Tribal Elder to appear in University of Oregon play

04.15.2011 Ron Karten Culture, Entertainment, Events

Tribal Elder Marta Lu Clifford is returning to the stage after a bit of an acting sabbatical.

At Springfield High School, she performed in children's plays, tackling the grinning role of the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland" and Rapunzel's mother in the story of the same name.

Her return to the stage will be playing grandmother Rose in "Salmon Is Everything" at Robinson Theatre at the University of Oregon in Eugene from May 20 through June 4.

Written and directed by University of Oregon assistant professor Theresa May as part of the Klamath Theatre Project, "Salmon Is Everything" is a community-based play created in collaboration with members of the Karuk, Hupa and Yurok Tribal communities in southern Oregon.

Those Tribal members were directly affected by a 2002 fish kill on the Klamath River, as well as farmers and ranchers in the upper Klamath Basin. The play was first staged in 2006.

"This timely and lyric play celebrates the important role of the salmon in Native culture and spirituality and explores the intimate, profound and ecologically critical relationship between people, land, river and biotic communities," states the play's synopsis on the University of Oregon Department of Theatre Arts' Web site. "In the end, salmon means home for all of us who live in the Pacific Northwest."

Clifford, who is not attending the University of Oregon, said she was encouraged to try out for the role when she dropped into the Eugene satellite office and talked with Tribal member and Eugene Office Coordinator Perri McDaniel. The play's director was looking for a female Tribal Elder who looked like a Tribal Elder, Clifford says.

In the role as grandmother Rose, Clifford talks about many of the Native traditions lost because of the fish kill.

"At first, I was a little bit frightened," Clifford says about returning to the stage. "But then I thought, 'I can do it.' The lines make so much sense to me because I talk about the river, rocks, the spirit of the salmon."

Clifford is currently rehearsing four days a week in three-hour blocks. She says the docu-drama, even in rehearsals, is very moving for her as a Tribal Elder.

"For me, it has been very emotional," she says. "Just to see the reactions of the people to what happened and how Native people relied on the salmon. That has been the main thing for me. It has been a very wonderful experience."

To order tickets or for more information about "Salmon Is Everything," call 541-346-4363.