Okla. Ebenezer Screech Owl is a mean and cranky character
but those who have seen Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" know
there is goodness in himsomewhere.
Owl was part of the American Indian Theatre Company performance
of "A Song of Winter," written by Will Hill, a Muscogee Creek actor,
storyteller and playwright. For inspiration he used the Dickens
also brought Screech Owl to life in the play, which enjoyed its
fourth year on stage. Humor was found throughout the play, and Hill
used the Creek language to emphasize it was a play set in Indian
Country during Christmas. Along with the Muscogee Creek language,
Hill wove the tribe's music and traditions into the play, which
was held in the Liddy Doenges Theater in the Tulsa Performing Arts
Center Dec.18 and 19.
said he had the idea of bringing a production based on "A Christmas
Carol" to the stage in Tulsa for "a long, long time."
a big fan of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. The way they weave
words is so beautiful and elegant," he said. "It's more of an adaptation
or a homage to Dickens, but it's also something to celebrate Native
America. We have our own celebrations whether it's an old country
church or a ceremonial ground or powwow
everybody has their
Christmas get together where they give out gifts. I said, why can't
you do that with this one, but incorporate this beautiful storyline."
added he saw distinct parallels between Dickens' popular story and
some of the things Native people have endured.
play is set in the early 1900s in Indian Territory while Dickens'
story is set in the late 1800s. Dickens' descriptions of British
orphanages and the poor of Victorian England are similar to the
experiences of Hill's grandparents who endured boarding schools
and forced assimilation early in the 20th century.
Owl is a boarding school product. Like many children of his time,
he was left at a boarding school during the holidays because his
father would not send for him.
play also takes place during the season of "Thluhfoh Yuh Hay Gee
Dah," the season of the popping trees. Hill said he used the parallels
he saw in the "A Christmas Carol" and the folklore shared by Native
people, especially when it came to basing Eb Screech Owl on Ebenezer
named him Screech Owl because it sounded scary. Among our Native
people the name owl is scary. I chose that name Screech Owl specifically
because it sounded like Scrooge," he said.
distinctly Native highlight of "A Song of Winter" was an "Ode to
Commodity Cheese," as well as the song of the same name written
by Hill's long-time performance partner, Jehnean Washington, who
played Screech Owl's niece Roberta Coachman.
Owl is a "mean and cantankerous" store/smoke shop owner, Hill said,
who torments his employee Bobcat Hatchit played by Mike McEver,
cast members included actor Michael Buckendorf, Jr., Winona Henderson,
Cherokee, and Butch McIntosh, traditional elder and dancer.
is Screech Owl's beloved and deceased sister's daughter. He allows
her to question his meanness and bitterness toward other people,
and she understands his personality originated in the boarding school.
said the Screech Owl character has elements of his uncle, his grandmother's
brother. His "cantankerous" personality was a product of the time
he and his sister spent in a government boarding school.
had a very hard life and that kind of shaped him," he explained.
"A lot of time when people are not nice, you look at them as being
unadulterated evil, but if you look at their past and listen to
their stories you may find out there may be some more history that
has caused them to be that way."
said he wants people to come away from the play understanding they
can sympathize with an unkind character and they can change their
future for the better.
grandmother was totally the opposite," Hill said. "She was loving,
kind and generous and helping people all of the time."
shares his grandmother's generous spirit. Before the play began
he invited a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation diabetes staff
to speak to the audience about diabetes information available outside
diabetes message is incorporated into all of Hill's plays since
he lost his right leg to complications caused by the disease last
year. He still walks using an artificial leg.
decided it's a good way to get that message out, to take care of
yourself and watching your levels if you have it. This is a beatable
disease, but you really have to take care of yourself."
is coping with the disease with the help of his stage family and
his blood family.
Native people we are very family orienteda very close-knit
people and society. Even your own family has extended family members.
They may not be blood relations, but they would give their blood
if they had to," he said. "Our Indian people, we love to laugh.
We can poke fun at just about anything or any situation. One of
the weapons we have is laughter. I think that's one thing that has
helped our Indian people cope with the situations we've had to deal
with as a nation, as a people."
- American Indian Production Company
Henderson, executive director and Will Hill, artistic director,
founded Mahenwahdose in 1991. The company is dedicated to the presentation
of American Indian themes. The company presents an accurate and
entertaining portrayal of American Indians.
features the talents of Will Hill and Jehnean Washington. The performers
are widely acclaimed and were the first actors to perform at the
National Museum of the American Indian in 2004.
Hill is writing a present-day romantic comedy set in Indian Country
to premiere on Valentine's Day 2011.
Will Hill/Winona Henderson
P.O. Box 921, Tulsa, OK 74101.
call (918) 747-1044 or (918) 712-7543, evening. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org