By Jack McNeel -- Today correspondent
PLUMMER, Idaho - The crowd was enthusiastic and responsive as the eight young student playwrights from schools on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation gathered to take a bow after hearing professional actors read their plays. Comments like ''motivational as well as inspirational'' and ''hallelujah, great job'' reflected the reaction of those in attendance at the public presentation.
It was all part of the Mentor Artists Playwrights Project from Los Angeles, which returned to the Coeur d'Alene Reservation for the third time in four years to work with local youth. It was sponsored by the tribe's Department of Education, headed by Chris Meyer, and its commitment to arts programming.
Students are each paired with a mentor who works one-on-one in a series of workshops to create these two-person, one-act plays. Some of the mentors themselves are Native students from North Idaho College and the University of Idaho. The subjects come from the students who are encouraged to look within themselves at their hopes, dreams and innermost thoughts. Then, using metaphor - often using animals or forces of nature as the media to communicate these thoughts - and with dramatic, emotional monologue, the plays unfold.
Thomas Dean Kellogg, MAPP founder and actor, spent many of his younger years in northern Idaho, so it's a coming home for him as well.
''Young people are naturally dramatic, but we often miss the deeper reasons for the drama in their lives,'' he said. ''They were able to write through these characters. In this creative process we can draw out the dreams and aspirations, explore the conflict surrounding it, their relationships, and let them talk about it in a play. It's fiction, but the themes you're going to relate to.
''They really put their heart into it, so that's why we're so excited to share it with you ... With some patience and a keen ear, we adults are constantly awed by the results.''
The use of professional actors, including Kellogg, to narrate the plays brings theater and emotion to the words. Each play involves two subjects talking together so two actors work together while reading the plays with the young playwright sitting to one side. The student playwrights then stand and take a bow with the actors at the conclusion of each play.
The titles give some clue as to the thoughts and conflicts reflected in the plays, but even the plays themselves don't absolutely define those ideas. They hint at those thoughts, but leave the listener to interpret them for himself. The titles included ''A Swamp and a Croc,'' by Tiana Higgins; ''Cuz I'm King,'' by Armondo Garcia; ''It's Mine, Not Yours, Deal With It!'' by Imani Antone; ''Freedom Feather,'' by Joseph Lenoir; ''Why Not?'' by Kadeja Mitchell; ''Mind Versus Strength for a King,'' by Damon Fleming; ''The Teepee's Beginning,'' by Karmen Fleming; and ''The Hard Decision,'' by Gina DeLorme.
The words bring images to the audience: perhaps conflicts within the home or missing loved ones, death, selfishness, self-worth, jealousy and friendship. The process becomes more than a writing project and learning to express oneself through writing: a way to express both problems and hopes within themselves.
Jason Smith, a mentor and Coeur d'Alene tribal member, said: ''It's rewarding to see them change and develop. There was a big change between the first and last day.''
Ian Higgins is another Coeur d'Alene tribal member who served as a mentor. ''Interacting with them was fun. They're fun to be around. A relationship developed one-on-one.''
Andrew Roa, Shasta/Aztec, is one of the professional actors. ''It's inspiring when you hear them. We're really excited,'' he said, in encouraging people to attend this and other readings.
Performances were given to students on the reservation and at Washington State University in addition to the Human Rights Center in Coeur d'Alene. Both the student playwrights and professional actors were present at all performances.
The MAPP Young Native Playwrights Initiative is designed for similar workshops to Native youth throughout North America. Current partnerships include Native organizations in Alaska, British Columbia, California, Idaho, New York, Washington, D.C., and Oregon. For more information, visit www.mentorartists.org.