American Indians involved around the world in ‘Choctalking’

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By April Dahlquist

Between the small audience in the Studio Theatre and a screen backdrop displaying films stood LeAnne Howe, alone on stage.

Howe, a University professor in American Indian Studies and English, was performing her one-woman show, “Choctalking,” on January 23 and 24.

Since Krannert Center for the Performing Arts asked Howe to have a performance last year, she has been writing, producing and staging this multimedia show. This 80-minute performance is a series of monologues showing that American Indians are involved with people from all over the world.

“I’m trying to show that American Indians are connected to communities around the globe in ways that may surprise mainstream audiences,” Howe said. “Especially if you are used to thinking of American Indians in feathers and war paint.”

At the University, Howe believes many students associate American Indians with feathers, largely because of the former mascot, the Chief.

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Although she did not attend the University during the time the Chief was mascot, Jorie Kapp, freshman in LAS, said she thinks of the Chief when she hears “Native American.”

In the performance, Howe portrays a German woman, a Ukrainian woman, an black woman and herself as a Choctaw native woman all at different points in history. The story touches on World War II, the Vietnam War and past conflicts in the Middle East.

“We’re all involved in finding strategies for peace in different parts of the word and in our communities,” Howe said. “Here we are as Americans and we are in Iraq, we are in Afghanistan, we have soldiers all over the world. How do we reconcile these situations and find ways to bring peace between Indians and non-Indians? And my story transcends because of my own identity as a native woman and helps to move the conversation in this arena.”

Howe’s prose is based on a mix of experiences she witnessed firsthand and through her research. Howe portrays all the characters, without any costume changes, while films produced by fellow artist Jim Fortier are shown behind her. Fortier will be the artist-in-residence at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for February.

The piece did a good job of truly being inside the heads of the characters and giving the audience good imagery of the character’s feelings, said Jenele Anderson, senior in LAS.

After the show, the audience was invited to stay and ask questions.

“People came away with different points of view, some hopeful, some not as hopeful,” Howe said. “That’s what I want you to make your minds up about; how we go forward is up to the individual. That’s the question that I raised as an artist and as a teacher, and I don’t think I have the answer any more than anyone else.”

Howe has had a lot of experience performing and has turned several of her books into live performances. “Choctalking” was unique because it was a one-woman show. This fact added to the connection between Howe and the audience, Anderson said.

“Hearing her tone, you could see she was very upset by the things that occurred to her,” Anderson said. “You were making a striking connection with her, yet she was still able to speak about it and trying to inform others about her situation.”

Howe is working on another novel and hopes to have it finished within the next couple of years. If time permits, she might take “Choctalking” to another venue.