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New theatre group builds up culture, tears down stereotypes

Suquamish Theatre Project participants (front row, l-r) Julia Forrester, Donna Ahvakana, Ted Moran, Molly Gordon, Nancy Johnston, (back row, l-r) Ed Barnhart, Miles Yanick and director Fred Saas.  - Courtesy Photo
Suquamish Theatre Project participants (front row, l-r) Julia Forrester, Donna Ahvakana, Ted Moran, Molly Gordon, Nancy Johnston, (back row, l-r) Ed Barnhart, Miles Yanick and director Fred Saas.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

SUQUAMISH — In the little community of Suquamish, new voices are lending cultural enlightenment through literature. The Suquamish Theatre Project, headed by local actor and experienced extras director Fred Saas, 49, showcases staged readings from Native American plays.

Saas, a Suquamish resident who continues to perform staged readings with various area theatre groups — he’s on the board for Island Theatre on Bainbridge — decided he wanted to try it in his own backyard.

“Generally speaking, in my experience I don’t see any Native Americans or people from Suquamish performing. Those are the waters I wanted to test to see if there was any interest,” Saas said.

At the beginning of the month, the theatre project performed the comedy “Buz’gem Blues” written by Drew Hayden Taylor, a Canadian Ojibwe member, at Suquamish’s United Church of Christ.

Judging from the response in actors and audience participation, interest definitely lies locally.

“I really do think there’s a need for it and I really feel bringing good literature to life is going to benefit any community,” Saas said. “Judging by the reponse and participation, it’s an obvious need in this area.”

Saas hopes to grow the project into a community theatre but for now it will continue with staged readings every other month, he said.

For Saas, who grew up watching his mother tap black and white piano keys for an acting group in Cincinnati — she does it still at the tender age of 86 — theatre is in his blood.

Influenced and attracted to lesser-known plays and the culture of Native Americans, Saas combines his passions and looks for scripts both Native themed and written.

“In future events I will try to keep that theme because we are located on a reservation,” he said.

Theatre, which is a natural creative outlet, exposes people to literature that’s not the norm, Saas said. “Another benefit is it’s something to do in this area that’s all-encompassing of gender, generation, age and race.”

First-time performer Donna Ahvakana, 61, of Suquamish said acting in the staged reading of “Buz’gem Blues” was inspirational.

“There is a layer in there about understanding people — seeing people as people not spooky or romanticizing them,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there who don’t understand (Native Americans) are real people too. This made a joke of it all and made it easier to take in. Sometimes people get too serious and afraid of stepping on toes.”

Ahvakana, an Alaskan Inupiaq native, said the multicultural and storytelling aspect of the Suquamish Theatre Project is beneficial to the area’s own cultural diversity.

“I guess there’s nothing else been done like it before and it’s really nice,” she said.

Because of intense stage fright, Ahvakana said she’s never acted before. She used to sing but her knees would get so weak with fear she couldn’t finish a song for a public audience.

Something in her changed in working with the theatre project.

“All of the sudden I wasn’t afraid anymore. I always get the jitters but not like it used to be for me,” she said.

Seeing the actors perform together for the first time, Saas said the cast should be proud. The project’s format, the play, and the individuals set a high precedent.

“The cast really came through. They had good instincts for not being regular performers on stage and fed off of the audiences energy,” he said. “The script is a comedy and for any performer the appropriate response and laughter at the right time is energizing for them. And that magic happened.”

Those interested in the Suquamish Theatre Project can contact Saas at saas@embarqmail.com.

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