(Ashland, Ore.) – The Theatre Arts program of the Department of Performing Arts at Southern Oregon University presents its young audiences production, “Raccoon Earns His Stripes,” by Brent Florendo in the Center Square Theatre on the SOU campus. Performances are at 7 p.m. on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 24-25, March 2-3 and March 9-10, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, March 3 and March 10, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 4 and March 11.
For the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, winter is the time for stories. Brent Florendo’s highly interactive play enacts the ancient folklore of the Wasco tribe of the Columbia River Basin and Cascade Mountains as told to him by his mother, Alice. Raccoon finds that everything in his world is alive and its inhabitants help him learn about their inherent interdependence with humor, song and dance.
“In working with Brent in the development of the approach to the script, it was apparent that, in the Wasco culture, stories were seen not only as entertainment but also as teaching life lessons,” said director Chris Sackett, a SOU Theatre Arts professor. “The basic premise of the play is that, within a lifetime, an individual has many experiences. It is important that we learn from those experiences and incorporate the learning into our growth as an individual, as a member of our family and as a community as a whole.”
The ensemble cast portrays numerous roles in the stories and the production “incorporates elements of Greek chorus as well as the spontaneity and improvisational elements of commedia dell’arte,” said Sackett.
The stories revolve around Grandma Grouse and Grandson Raccoon. Coyote is another central character who has magical powers and portrays many of the teachings of the tribes, according to Florendo. “Storytelling took place in the winter in recognition that the summer preparation time had ended,” said Florendo. “The storyteller would ask the people ‘what do you have to pay’ and they would respond that they had salmon and huckleberries. The storyteller would tell the people to share their bounty with each other.”
Florendo is SOU’s Native American Studies coordinator and co-director of its summer Konaway Nika Tillicum program for middle- and high school Native American students. He is an alumnus of the SOU Theatre Arts program. “When my mother saw what I was doing in the theatre, she said that I should learn the stories and use this modern way to pass them on,” said Florendo. In addition to writing the play, he is serving as the production’s choreographer. Florendo has performed as a storyteller and dancer in the Green Show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, at the Oregon Cabaret Theater, the Festival of Musical Theater in Eugene, Ore., and with the Peninsula Dancers of Kenai, Alaska.
This is the second new play that Sackett has taken under his wing and developed through a workshopping process for its world premiere at SOU. “I have seen how important the collaborative creative process is and how much the many talented individuals I have worked with impact the end result,” he said. Sackett has more than 40 years experience in the performing arts, primarily as a lighting and sound designer. He directed the adaptation of “Alice Through the Looking Glass” by Craig Jessen, another Theatre alumnus, seen in its world premiere at SOU in 2011.
The ensemble cast includes Chelsea Acker, Kameron Fort, Joseph T. Godfrey, Valerie Huntington, Delaney Kentzell, Laurel Livezey, Kurt Langmeyer, Zlato Rizziolli, and Emily Serdahl. Scenic design is by Sunshine Bucy, costumes are designed by Morgana Spake, lighting design is by Kate McFarland and sound design is by Joel Ferrier. Marc Oliver is the assistant director and Cymry Reardon is the stage manager.
Tickets are $21 regular, $18 senior, and $6 for students. Subscribers to three or more plays receive a discounted price of $17 per play for regular subscribers and $15 per play for seniors. The Theatre Arts building is located on South Mountain Avenue in Ashland, next to the Music Recital Hall. For ticket purchases, call (541) 552-6348. For more information, visit sou.edu/theatre.
Press release courtesy of Southern Oregon Department of Performing Arts.