Saskatoon students use acting to learn Cree language
- Fraser Needham | March 28, 2015
A group of students at St. Frances elementary school in Saskatoon are honing their acting skills while improving their aptitude in the Cree language.
The 42 Grade Three and Four students are part of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Production of kiwek, which in Cree means “go home.”
In the play, the characters are stuck in a board game and the only way to finish the game is by speaking Cree.
The actors also wear masks, dress up as buffalo and perform jigging as part of the game.
The St. Frances play is part of a three-part trilogy with versions for middle and high school students to follow.
SNTC actors Cory Standing and Dalton Lightfoot also perform in the play and assist the students with putting the performance on.
Curtis Peeteetuce says the play is inspired by the Hollywood movie Jumanji and he wrote it with children in mind.
“I talked with Desiree (MacAuley), the coordinator of St. Frances, and she said, ‘We want to target this for Grade Three students to perform,’” he says. “And so at that point, not being experienced in children’s writing, I did want to try and keep the material and content of the play easy enough to understand but also challenging enough for two actors to lead.”
He adds that he hopes both those who are in the play and those who take it in come away with a sense that the Cree language is vibrant, alive and well.
“I wanted to reinforce the importance of language through the initiative but doing it through arts, through theatre, and through a very fun and interactive way. And to express, not only to the children, but to our educators, that the Cree language is alive and well beyond the classroom. It’s alive in the community and the kids have that future in them.”
SNTC artists Cory Standing and Dalton Lightfoot both act and lead the students in the play.
This included leading them through up to three hours of rehearsals per day throughout the month of March.
Twenty-one-year-old Lightfoot says the intensity of the required rehearsals combined with the young ages of the kids did pose some challenges but overall the production training went well.
“I thought it was going to be hectic and stuff but they’re really good, they’re so mature – it’s just a problem of getting them focused,” he says. “As soon as they’re focused and they know what they’re doing, it’s no problem.”
Standing, 27, adds in some ways working with children is easier than working with trained adult actors.
“It’s funny because when you come from professional acting, then you come work with kids, it’s a complete opposite thing,” he says. “But then they (the kids) don’t have the inhibitions, they’re not scared to do things creatively.”
Donna Wapass is a Grade Three teacher at St. Frances School.
She says her students receive about an hour of Cree language instruction per day so making the move to doing an introductory play in the language is not a big jump for them.
“For this grade it would be natural because it’s something that we use every single day,” she says. “They’re very comfortable with the language and it’s a great opportunity for them to actually showcase the language.”
The students performed a workshop of the play from March 24 to 26 at St. Frances.
The school received an ArtsSmarts grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board to assist with putting on the production.