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Highlights: One-woman show tells story of the Trail of Tears and its descendents

  • Actor, writer and activist DeLanna Studi appears in a scene from her one-woman show "And So We Walked," which she will perform at Dartmouth College's Hopkins Center on Friday and Saturday. (Courtesy photograph)

  • DeLanna Studi based her one-woman show conversations she had with Native Americans on a 2015 trip with her father. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/8/2020 5:23:17 PM
Modified: 1/9/2020 5:52:41 PM

Go ahead, laugh, if the spirit moves you, during DeLanna Studi’s two performances of And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears at the Hopkins Center this weekend.

The Oklahoma-born actress and playwright swears that the one-woman play, in which she portrays 27 fellow Cherokees, offers much more than a long, sad march through a history that many Americans either don’t know or would sooner forget.

“It’s less of a problem with Native audiences, because there are a lot of jokes that you have to be in the community to understand, and they pick up on the humor pretty quickly,” Studi, 43, said last week, during a phone interview from her home in California. “Occasionally I’ll even get a few ‘amens.’ But with mostly white audiences, sometimes they are very quiet. They don’t know if it’s safe to laugh.”

Granted, the humor grows out of the pain that Cherokees and other tribes inherited from forebears who endured the U.S. government’s expulsion of some 60,000 people from their ancestral homes in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia and other parts of the Southeast to reservations in the late 1830s.

“That’s a big part of how my people survived, with humor,” Studi said. “If we only wallowed in despair, we wouldn’t be here.”

Take the closing scene of Act One, when she recounts a visit with two woman elders before a stomp dance. The subject turns to an upcoming tribal-council election, prompting both women to scoff when Studi asks whether either considered running.

Twila: The men may be the representatives, but we know who’s really in charge.

DeLanna: We finished our meals and cleaned the kitchen. “You ladies need help?” a round-bellied man named Bob asks.

Ida: Get out of our kitchen! We’re bonding in here.

Studi gathered these and other voices during a six-week trip in 2015. She and her father, Tom Studie, retraced the Trail of Tears, by car and on foot, from western North Carolina to Oklahoma. Along the way, they attended storytelling workshops and less formal gatherings with dozens of descendants of some of the 17,000 Cherokees who made that trek, with an estimated 6,000 dying along the way. Tom Studie figures prominently in the audio portions of the multi-media show as well as in still photographs and film clips that are projected onto the set.

“I think my favorite piece is when my Dad talks with one of the oldest living speakers of the Cherokee language,” Studi said. “That was a pivotal moment for me. It was the first time I’d seen him being his real self.”

After early childhoods speaking Cherokee almost exclusively on their Oklahoma reservation, Studie and his brother, acclaimed actor Wes Studi, attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school that punished students for speaking their native languages and practicing their tribal religions and customs.

“It’s something generations of Native people, in the States and Canada and Australia, all went through,” Studi said. “People don’t realize: It wasn’t that long ago.”

Nor was life a picnic in the relatively integrated public schools that Tom Studie insisted his daughter attend near their reservation.

“It’s still Oklahoma,” Studi said. “There’s still a lot of racism. What made it bearable was that other Native students went to those schools, so I wasn’t the only person who had to be an ambassador for Indian people.”

To draw the shy DeLanna out of her shell, “my father picked out all my electives when I got to high school, including drama, speech and debate classes. I didn’t want to, but as I got into it, I learned coping mechanisms, so I could socialize, hold a conversation with people.

“Acting basically saved my life.”

After completing college in 1998, Studi pursued acting in Los Angeles. Her film career took off in 2003, in the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV miniseries DreamKeeper — for which she earned an American Indian Movie Award for supporting actress — and Edge of America, about a black teacher who coaches a girls basketball team at an Indian reservation school.

More than her top billing in the latter film, she remembers the advice she received from her uncle, with whom she would perform in this and other productions.

“Wes came to me at the start and said, ‘Acting is about love of the craft, not the recognition,’ ” said DeLanna Studi, who like her uncle also dropped the “e” from her surname. “ ‘You do it for the work, not the fame.’ ”

Which led her to start researching the work that evolved into And So We Walked. Meanwhile, she dove into Native American roles on stage, including the one-woman shows KICK and What’s an Indian Woman to Do?, and, in 2010, in the cast of the national tour of Oklahoma native Tracy Letts’ Tony Award-winning August: Osage County.

“They all helped me prepare for this one,” Studi said. “This play is almost the baby of KICK and of Osage, which went to something like 21 cities in 10 months. It really helped build up the stamina. After that, I knew I wanted to do something bigger.”

And so Studi will walk into Moore Theater on Friday night, after late-fall appearances in Indianapolis, in Green Bay, Wisc., and, most recently, at the Carthage International Theatre Days Festival in Tunisia.

“Every performance, it’s a give-and-take experience,” Studi said. “Every audience is going to react differently than the audience prior.”

So laugh, cry, gasp or all of the above.

“If one person is moved by the story,” Studi concluded, “then I’ve done my job.”

DeLanna Studi performs And So We Walked on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, in Dartmouth College’s Moore Theater. For tickets ($20 to 40) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Best bets

Vermont mandolin maestros Matt Flinner, Will Patton and Jamie Masefield play the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret on Friday night at 7. For tickets ($20) and more information, visit artistreevt.org or call 802-457-3500.

■Northern Stage opens its seventh annual New Works Now festival on Friday night at 7:30 at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, with a staged reading of Machine Learning, Francisco Mendoza’s play mixing medical sci-fi and family dysfunction.

The festival continues on Saturday afternoon at 2 with a reading of Poor Clare, Chiara Atik’s reimagining of the story of St. Francis of Assisi through the eyes of a medieval Italian noblewoman. And at 7:30 Satuday night, it concludes with a staging of I Hope She’ll Be OK, Amy Staats’ political comedy built around friendship and food inside the Beltway.

While all performances are free, Northern Stage is requiring audiences to reserve tickets by emailing boxoffice@northernstage.org or calling 802-296-7000.

■The OldBoys string band celebrates the release of its debut album, Moon Music, with performances at 6:30 Saturday night at the Reading (Vt.) Town Hall and on Tuesday night at 6 at Upper Pass Beer Co./First Branch Coffee in South Royalton. The ensemble include fiddler Julia Wright, slide guitarist Kevin Wright, mandolinist and guitarist Justin Park, all of whom also sing, and bassist Niles Franc, who also hog calls. Admission is $10 at Reading, where the band also encourages donations of non-perishable food for the Reading-West Windsor Food Shelf.

Music

Hartford-native singer-songwriter Allison Fay Brown, folk, rock, indie and alt-country, Friday night at 7 at The Skinny Pancake in Hanover.

■ Indie rocker Kris Gruen, Friday night at 7:30 in Esther Mesh Room of Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph. Admission by donation.

■Harmony Hotel, roots/Americana, Saturday night at 7 at North Common Arts in Chelsea. Admission $12 to $15; visit chelseavt-arts.com or call 802-685-4699.

■ Juneberry Chorus, adaptation of author Anne Lamott’s memoir Bird by Bird, Sunday afternoon at 4 at Lebanon Opera House.

■Jazz singer Donna Byrne, Sunday afternoon at 4 at the Center at Eastman’s Bistro Nouveau in Grantham. To reserve tickets, ($18 to $20) visit josajazz.com or call 603-763-8732.

Dance

Contra dance with the band BIRL and with caller Nils Fredland, Saturday night at 7:30 at Tracy Hall in Norwich. Admission $7 to $12. Instructional sessions at 7:15 for newcomers and rusty dancers. Bring clean, soft-soled shoes.

Bar and club circuit

Mad Hazard Band, jazz, bossa nova and blues, Thursday night at 5:30 at the Quechee Club’s Davidson’s Restaurant.

■Saxophonist Michael Parker and guitarist Tom Davis, Thursday night at 6 at Peyton Place restaurant in Orford

■Sensible Shoes, danceable rock, Thursday night at 7 at Windsor Station; Cable Junction, rock, Friday night at 9; The Wheelers, rock, Saturday night at 9:30.

■The Stockwell Brothers, Americana/roots, Friday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■The Conniption Fits, rock, Friday night at 8 at The Public House Pub in Quechee.

■Turner Round, rock, Friday night at 9 at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon; Chris Fitz, blues, Saturday night at 8.

■ Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner, Sunday afternoon at 2 at Silo Distillery in Windsor, and Tuesday night at 6 at Windsor Station.

■Singer-songwriter Jim Yeager, Monday night at 6:30 at 506 on the River in Woodstock.

Open mics, jam sessions

Alec Currier’s weekly open-mic at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, Thursday night at 8.

■ Jakob Breitbach hosts jam sessions at two White River Junction venues: jazz on Friday night at 6 at the Hotel Coolidge’s Cafe Renee, and acoustic roots on Tuesday night at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill.

■Al Carruth and EJ Tretter host Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse’s monthly open mic on Friday night at 7, at Sunapee Methodist Church. Admission by donation.

■Joseph Stallsmith resumes his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday nights at 6, at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

■Tom Masterson’s open mic, Tuesday night at 7 at Colatina Exit in Bradford, Vt.

■ Jes Raymond, String Band Karaoke session of roots and Americana music, Wednesday night at 6 at The Skinny Pancake in Hanover.

■Peter Meijer’s open mic, Wednesday nights at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com or 603-727-3304. Send entertainment news to highlights@vnews.com.




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