Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Blind Man and the Loon with Kids on You Tube

In the past couple of years a number of video plays or playets have been published on You Tube, most of them featuring child actors and narrators.  This re-enforces the popular belief that The Blind Man and the Loon is basically a children’s story, a position I try to argue against in my book, at least in Native oral tradition. 

One of these dramatizations was produced and uploaded on October 18, 2012, by The Anchorage School District in Anchorage, Alaska, with students from Williwaw Elementary School.  Not all of the students appear to be Native, but many of them are undoubtedly from ethnic minorities.  The Loon Story is a video play introduced and produced by Teresa Lois Lowrey (Sagacey), a Tanaina woman identified as a Cultural Artist who designed the masks used in the play. 

The script for the play is based on the variant of the tale recorded in Bill Vaudrin’s book, Tanaina Tales of Alaska (1981).  I taught with Vaudrin at the old Anchorage Community College back in the early 1970s.  Vaudrin spent a lot of time living and recording English variants of traditional Tanaina Indian tales in the remote villages of Pedro Bay and Nondalton.  The production capitalizes on the fact that Anchorage is also part of the Tanaina homeland.  Unlike several of the others discussed below, this production retains the wicked wife’s two betrayals (leaving him to starve and offering him water bugs).  However, at the end she is merely banished not killed. There is no revenge by the blind man.

The extensive credits for this video include Candace Rysdyk, drama teacher, with music from David Maracle’s album Spirit Flutes. (Never mind that the Tanaina have no flute music tradition).  Costumes for the children were provided by the Anchorage School District Indian Education Program Title VII, and the videography credits go to ASD-TV’s Stephen Kennedy with three technical assistants.  Based on the number of people involved, many of them professionals, this video appears to have been a complex and expensive production.

The actors are all elementary school students and seem to be second and third graders.  The co-narrators of the play are Dianna and Renei.  The film is approximately fourteen minutes long, consisting of a 2 minute lead-in by Lowrey, 9 minutes of drama, and 3 minutes of curtain calls and credits.  To date it has received 695 views.

A second You Tube video is narrated by an anonymous girl known only as LM9985.  This video is much less sophisticated and lasts only 2 minutes.  It consists of a slide show using photos borrowed from other web sites (appropriately credited), accompanied by a music track.  It is called Blind Boy (Why Narwhals Have Tusks).  The video was posted in January 2011 and has been viewed 813 times as of this posting.  No source is given, but it is clearly derived from variants found in Group B (Eastern Canada) of my book.  The video’s young producer gives her source as the Handbook of Native American Mythology (2004) by Dawn E. Bastian and Judy K. Mitchell.

A third You Tube video was uploaded by a young boy about eleven or twelve years old named Dino Rinco.  He is apparently a Canadian with Australian connections.  His self-produced video, The Blind Boy and the Loon, is 7 minutes and 14 seconds long and consists of Dino reading a narrative script to the camera from his bedroom, with bunk beds in the background.   The script, which is invisible to the viewer, appears to be posted on a bulletin board or easel in front of Dino. The video was posted on September 25, 2012.

How the Loon got It's Necklace Readers Theatre represents the most recent video incarnation of the story.  It is just 3 minutes and 50 seconds long and consists of a reading by five fourth and fifth grade students lined up in front of a blackboard in school.  Each student reader has a typescript with selected parts to read.  The videographer is apparently a Canadian school teacher known as Mr. Noad.  This script is heavily redacted, having no female betrayal and no element of revenge.  The only actors in the story are the blind man, his son, and the loon. It was uploaded on October 29, 2013.  Of the four videos, this is the least sophisticated, and it has received just 47 views.

Based on these works, the popularity of The Blind Man and the Loon among children and school teachers seems undiminished.  Of course, if you take out all the betrayals and violence in the oral tradition, then it becomes quite a different story.

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