The “Round Dance” Experience
An Excerpt from Arigon Starr’s play, “Round Dance”
AL: Well, if it ain’t Little Sister with my favorite reading material.
AL adjusts his hat and sports jacket, as though he’s posing for the paparazzi.
AL: Another article about your favorite American Indian actor? I mean, ME, of course. You weren’t thinking of Iron Eyes, were you?
VICKIE gives him a skeptical look. She opens the magazine and points at Elvis’ photo.
VICKIE: This boy, Mr. Dullard. This is who I was reading about. Did you see him on the Uncle Miltie show?
AL grabs the movie magazine and quickly thumbs through the pages.
AL: Nope. I was on a movie set. Wait, was that Tuesday night? I was teaching an acting class down at the Ladies Guild. There’s a new crop of Indian actors every week. What’s so special about this guy, young lady?
VICKIE hugs the magazine tight. She can’t get enough of Elvis.
VICKIE: His velvety voice, big, brown eyes, his thick, dark hair and…
RUDY returns with a cold pop in his hand.
RUDY: (Interrupting her reverie) His big ol’ Sac & Fox lips. [A beat] Aaaaaaay!
AL grabs the magazine and stares at the photo of Elvis.
AL: Wait a minute. This guy isn’t Indian! Is he trying to pull a fast one on Hollywood? I’ll have him kicked out of Tinsel Town. We Indians have rights!
VICKIE snatches the magazine back and holds it tightly. Elvis will not be besmirched!
VICKIE: Leave Elvis alone. He’s not trying to take YOUR job.
“Round Dance,” is the story of a Muscogee-Creek family that relocates from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Los Angeles, California in the 1950’s. Rudy Kernel, the play’s protagonist, has an ugly facial scar that keeps the ladies away. When the owner of the gas station wants Rudy to buy her out and own the place outright, his desire to be his own man sets into motion a series of wild events that take place in the seedy Indian bars of downtown Los Angeles. Rudy meets his match in Ada Snail, a feisty Cherokee nurse.
Arigon set out to write a piece about family and the government relocation era of the 1950’s. “Many of my own family members moved from Oklahoma to LA during that time. Instead of ending up like the characters from “The Exiles,” my kinfolk worked, started families and did their best to help other people in the community,” said Starr.
When the Oklahoma City Theater Company and the New Native Play Festival selected “Round Dance” for a full production, Arigon sprang into action. “I had designed an image for the staged reading of the play, which was developed into a fantastic poster by the company’s David Briquet.”
Maya Torralba, Misty Red Elk, Sarah D’Angelo and the New Native Play Festival tapped Carolyn Dunn to direct the play and hired the veteran stage designer Ben Hall to create the world of “Round Dance” at the City Space Theater at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City.
Community groups like the Oklahoma Muscogee Creek Association championed the play. Arigon had interviewed their director Alvin Deer while she was writing “Round Dance.” “Alvin had some amazing backstory — including his history as an actor in Hollywood,” she said. “He brought to life many of the stories I had heard from some of my own relatives who had ventured west to be in the movies.”
Brandy McDonell of the Oklahoman newspaper was also a vocal supporter of the production. She penned several pieces leading up the show that included interviews with Arigon and producer Maya Torralba and behind-the-scenes with the actors in rehearsals.
“I had hoped to be a proud playwright, sitting in the audience and enjoying the antics with the crowd, but circumstances put me on the stage,” Arigon laughed. She first had to fill the shoes and learn the role of Rudy’s mother Beulah Kernel. Then, she became Ada Snail, the Cherokee nurse who wins Rudy’s heart. “I’m glad I still have my acting chops! Even though I’m the playwright, there were pages of dialogue and blocking to learn. I think the hardest part was learning the Creek hymn ‘Vm vnicvs! Vm vnicvs!’ I described the hymn to the cast as a song that would have been track number 5 on side two of your favorite album. I’m glad there were recordings out there to learn from.”
Want to learn the song? Here’s the Concharty United Methodist Church singing “Vm Vnicvs! Vm Vnicvs!”
“Round Dance” was performed on two consecutive weekends (June 6-17, 2018) at the City Space Theater. The performances were well-attended and the audience came from near and far. The New Native Theater Festival also took place during the production, previewing new plays that may be produced next year.
“What a joy it was to hear Native folks laughing at my corny jokes and getting into the action. We had folks come from as far away as Seattle, Dallas, Lawrence and Washington, DC,” Arigon said. “The local cast and crew really added to the authenticity of the play. They really sold the ‘okie’ aspect and grounded the play. There are some very talented folks in Oklahoma City and beyond.”
One crowd favorite was Lillian Thomas, a Muscogee Creek actor who drove in for every rehearsal and performance from Okmulgee. “It’s a 90-minute drive,” sighed Arigon. “I’ve been on that road many a time. Lillian’s husband Jim was a trooper who took the wheel and got her to the show on time.”
Here’s another still from the production, featuring Arigon with actors Zack Morris as Al Dullard and Kenny Harragarra as World War II veteran Vernon.
You can read more about the production online here:
The Oklahoma Gazette