Art imitates life in ‘Dreamer’

PUHI — Dressed in carefully-researched Pacific Northwest American Indian costumes, in front of a carefully-researched Tlingit Indian backdrop, stood Island School fifth-graders in their dress-rehearsal for their production of the original play “Dreamer.”

Island School drama teacher Peggy Ellenburg wrote this play, set in parallel worlds of a fifth-grade class building a totem pole for a class project and Tlingit villagers in Alaska carving a totem pole in the 1890s, to coincide with Cindy Wortmann’s fifth-grade class’s study of Native American history.

The play is staged at 7 p.m. today and tomorrow at the Island School auditorium behind Kaua‘i Community College in Puhi.

In the story, the students all start off showing some kind of discrimination towards other kids.

“Popular” children of the class think 10-year-old Zeb, played by Kai Olson, is weird, because he believes his dreams tell the future.

Others tease classmate Tom, played by Travis Kim, because he wants to hang out with his surfer-buddy friends.

But they have to learn to get along with each other in order to finish their class project.

In the Tlingit village, villagers experience the same thing, and can’t finish the totem pole because they’re busy arguing about each other.

Ellenburg brings the two worlds together and, in the end, the moral of the story is that prejudice is ridiculous, and that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re bad.

“Every year, (the fifth-graders) do a play. And every year, they make a totem pole,” Ellenburg said.

“So I said ‘why not make it about the fifth-graders?’ I like to have something to do with what they’re studying, and (Wortmann) doesn’t have to lose her project.”

In Wortmann’s class, the fifth-graders are taught the different animals that make up a totem pole, and what they symbolize.

That study was taken a step further in that the students were given an assignment to take home to do with their parents.

They were to pick an animal from the totem pole and explain why that particular animal best represents their family.

From what the students wrote about themselves and their family members came the basis of their character in the play.

“Using that and from knowing these kids, we created these characters,” Ellenburg said.

“They all have issues about getting along. They tease each other, and they don’t realize how hard it is to be a kid,” she said. “I don’t know if this comes across.”

Olson, whose character Zeb is the “dreamer,” identified with his character.

“Zeb’s not very popular, and I’m not very popular,” he said. “He has dreams that sort of tell the future, and sometimes that happens to me.”

He said that after being in “Dreamer” he’s built up more confidence in himself, and is less worried about what other kids think of him.

Kim said he learned that popularity isn’t as important as he thought it was.

“It was educational,” he said. “There’s some pretty different people in our class, and we had to learn to work with them.”

With the help of all the fifth-graders’ parents, the students were able to have fur costumes and elaborate backdrops, painted by the students and parents, designed by Carol Bennett.

Dr. Jane Ely, a Native American and expert on the Native American culture, also visited Island School, to teach the students chants and movements of the Tlingits.

Tickets for the play are on sale at the school office and from cast members, in advance, and will also be available at the door.

For more information, call Ellenburg at 246-0233, extension 262.

Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or


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