Black Elk Speaks
by Lincoln Southwest High School

Brandon Koch. Photo by R. Bruhn Photography.From the landing of Christopher Columbus to the devastation at Wounded Knee, Black Elk Speaks chronicles many of the major events and massacres that took place during America’s expansion policy of Manifest Destiny. The narration is delivered by Black Elk, a cousin of Crazy Horse, who tries to reach his grandson who has been taught in a government school and has begun rejecting the culture of his ancestors. 

Lincoln Southwest High School didn’t have to travel far to put this production on at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. They do a nice job with the piece, opening it with a beautiful panorama of a southwestern ridge with a ceremonial circle below in which most of the acting out of history takes place, while Native Americans watch along the sides, participating as needed. Such participation includes taking on the roles of historical characters and performing a few dances including the hoop dance, torch dance, and the ghost dance. Good lighting and epic music sets the scene for Black Elk’s story, with a somber but determined Brandon Koch (who, at one point, also displays a wry sense of humor about how the Native Americans finally caught a bit of good luck with The Civil War) as the proud but heartbroken chief who has one last message to deliver. 

Luke Honnen and Breanne Lewis. Photo by R. Bruhn Photography.That message is filled with tragedy, broken promises, murder, and the murder of a culture. The many massacres and atrocities detailed in the play begin to blur, but a couple of them stand out. The first being the Sand Creek Massacre against the peaceful Cheyenne. William Bent (Luke Honnen) believes his position can save the tribe, and his marriage to a Cheyenne woman (Breanne Lewis) makes him especially tenacious on the effort to keep the peace. Something he is unable to do, resulting in a slaughter that included targeting children (as the government put it, “nits make lice”). Luke, Breanne, and the cast create a powerful portrayal of the event, centered around the Cheyenne wife who renounces her marriage to an anguished William Bent. And for a while, the Sand Creek Massacre unites various tribes successfully against the American forces. 

Aiding that changing of the tide was the young and brilliant strategist and leader Crazy Horse (Bryson Kerns) who fooled General George Custer (Michael Gilmore) at the Little Big Horn and defeated the 7th Calvary, killing the young general who had presidential aspirations – embarrassing news that reached Washington, D.C. on America’s centennial, July 4, 1876. But years later the defeat would be cruelly avenged, as soldiers would stab Crazy Horse when he came to negotiate, letting him die slowly as his people were kept away, unable to help. 

The vengeance wouldn’t end there. In the last years of the nineteenth century, a religious movement spread throughout a desperate Native American community – a belief the Christ would return, this time as a Native American, and deliver them to a new world all their own where they would be reunited with the lost buffalo and their dead ancestors. It was symbolized by the ceremonial Ghost Dance, and it was a Ghost Dance at Wounded Knee that led to the last great massacre, mostly of unarmed women and children, committed by the 7th Calvary. 

For Black Elk, it is only the hope that the heritage and dreams of all those lost can be kept alive in the future generation, beginning with Black Elk’s grandson (Chase Small) who we see being slowly transformed by his grandfather’s vivid words and reenactments of the history of his people.

Performed June 27, 2007.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Chase Small and Brandon Koch. Photo by R. Bruhn Photography.
Black Elk: Brandon Koch
Hoksila: Chase Small
Manuelito, Crazy Horse: Bryson Kerns
Taino Chief, Little Crow, Chief Red Cloud, Wild West Dancer: Justin Lynn Gessel
Taino, Shakopee, Black Kettle, Navajo, Cheyenne, Santee, Lakota: Christopher Creveling
Andrew Jackson, Gen. Carleton, Santee, Condemned Prisoner, Gen. Custer, Lakota, Soldier: Michael Gimore
Sibley, Col. Chivington, Col. Carrington: Jason Belden
Navajo, Galbraith, Cheyenne, Taylor, Finnerty, Soldier: Phillip N. Baker
Columbus, Norton, Navajo, Cheyenne, Gen. Sherman, Hoop Dancer: Sean A. Grosshans
Pequot Chief, Wind Whistler #1, Santee, Lakota, Navajo, Medicine Bottle, Crazy Horse's Father: Zac Francis
An Elder, Cheyenne Chief, Spirit Guide, Flag Soldier, Lakota: Sammy Al Thayedi
Priest, Navajo, Wynkoop, Cheyenne, Messenger, Sldier, Sergeant, Wild West Banner: Michael S. Fortkamp
Corporal, Santee Elder, Condemned Prisoner, William Bent, Carrington's Aide, Capt. Fetterman, Gen. Crook, Wild West Banner: Luke Honnen
Naragansett Chief, Daniel Boone, Santee, Condemned Prisoner, Cramer, Kiowa Chief, A White Man, Lakota, Wild West Banner: Patrick Beasley
Mohawk Chief, Santee, Pilgrim, Carleton's Aide, Soldier, Wowinapa, Taylor's Aide, Arapaho Chief, Lakota: Alan Holly
An Elder, Seminole Chief, Lt. Ortiz, Soldier, Santee, Condemned Prisoner, Arapaho Chief, Photographer, Lakota: Charles Voigt
Navajo, Yellow Woman, Cheyenne, Torch Dancer: Breanne Lewis
Taino, Buffalo Spirit, Hoop Dancer, Santee, Torch Dancer, Wild West Dancer: Meghan Leonard
Cheyenne, Crossover Spirit, Hoop Dancer, Wild West Dancer: Kiara Letcher
Santee, Eagle Spirit, Lakota Jingle Dancer, Cheyenne Grandmother: Jordan Reinwald
Santee, Lakota, Queen Victoria: Kerri Peters
A Little Girl, Navajo, Cheyenne: Aubrey Thompson
Navajo, Cheyenne, Navajo Woman: Kaylee Colton
Santee, Lakota, Taylor's Aide, Crazy Horse's Mother, Hoop Dancer: Mary Grace Metz
Taino, Santee, Wind Whistler #2, Lakota, Wild West Dancer: Katie Richard
Santee, Lakota, Taylor's Aide, Wind Whistler #3, Wild West Dancer: Morgan Boyle
Navajo, Cheyenne, Taylor's Aide, Torch Dancer: Kathryn Moore
Navajo, Cheyenne: Bianca Conway
Santee, Lakota, Taylor's Aide, Wild West Dancer: Ellen Reber
Lucy, A Mother, Santee, Lakota, Wild West Dancer: Alicia Meyer
Navajo, Cheyenne, Wind Whistler #4: Rebecca Hartz
Navajo, Cheyenne, Torch Dancer: Charis Thomas

Artistic Director: Robert J. Henrichs
Technical Director: Corrie Beth Allen
Stage Manager: Bryan Johnson
Costume Designer: Kat Cover

Photos by R. Bruhn Photography:


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