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Department of Theatre and Dance



Seize the Play:  Heyokah/Hokahey urges cast to just go for it

Bill Bowers came to Laramie in January with “two words and a box full of information.”  He left with a production unlike anything seen at the University of Wyoming.

And the student cast came away with a unique theatre experience.

“This is different from anything I’ve ever done,” says Billy Higgins, a recent theatre graduate from San Francisco. “I’ve done some weird shows in the big city and here, but I guess I’m thinking more from a process point of view.”

 “Heyokah/Hokahey” is devised theatre, where the cast and crew make it up as they go. By the end of the five-week project there was a script, but everything in the show came from the minds of 16 students, UW theatre professor John O’Hagan, and Bowers, UW’s Eminent Artist in Residence — “16 students and two grown-ups,” as Bowers described it.

Bowers, a native of Missoula, Montana, and a well-known mime in New York City, came to UW with the words “Heyokah” and “Hokahey,” and some reading material on each. In December 2008, each student auditioned for the show by bringing a 2- or 3-minute piece of his or her own creation, and successful auditioners received an e-mail with some of the information on those words.

He called the cast “actor/creators,” since the students brainstormed and conceptualized the show, from the lighting crews and performance pieces to the costumes and set design. Obviously, the cast embraced its expanded role in the production of the show, bringing any and every possible idea to the table. Though some of those ideas didn’t make it into the roughly 90-minute show, every idea — no matter how off the wall — was given due consideration.

“It really goes with the sense of ownership,” says Jaime Cruz, a recent theatre graduate from Evanston, Wyoming. “It feels like it wasn’t just one person’s show. We all contributed just the same, or so it feels.”

“It was a very positive atmosphere. You can try and you can fail, and it was awesome,” says Lindsey Neinast, a recent theatre graduate from Arlington, Texas.

The source material pushed the performers’ abilities to their outer limits. The scenes contained in the sketch-driven show drew from disparate sources, such as Native American myths, Sherwood Anderson’s short stories from the early 20th century, and mime.

Still, there was nothing in the show so heavy that it completely took away a child-like sense of fun. The performers, while working five long weeks in preparation, never forgot the fun of being other characters.

“It’s kind of a nice escape, because you get to come spend three hours, hang out with your friends, and be a kid and play,” Neinast says.

It also gave the performers a chance to branch out. Cruz says his focus is on writing plays, while Neinast and Higgins concentrate on their acting. Every actor/creator used multiple talents with “Heyokah/Hokahey.”

“It’s just nice because in some parts you might feel restricted, because you have to do Centennial Singers if you want to do musical theatre, and if you’re just in shows here it’s just usually straight (theatre). The opera usually goes to music students,” says Chelsey Byrd, a senior theatre major from Fraser, Colorado.

“With this we all get to dance, we all get to sing, we all get to act.”

 What is Heyokah?

A Heyokah was a kind of clown in Lakota Indian culture, a contrarian whose purpose in life was to show society its opposite. In some cases the Heyokah walked backward, dressed backward, and mimicked people to (as Bowers explained) show the world a different way of looking at things.

What is Hokahey?

In his research, Bowers found the word “Hokahey” and liked it in part because it seemed to mirror the word “Heyokah;” indeed, the two reflected each other on posters for the performance. “Hokahey” is another Lakota word, this one a battle cry translating to “Today is the day to die.” In the context of the show, Bowers took the meaning to be “Go for it. Be your true self. Carpe Diem,” which is Latin for “Seize the Day.”

What was “Heyokah/Hokahey”

The peice ended up being a series of vignettes about being an outsider, from a representation of common people going about life in uncommon ways. As the Heyokah was an outsider to Lakota Sioux society, the outsiders are urged throughout the show to “go for it,” and to show their true colors while those watching the show are encouraged to look at things in new ways.

2008-2009 Eminent Artist-in-Residence: Bill Bowers Interview

Bill Bowers
Heyokah/Hokahey at the University of Wyoming

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Dept. of Theatre and Dance

Dept. 3951

1000 E. University Avenue

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: 307-766-5100


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