"Coming Home to North America"
Co-Creative Ritual Experiences with No Rehearsal or Costumes Needed
(3 versions for adults and 1 for kids)
by Connie Barlow
(revised August 2004)
"Thank you, Connie, for coming to our environmental retreat center in Baltimore County, and staging the 'Coming Home to North America' ritual. Seventeen people participated on Saturday afternoon, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. We will never look at North America the same way again. Even though we could only talk about a few selective features (animals, plants, and physical landforms), we nevertheless got a wonderful 'deep time' perspective about what has been happening on our very own continent. What an imaginative process you came up with to help us learn and understand what has come before. This should be taught in all of the schools! Thank you, thank you for bringing it to us." Robin Hessey, volunteer and organizer, Earthome, Baltimore MD "The North American Ritual that Connie and Michael shared was a most powerful kinesthetic experience. Through words, visuals, and enactment, we were able to take in 70 million years of history. Through a playful and celebratory tone, I began to feel shifts of time within me. I was deeply moved." P.L. Andrews, Interfaith Minister, MinGei Center for Creation Spirituality, Madison WI "Connie and Michael: Thank you so much for your wonderful 'Coming Home to North America' event. Everyone who came was moved and excited, as you may have noticed as they swarmed around your books/tapes table afterwards! Several people are talking about doing a followup session to help people work with the information. You have definitely planted a seed here. Thanks again. Dina Claussen, Worship Committee Chair, Wy'East Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Portland OR. "I am a Florida state park ranger and naturalist. I work alongside children's camps and scouts. We very successfully implemented the "Becoming Native" activity at Birch State Park's Camp Live Oak. It is brilliant." Mark E. Foley, Park Ranger, Ft. Lauderdale FL
PHOTOS & TIMELINE of
North America Storytelling Beads
LEFT: "Mammoths, Overkill, and a Deep-Time Perspective on Pleistocene Extinctions"
Connie Barlow summarizes the world-wide paleontological evidence in support of the Overkill Theory of "extinction of the massive", proposed by Paul S. Martin, in this "Coming Home to North America" program delivered as a keynote presentation in 2004 in Lexington Kentucky (EarthSpirit Rising Conference).
Click for Connie's published essay on using a deep-time perspective for coming into a "native" relationship with the continent of North America.
Four Versions of North America Ritual
8 COUNCIL MEMBERS (all read scripts), including an occasional narrator in the role of "Time", with some audience participation.
Script of whole play for Narrator/Time
Scripts for the 7 other council members
2 STRONG NARRATORS & LOTS OF ACTORS (not readers), and 26 parts for audience volunteers to act out (while narrators read what is happening).
Script for 2 narrators (must print 2 copies)
Script 26 volunteer characters, with directions on how to act (characters do not recite)
1 STRONG NARRATOR & LOTS OF PARTICIPANT READER-ACTORS, and 25 parts for audience volunteers to READ and act out.
Full script (print this twice: one for narrator and the other to cut apart for 25 reader/actors)
RITUAL FOR YOUNG KIDS - with a strong leader (kids have brought their favorite stuffed animals to the ceremony).
Script for directing children's ceremony
A 2001 book by Tim Flannery, titled The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples, is the inspiration for this ritual and provided the scientific grounding for almost all of the stories presented in the script. Connie Barlow wrote a lengthy review of that book for the Summer 2002 issue of Wild Earth magazine. Click here for a PDF of Connie's article.
Click here for a magnificent oratory, written by Thomas Berry, that can be used for group reading before or after the North American ritual/experience. Title: "In Praise of North America"
The 18 August 2005 issue of the prestigious science journal, Nature contains an advocacy article that proposes "rewilding" close-kin of some of the large mammals that went extinct in North America at the end of the Pleistocene, 13 thousand years ago. Only by understanding the deep-time story of North America does this radical proposal in wildlife conservation make sense. Hence the importance of conveying the story, including in ways suggested here. To access this amazing article, you can view or download it at http://rewilding.org/pdf/Pleistocene-Re-wildingNorthAmerica1.pdf.
INTENTION: We North Americans are all largely ignorant of the magnificent deep time story of this continent, a story that begins some 70 million years ago near the end of the dinosaur era. The map below shows how North America looked 70 million years ago, when the "Bearpaw Seaway" divided North America into a western land mass (which a land connection to Asia) and and eastern land mass (which had a land connection to Europe). The yellow "star" denotes where the meteor struck Earth 65 million years ago, which wiped out the dinosaurs.
Each of the four versions of the ritual begins 70 million years ago and dramatizes major events in the story up through the present. These events focus on animals and plants evolving in North America or immigrating here, extinctions, and significant changes in landforms and climate. Because North America is "born" when the Bearpaw Seaway begins to recede approximately 60 million years ago, you may wish to create a large CLOCK, like that below, to visually keep track of the advance of time and the sequence of Cenozoic Epochs. Each "minute" in the clock signifies a million years. The Cenozoic epochs are: Paleocene (red), Eocene (green dots), Oligocene big blue dots, Miocene (red dots), Pliocene (yellow), Pleistocene (blue stripes).
Each of the four strongly participatory ritual forms is intended as a playful way for participants (in group sizes ranging from 8 to more than 50) to learn the science part of this story and the history of how humans and other creatures have become native to this land. In these rituals we learn, for example:
That horses and camels originated on this continent tens of millions of years before going extinct here just 13,000 years ago. That grizzly bear, elk, bison, and gray wolf are very recent immigrants to North America. That terrible extinctions occurred when a long-isolated South America was joined to North America by the birth of the Isthmus of Panama 3 million years ago. Why our continent is unsurpassed in tornado activity. Why and how squirrels and nut trees co-evolved in North America. How the science story bridges to Native American creation stories. About our own human ancestries in coming to this continent. Attitudes for BECOMING NATIVE to this continent.
Although all forms of this ritual have a "Council of All Beings" quality, we have found it works best if participants keep close to the script and use their creativity for the acting out of the story and for the closing piece when individuals trace their ancestral journeys to the continent. This ritual is intended as a way for all Americans, no matter what their ancestry, to feel empowered that they, too, can become native to this land and that this continent is beckoning us to do so. Many people tend to come out of the ritual incredulous that they never learned these basic and wondrous facts in any part of their schooling.
All the directions you will need to prepare for the ritual and to have it take place (scripts) are available for downloading in pdf form. But first, you must decide which version will work best in your circumstances.
Connie uses these charts in all her adult and kid's North America programs. Click for an explanation each.
Click for HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOGRAPHS of these NORTH AMERICA CHARTS.
RITUAL VERSION #1: FOR 8 COUNCIL MEMBERS
All 8 council members read scripts, including an occasional narrator in the role of "Time" (some audience participation). 2 hours minimum
SUMMARY: The 8 Council Members are: Time (Narrator), Landforms, Climate, Continental Connections, Plants, Big & Ferocious, The Little Ones, Crisis & Opportunity. If you have ten or fewer participants, this is the version of the script you must use. This ritual works great for larger groups too; simply invite those with loud, dramatic voices to step forward and take a script (which are all lying face-down on the floor); the first seven to volunteer get to read the lead roles. Then, have the readers stand and announce who their characters are, and encourage audience members to team up with each so that they can act out the parts. Note: even for those who do not choose to act, there are plenty of opportunities for verbal participation and acting out as general audience members, as the ritual proceeds.
ADVANTAGES: This is the best script for truly nurturing a sense of how to become native to this continent. This version of the ritual plays out the most smoothly "professional" of all, as only 7 volunteers engage in recitation, and the audience gradually comes to know the character quirks of each. It builds toward more audience participation as the play unfolds, and then calms back down to a deeply reverential ending. This ritual is probably the most emotionally powerful of the four. This is the version that the facilitator/narrator can most enjoy, because the narrator/Time character has no more of a presence than the other 7 council members (although, having the whole script in hand, Time can direct things if there is some confusion about who is to read next.) Note: Choose this version if you are not, or cannot recruit, a bold, loud, confident, and engaging narrator; all other versions of the ritual require those traits!
DISADVANTAGES: You cannot expect to complete this version in anything less than 2 hours. The facilitator has no control over pacing, as the 7 other Council Readers take complete control. Though all audience members have a chance to choose to be on the team of a reader, some may be frustrated that they don't get to be a reader too. If one or more of the 7 readers has a boring or quiet delivery style, despite your request at the outset that only "loud voices" volunteer to be one of the 7, then you are in for a periodically less-than-satisfying evening. Although there is room for spontaneity and play, other versions may build to more boisterous laughter. Note: Do not choose this version if you must finish the ritual in less than 2 hours. Despite the disadvantages, this version of the ritual is highly recommended if time is sufficient, and it has given participants some powerful experiences.
VERSION #2: FOR 2 STRONG NARRATORS
and lots of participant actors (not readers)
with 26 parts for audience volunteers to act out (but not to read).
Can be completed in less than an hour; best at 1:15 hrs.
SUMMARY: Two strong, loud, confident NARRATORS read the entire script, directing the action, and calling plant, animal, and landform characters to come forward and act. There are 26 parts to distribute for audience members to act out; but only the narrators recite script. Most of those parts make more than one appearance on-stage during the play.
ADVANTAGES: This is the only version of the ritual that can be completed in less than an hour, if the narrators keep the pace moving fast. The 2 narrators are fully in control of pacing. By wisely choosing narrators, one can be sure that the reading voices are always strong and dramatic, and that the narrators have the ability to spontaneously interact with the actors, and to shoo those off-stage who may be lingering too long. Because the 26 audience participants have been given written directions in advance of how they are to act, but they are not responsible for reading anything, people are free to fully act out, and to dress for the part during the time of preparation. A highlight comes near the end, when this version uniquely uses the two narrators and the silent actors to act out the killing of the great animals when the first peoples arrive from Asia; very powerful.If you must complete the ritual in a hour, you are advised to use this version. This is probably the best version of the ritual for groups of 40 or more. If a microphone is necessary, then this is the ONLY version that will work.
DISADVANTAGES: Because there are 26 parts, only very large groups will have people team up to act out a character; yet people are more confident to act and be wild if they have a partner or two acting out with them. (The disadvantage can be averted by grouping people into teams, and assigning a number of characters to each team.) The audience may tire of the voices of the two narrators, and there will surely be some truly terrific voices in the audience that remain untapped in this version. There is a great distinction between narrators and participant-actors that may feel off-putting or hierarchical. Other versions that allow more participants to read scripts may feel more democratic and participatory, and be inherently more interesting if the readers are all good at reading. Nevertheless, this version of the ritual has been very well received in actual performances.
CLICK HERE to download a 19-page pdf of the script of the whole play (you will need to print two copies of this, one for each of the two narrators) and a 15-page pdf that contains the scripts for 26 audience members to act out (which you will need to cut apart and distribute).
VERSION #3: FOR 1 STRONG NARRATOR
and lots of participant Reader-Actors
with 25 parts for audience volunteers and their team members to READ and act out simultaneously. 2 hours
SUMMARY: In this version, a SINGLE NARRATOR is very strong in introducing each character and keeping the story integrated, but each of 25 "characters" (various plants, animals, and landforms) actually comes on-stage to recite as well as act their own part. Most characters come on stage more than once, some as many as 5 or 6 times (as in the "Cat" family or the "horse" family.) For small groups, a single individual will be responsible for more than one character; for larger groups, people may form teams to portray one character or more than one character.
ADVANTAGES: This can be the liveliest and most boisterous version of all. Audience participants playing one or more roles get a chance to really get into the spirit of a character, because they are reading as well as acting the part. They tend to get more involved, more playful, with nuances of voice as well as body. Because the narrator is integrating the story and calling in the characters, rather than telling the story, the narrator can deliver her/his parts extemporaneously rather than reading them, so the narrator becomes more of a playful and engaging emcee, able to comment humorously on the performances of the actor/readers. Overall, it is really great that the narrator is freed to speak extemporaneously, which is a nice balance to the reading that others do.
DISADVANTAGES: The narrator has a huge and singular responsibility throughout, which can be exhausting. Owing to time constraints, the narrator takes over near the end and delivers a lot of Pleistocene and post-Pleistocene story, without any help from other readers; this requires a great deal of confidence in the knowledge presented, a dramatic ability to keep the audience entranced, and an ability to compress facts and hone the story even more if the ritual is running late. The narrator has little control over the speed at which audience participants come to the front and READ/act out the 25 character parts; so the ritual may lag or run too long. Nevertheless, this version has been performed with huge success because so much of the audience participants truly come to identify with individual characters and be spontaneously and unself-consciously playful.
CLICK HERE to download a 32-page pdf of the script of the whole play (you will need to print two copies of this: one for the narrator and the other to cut into parts to give to each of the 25 actor-readers)
VERSION #4: FOR YOUNG KIDS & their stuffed animals
Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
SUMMARY: This experiential process works best with kids of elementary-school age.
EXPERIENTIAL PROCESS FOR YOUNG KIDS - with a strong leader (kids have brought their favorite stuffed animals to the ceremony).
Part 1 of SCRIPT for directing children's ceremony (on-screen, not pdf)
Part 2 of SCRIPT for directing chidlren's ceremony (on-screen, not pdf)
Responses from Kids
"I liked the part about the golden age of turtles because turtles are one of my favorite reptiles. I think that I would have liked to live in the golden age of turtles." Love, Lucas
"I loved it when you talked about the tiny horses and how the camels evolved in North America." Sincerely, Storrie
"I really liked the part when the medyor hit the Earth and wiped out evrything to Japan wow what a medyor. I really think that was nice that you use stuffed aniamal for your story. I hope you come again." love, Reid
"It was great. I liket the golden age of turtles. I allso liket the way you used rope to make north amarica." Love, Ryan