says he learned more than he taught at drama workshop
SHIPROCK Johnny Depp may have been elusive last year
while filming "The Lone Ranger" on the rez, but another
big Hollywood name got into the act this past week with Native kids
honing their dramatic skills.
Martin Sheen was on hand at the Native Vision drama workshop
in Shiprock, and took the stage with the participants in their series
of skits titled "The Navajo News," performed Monday night
at The Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center.
News and talk shows took an interesting turn as Navajo youths
acted out the comedic skits with Native American flavor, and Sheen
had high praise for his young co-stars.
"The Navajo News" was the product of the drama workshop
put together by Native Vision, a youth development initiative for
reservation-based American Indian adolescents from across the country.
Its aim is to help American Indian youth enjoy a healthy future
by providing exciting fitness activities, school completion initiatives
and health start programs. Vision drama workshop, producing three
major skits for their play "The Navajo News."
Hundreds of people piled into the Phil to see what the kids
from the five-day drama workshop prepared.
The first skit was performed by Mikal Nih, 17, and Tyus A. Ellison,
16, as they played the role of news anchors for Channel 4, Navajo
Nih started off with "Our top story today in Shiprock:
Nothing happened." The audience laughed and cheered the comedic
appeal of the acting and stories told throughout the night.
Other skits included talk shows, one being much like Jerry Springer
where the talk show host interviewed two Navajo men claiming to
be "reservation Romeos."
"It was a fun experience; the fun is what you learn from
it," said Deion Hayes, 20, of Shiprock, who played one of the
Sixteen-year-old Miracle Russell from Shiprock High School played
a character named Rose Pedals for a talk show skit featuring a special
guest: Sheen, playing himself.
The skit was comical as Russell's character constantly mistook
Martin Sheen for Jack Nicholson, her first question being, "How
is it playing The Joker?"
Sheen and Russell's character were finally able to find common
ground when she called him "Uncle Ben," a character Sheen
played in the movie "The Amazing Spider Man."
"It was amazing how it all turned out," said Russell.
"He was so fun," she said of working with Sheen. "I
thought he was really scary at first but it was fun. We played off
each other, we gave each other ideas.
"If I could do it all over again I would," Russell
said, adding the main thing she's going to take away from this experience
will be the advice given to her by Sheen and Native Vision Acting
Coordinator Vaz Santosham.
"I like how we became a family, a little actor family,"
Workshop instructors told all the students in the camp to have
fun with it, be free, be yourself and "when you're on stage
you don't act, you just do," Russell said.
For his part, Sheen said the best part about his visit to the
Navajo Nation was performing onstage with Russell.
"I've been doing it (acting) for 50 years, she's been doing
it for five days and we were equal," Sheen said of his fellow
actor. "She used her instrument like a professional. For me
it was unbelievable."
The Native Vision drama workshop started on May 27, and from
those five days, Santosham said he hopes the kids take away one
thing: "If you are going to fail, fail boldly. If you're going
to fail don't fail because you were too scared to take the jump."
Santosham said the major challenge working with Navajos was
pulling them away from their shyness so they could "be free."
Once he did, Santosham said a fire was lit in each of the kids
and they all stood up to the challenge. It showed in their performances.
Sheen agreed. "I hope they have a sense of achievement
with this show and most of all have a sense of confidence, because
what has happened here and what is so really encouraging is that
these children were asked to go into a safe place and explore their
imaginations in a very public way," the actor said.
When asked what he was hoping to teach the kids, Sheen replied,"I
came here to learn."
Sheen said he wanted to come to Native Vision to help in any
way he could, and now he is leaving with "a very great sense
"I was nourished and blessed," he stated. "I
couldn't ask for anything more. I look forward to coming back again."
He added, "I really hope they get something started here
so that these kids have a safe place to work and grow." If
the kids could create a play in only five days' time, Sheen said,
"That's something very special."