CHC amphitheater was something to remember

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
09/05/2020 12:00 PM
Audio Clip
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The Trail of Tears drama was the long-standing attraction at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s Tsa-La-Gi amphitheater. The amphitheater is now closed down and collapsing. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Patrons fill the seats for a 1989 performance at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s Tsa-La-Gi amphitheater in Park Hill. The theater closed in 2005. COURTESY
PARK HILL – To the east of the Cherokee Heritage Center sits a venue that elicits many fond memories for Cherokee Nation citizens.

The Tsa-La-Gi amphitheater hosted numerous live performances – particularly the Trail of Tears drama – between its opening in 1969 to its closing in 2005. Cherokees fondly recall the Tsa-La-Gi amphitheater because, in its active years, it was something to remember.

The long running attraction was the dramatic retelling of the forced removal of the Cherokees and their endurance of the Trail of Tears. The play was authored by a dean at Southern Methodist University, Kermit Hunter, continuing the story told in “Unto These Hills,” still performed outdoors by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, N.C., since 1949.

Along with the Trail of Tears drama, the Tsa-La-Gi amphitheater hosted “Mountain Windsong” by the late Cherokee author Robert J. Conley, art shows, Tibetan monks and other plays. Acclaimed mezzo-soprano opera singer Barbara McAlister was a guest performer with the Trail of Tears drama and “Mountain Windsong.”

The amphitheater was designed with the Trail of Tears in mind. Charles “Chief” Boyd, an architecture graduate in the late 1960s, designed the amphitheater after visiting New York City to research ideas with Col. Martin Hagerstrand, who co-founded the CHC. The theater was shaped like a fan, seated patrons on a steep grade, and utilized a “thrust stage” around which the audience seating curved and the spectators were no more than 25 yards from the stage. Using a “stage voice,” actors were easily heard, though a microphone system was eventually installed as wireless technology improved.

Beyond the main stage was a prop mountaintop using actual flora. Dressing rooms were behind the stage, which could hold nine scenes using revolving spaces to each side of the main performance area.

Because performances were often on warm humid summer nights, Tsa-La-Gi became the first amphitheater with “air conditioning,” using vents pointed in the direction of the stage to offer the dancing actors a degree of comfort. 

Tsa-La-Gi hosted its first performance with the premiere of the Trail of Tears on June 27, 1969, attended by Principal Chief W.W. Keeler and Oklahoma Gov. Dewey Bartlett. For 28 years, the play was performed in the amphitheater. Frequently, the cast spanned generations within families. 

But the play went on hiatus in 1997. Tony Award-winning playwright and Bartlesville native Tony Sears – who wrote “A Tuna Christmas” – put the play through some revisions. The Trail of Tears, with Sears’ changes, ran from 2001-03.

In 2004, the play was again revised by local playwright Layce Gardner, and the final season’s performances in 2005 used a version by Richard Fields.

From 2007-10, the Trail of Tears drama was replaced at the CHC by “Under the Cherokee Moon,” written by local author Laurette Willis and performed at the Ancient Village and the Adams Corner Rural Village. Those venues were much smaller, seating about 140.
ᏣᎳᎩ

ᎠᏭᏂᏴᏍᏗ – ᎧᎸᎬ ᎢᏗᏜ ᎥᎿ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ ᏧᎾᏓᎴᏅᎢ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎤᏙᏢᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᏂᎬᏁᎭ ᎤᎪᏗ ᎤᎾᏓᏗᏍᏗ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᎨᎵ ᎠᏁᎳ.

ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ ᏧᎾᏓᎴᎾᎢ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᏟᏗᎢ ᏚᏂᏯᏅᎯ ᎤᏂᏣᏘ - ᏭᎪᏛᎢ ᎨᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ Ꮎ ᏗᏰᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏄᎾᏛᏁᎳ-ᏧᏂᏍᏚᎢᏒᎢ 1969 ᏂᏗᎬᏓᎴᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᏍᏚᎾ 2005 ᏱᎪᎯᏓ. ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ’Z ᎠᎾᏅᏓᏗᏍᎪᎢ ᎥᎿᎾᏂ ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᎭ, ᏂᏓᏕᏘᏴᎯᏒ ᏚᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎸᎢ ᏧᎶᏌ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎠᏅᏓᏗᏍᏙᏗ ᎢᎩ.

ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎪᎯᎩ ᎤᏂᏍᏚᎢᏓ ᎨᏒ ᏴᏫ ᎤᏂᎪᏩᏛᏗ ᎨᏒ ᏄᏍᏛᎢ ᏄᎵᏍᏓᏂᏙᎸ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏄᏍᏛᎢ ᎤᏂᎦᏛᎴᏏᏙᎸᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ ᎥᎿ ᎤᎦᎾᏮ ᏗᎾᏓᏍᏚᏟᏍᎩ ᏩᎬᎸᎳᏗᏴᎢ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏒᎢ Kermit Hunter ᎤᏬᏪᎳᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᏂᏍᏓᏩᏗᏒᎢ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏩᎵᏍᏆᏗᏍᎬᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎧᏃᎮᏛ “ᏚᏌᎯᏢᎢ ᏗᎨᏒᎢ,” ᎠᏏᏊ ᎠᎾᏛᏁᎵᏍᎪ ᎥᎿ ᏙᏱᏗᏜ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Ꮎ ᏗᎧᎸᎬ ᏗᏜ ᎠᏁᎯ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ, ᎦᏯᎴᏂ, ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏪᏘ, 1949 ᏂᏛᏓᎴᏂᏍᎩ.

ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᏊ ᏄᏍᏛᎢ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Ꮎ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵᎢ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᎵᏗᎢ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Ꮎ “Mountain Windsong” ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Robert J. Conley ᏥᎨᏒᎢ ᎤᏬᏪᎳᏅᎢ, ᏗᎾᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ, Tibtan monks ᎠᎴ ᏗᏐᎢ ᏗᏁᎶᏗ. ᏧᏓᏃᏣᎶᏗ mezzo-soprano ᏗᎧᏃᎩᏍᎩ Barbara McAlister ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎠᏓᏩᏛᎯᏙᎯ ᏗᎸᏃᎩᏍᎩ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎤᎵᏍᏕᎸᎭ ᎥᎿ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩ Ꮎ “Mountain Windsong.”

ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎥᎿ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᎵᏗᎢ ᎠᏛᏅᎢᏍᏛᎢ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᏥᎩ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎢᏳᎵᏍᏙᏗᎢ. Charles “ᎤᎬᏫᏳᎯ” Boyd, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏗᏁᏍᎨᏍᎩ ᏧᏕᎶᏆᎥᎢ ᏧᏍᏆᏛᎢ 1960s ᎣᏂ ᏗᏜ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ, ᏚᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ Ꮎ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᏟᏗᎢ ᎥᎿ ᏄᏯᎩ ᏗᎦᏚᎲᎢ ᏥᏭᏁᏙᎸᎢ ᎤᏂᎦᏛᏂᏙᎲᎢ Ꮎ ᎤᎾᎵᎪᎯ Col. Martin Hagerstrand, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᎵᎪᎯ ᎤᎾᎴᏅᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ Ꮎ CHC. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᏟᏗ ᏥᎩ ᎠᏓᏃᏰᏗ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏓᏟᎶᏍᏓ, ᎠᎴ ᏗᎵᏍᏛᏡᏍᏗᎢ ᏗᏠᏒᏍᏗ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏕᎦᏍᎩᎸ, ᎠᏅ’ᏗᏍᎬᎢ “ᎠᏰᏟ ᎠᏲᏓᏝᎲᎢ” ᏕᎦᏍᎩᎸᏃ ᏓᏕᏲᎲᎢ ᎠᎴ 25 ᎢᏯᏯᏗ ᎬᏩᏕᏱᏓ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ ᏕᎦᏍᎩᎸᎢ ᎤᎾᏅᏗᎢ ᎠᏲᏓᏝᎲᎢ ᎾᎥᎢ. ᎠᏅ’ᏗᏍᎬᎢ “ᎠᏂᏁᎬᏭ” ᎠᎾᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩᏃ ᎣᏏᏊᏃ ᏗᏛᎪᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ, ᎣᏂᏃᏴ ᏍᏓᏱ ᏧᏃᏴᎩ ᏂᏚᏅᏁᎸᎢ Ꮎ ᏂᏓᏏᎳᏛᎾ ᎤᏁᏉᏣ ᏖᎪᎾᎳᏥᎢ.

ᏫᏟᏴᏃ ᎥᎿᎾ ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏒᎢ ᎠᏲᏓᏝᎲᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏙᏓᎸᎢ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᏭ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Ꮩ ᎤᏂᏥᎸᏍᎩ ᏕᎨᏒᎢ ᎥᎿ ᏄᏍᏗᏓᏅᎢ. ᏗᎿᏩᎢᏴᏍᏗᏃ ᏕᎧᏅᏑᎸᏃ ᎠᏲᏓᏝᎲᎢ ᎣᏂᏗᏢ ᏕᎧᏅᏑᎸᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏰᎵᎢ ᏐᏁᎳ ᎢᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᏗᎬᎩᏙᏗ ᏗᏕᏲᎯ ᏚᏟᏅᏛᎢ ᎥᎿ ᏓᏍᏛᎢ ᎥᎿᎾᏂ ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏒᎢ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᏟᏗᎢ ᎤᏟᏅᏛᎢ. 
ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᎭ ᎠᎾᏛᏁᎵᏍᎬᎢ ᎪᎩ ᏱᎩ ᎤᏒᎢ ᏧᏓᏑᎶᎢᏓ ᏥᎨᏐᎢ ᎾᎯᏳᎢ ᏚᏂᏍᏆᎸᎡᎲᎢ, Tsa-la-gi’Ꮓ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎬᏱᎢ ᎨᏒᎢ ᏗᎧᏁᏌᏴᎳᏗᏍᏗᏍᎩ ᏄᏚᏅᏅᎢ,” ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎤᏃᎴ ᏧᎶᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᎾᏛᏁᎵᏍᎬᎢ ᎢᏗᏜ ᏫᏂᏚᏍᏕᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏰᎵᎢ Ꮎ ᎠᎾᎵᏍᎩᏍᎩ ᏓᏤᏢᎢ ᎤᏂᏃᎸᏗᎢ.

Tsa-la-gi ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᎬᏱᎢ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᎸᏅᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᎾᎯᏳ ᏕᎭᎷ 27, ᏥᎧᎸᎢ 1969 ᏥᏒᎢ, ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏒᏃ ᎤᎬᏫᏳᎯ W.W. Keeler ᎠᎴ Ꮎ ᎣᎦᎳᎰᎹ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᎠᎦᏘᏱ. Dewey Barlett. 28 ᎢᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ, ᏱᎪᎯᏓ ᎠᏍᏚᎢᏓ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎥᎿ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᏟᏗᎢ. ᏳᏓᎵᎭᏃ, ᎯᎸᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏳᎾᏓᏁᏟᏴᏓ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎠᏂᏏᏓᏁᎸᎢ ᎤᏁᎳᏗᏙᎳ.

ᎠᏎᏅ 1997 ᏥᎨᏒᎢ ᏞᎦ ᎤᏂᏲᎯᏍᏔᏅᎢ. Tony ᎤᏓᏒᏅᎢ ᎤᏬᏪᎳᏅᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎫᎫ ᏁᎯᏯ Tony Sears-ᎤᏬᏪᎳᏅᎢ “A Tuna Christmas” – ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᏂᏚᏮᏁᎸᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Sears’ ᏚᏁᏟᏴᏒᎢ, 2001-03 ᏱᎪᎯᏓ ᏓᎢᏒᎢ.

ᎾᎯᏳᏃ 2004, ᏥᎨᏒᎢ ᎡᏍᎦᏂᏭ ᎡᎯ Layce Gardner ᎤᏤᎯᏍᏔᏅᎢ, ᎠᎴ ᎤᎵᏍᏆᎵᏗ ᎤᎾᏛᏁᎸᏅᎢ 2005 ᏥᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ Richard Fields ᎤᏬᏪᎳᏅᎢ ᎤᏅᏔᏅᎢ.

2007 ᏂᏗᎬᏓᎴᏂᏍᎩ -10 ᏩᏍᏘ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᎢᎸᏍᏔᏅᎢ ᎬᏂᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏅᏁᎲᎢ ᎤᏂᏁᏟᏴᏒᎢ ᎥᎿ CHC “ᎾᏍᎩᏃ “Under the Cherokee Moon,” ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎡᏍᎦᏂ ᎡᎯ Laurette Willis ᎤᏬᏪᎳᏅᎢ ᎠᎴᏍᏊ ᎠᎾᏛᏁᎵᏍᎬᎢ ᎥᎿ ᎤᏪᏘ ᎦᏚᎲ ᎤᏪᎳᏛᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎥᎿ Adams Corner Rural Village. ᎥᎾᏃ ᎨᏒ ᏗᏲᏟᎨᎢ ᏚᏙᏢᏒᎢ ᎨᏒᎢ, 140 ᏕᎦᏍᎩᎸᎢ ᎬᏩᎾᏅᏗ.

– TRANSLATED BY DAVID CRAWLER

About the Author
Sean Rowley was hired by the Cherokee Phoenix at the beginning of 2019. Sean was born a long time ago in Tulsa, where he grew up and attended Booker T. Washington High School as a freshman before moving to Pawnee County and graduating from Cleveland High School in 1987. 

He graduated sans honors from Northeastern State University in 1992 with a bachelor of arts in mass communication with emphases in advertising and public relati ...
david-rowley@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Sean Rowley was hired by the Cherokee Phoenix at the beginning of 2019. Sean was born a long time ago in Tulsa, where he grew up and attended Booker T. Washington High School as a freshman before moving to Pawnee County and graduating from Cleveland High School in 1987. He graduated sans honors from Northeastern State University in 1992 with a bachelor of arts in mass communication with emphases in advertising and public relati ...

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