had dreams of singing and playing guitar. Today, the 23-year-old opens for some of the most popular names in Red Dirt music, including Stoney LaRue, whom he opened for on Jan. 20 at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. Coming from a country music-loving family, Charles learned to play guitar from his great-grandpa. With the help of his uncles he started to grow vocally, too. Charles said his family listened to country music artists such as George Strait, Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley, who influenced him to choose the Red Dirt genre. “The way I look at Red Dirt music nowadays is it’s pure country to me. I am not the type of person that is big about national music. I like the (19)90s country feel because that just the genre I grew listening to,” he said. At age 21, he played his first gig at the Hall of Fame in Catoosa. Since then he’s played venues in Tulsa, across Oklahoma and in surrounding states. He’s also opened for Red Dirt artists Thompson Square, Bart Crow Band, Casey James, Read Southall Band and Jason Boland and the Stragglers. Charles said getting the opportunity to play various places and open for artists has been a blessing and great accomplishment. However, along with accomplishments he also had to overcome struggles. In April, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and spent seven months in chemotherapy. He said taking that in was hard. And even though he couldn’t play shows as much, he said he pushed himself to continue as much as he could. During his treatments he played the Cain’s Ballroom for the first time. “When you’re 22 years old and you’re told you have cancer, and you don’t know if you are going to live or die, at first you don’t really know how to accept that. But the biggest thing that helped me push through it is that I am a big believer in God, and I believe he heals. So when I felt good enough to play a show I would push myself to basically get out there. It was really cool to play at Cain’s for the first time even during the time I was going through chemo because the opportunity was a blessing that also kept me going,” Charles said. Now cancer free, he played at the Cain’s Ballroom for the second time opening for one of his longtime heroes, Stoney LaRue. “I seen Stoney multiple times at Cain’s, so the fact that I am even getting to open for Stoney, it’s an incredible feeling because a lot of people don’t get that opportunity,” he said. Although Charles has only been on the Red Dirt music scene a couple of years, he continues to make a name for himself. He said his goals are to travel and play his music for the world. But he also hopes his music will “touch” someone. “A song can turn your whole day around. My goal is to share the music that I write with people and hope that the music I share touches them in some way,” he said. For more information, follow the Trett Charles Band on Facebook.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/12/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – AARP Oklahoma is accepting nominations for its 10th annual Indian Elder Honors to celebrate 50 Native American elders who have positively impacted their respective communities, families, tribes and nation. Since its inception in 2009, AARP Oklahoma has recognized 450 elders from all 39 tribal nations in Oklahoma. “The AARP Indian Elder Honors recognizes the extraordinary contribution of Indian elders – many of whom have never been recognized before,” AARP Oklahoma Volunteer State President Joe Ann Vermillion said. The 2017 honorees from 33 Oklahoma tribal nations included teachers, veterans, nurses, artists, tribal leaders, language and culture preservationists, champion archer and champion arm wrestler. Cherokee Nation citizens Mary Rector Aitson, Dianne Barker Harrold, Marcella Morton and Joe T. Thornton, as well as United Keetoowah Band citizen Woody Hansen, were honored in 2017 and presented medallions by national and state AARP officials. “This event celebrates a lifetime of service from these distinguished elders,” AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl said. “The common thread between the honorees, regardless of the contribution, is the commitment to community and service.” This year’s Indian Elder Honors will be held Oct. 2 in Oklahoma City. Nomination applications are available at <a href="https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/" target="_blank">https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/</a>. Nominations may be submitted electronically or mailed to AARP Oklahoma, 126 N. Bryant, Edmond, OK, 73034. Nominees must be enrolled citizens of federally recognized Oklahoma tribal nations, at least 50 years old and be living. Nominees do not have to be AARP members. For more information, call Mashell Sourjohn at 405-715-4474 or email msourjohn@aarp.org. The deadline for submitting nominations is April 30.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
01/09/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – When shooters took the line for an Oklahoma Archery Shooters Association qualifier recently at Obsession Archery, Cherokee Nation citizen Michael Lackey was among them despite being in a wheelchair. “I didn’t get to play regular sports like kids that were not in a wheelchair, so my dad got me into archery and I started doing that,” Lackey said. “I’ve been shooting bows since I was about 12 or 13 years old.” Lackey joined 64 archers competing for bragging rights and prize money at the Dec. 17 qualifier. Shooters received four minutes to shoot five arrows at a five-spot target through 12 ends, or rounds, for a total of 60 arrows. Each arrow had the potential to earn up to five points depending on its target placement. Lackey shot with the compound bow he uses when hunting. “The compound is definitely easier from a wheelchair standpoint, in my opinion, because I shoot the recurve also and they’re a lot longer than your compounds. So a string will hit the wheel sometimes or you’re closer to the ground, so the limbs will hit the ground. The compound is definitely easier to shoot from a wheelchair.” Although paralyzed most of his life, Lackey said he doesn’t believe in limits. He’s an avid outdoorsman who often hunts, a skill honed by competitive archery. “It’s really helped my shooting, getting back into the target shooting,” he said. “It’s made me more consistent for hunting. I like the competition, and I like to improve myself.” The competition marked Obsession Archery’s first time hosting a qualifier for the ASA, which aims to grow archery through clubs that provide competition, training and education opportunities. It’s a development Lackey said he appreciates. “It’s harder on people who don’t have the funding to drive clear across the state to shoots. So it’s nice to have somewhere where we can do it here in town, in Tahlequah.” Obsession Archery owner John Obenrader called the development a “big deal” for his business and customers. “ASA is the main organization that I shoot for. It’s one of the biggest ones in the country. It’s where all your top archers are and at the state level. They hold championships and qualifiers all across the state. They just came to me and asked me if I wanted to shoot since I have a shop with an indoor range.” Obenrader said he hopes the competition brings in new shooters and their families to get them familiar with indoor and 3-D range shoots. “It’s pretty much a family-oriented kind of sport because a lot of times you’ll see the kids get started in it, and then mom and dad get started in it because they want to do it.” For Lackey, the qualifier was a family affair as both his children competed in the cub class. “My daughter Makayla, she’s been shooting for two or three years now. Hayden just got his first compound bow this year,” he said. “They’re both shooting really well. It’s good for them. It teaches them discipline, practicing. You got to be good to make a shot on a deer. You want to deer hunt, you got to practice and get good at shooting.” In addition to passing his archery passion onto his children, Lackey hopes to see archery grow among others in wheelchairs. “I don’t see it quite as much as I would like to see,” he said. “It’s a big challenge from sitting in a wheelchair, but I do know a lot of guys that hunt (and compete). It just takes lots of practice because I have to, I don’t have a lot of balance, so I have to kind of position myself where I can maintain my balance while I’m shooting my bow.” For more information, call Obsession Archery at 918-951-9540.