Glenwood Springs High School student wins Theater Masters competition
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” When asked about his “tough guy” persona, Lance Tsosie smiled, embarrassed.
He put it simply. If you’re born on a reservation, and if you move to a town where no one looks like you, sometimes you’ve got to be tough.
Being Navajo, and the captain of the football and wrestling teams, also means people put you in a category, he went on. Low-key and polite, the 18-year-old Glenwood Springs High School senior doesn’t seem to fit into his.
And that feels just fine to the unexpected playwright.
“I guess it’s kind of time to start a new image,” he said, smiling again, sitting in his school’s library.
Reserved, he had a bit of teenaged awkwardness about him. But a strong dedication showed through the quiet. He described his ideal future, of going to Dartmouth, helping others, of being a new person.
Ask anyone who really knows him, however, and their answers are the same. He’s been creating that new life for years.
Tonight and Tuesday, some of that fresh self will be on display when his play “Another Day on the Job,” is performed at Aspen High School. Though he had never written for the stage before, Tsosie is the winner of this year’s Aspiring Playwrights Competition, sponsored by Theater Masters. His piece beat out 50 or so others, submitted by high school students around the valley. Directed and acted by professionals, the work will be presented alongside that of nine graduate students.
To hear Tsosie tell it, no one was more surprised than he when the news was announced. The play was an assignment in his creative writing class, something he took just for the English credit. The piece tells the story of Matilda, a crotchety old woman who gets stuck, face first, in a New York City manhole. Tsosie liked the piece, but didn’t think of it as special. But something about the off-the-wall idea made his teacher, Charlie De Ford, laugh out loud.
After De Ford encouraged him to submit it to the contest, Tsosie assumed it wouldn’t go far. All the same, it sailed through the anonymous judging process, first humoring dramatists in the valley before moving onto a final round. It was then critiqued by a bicoastal, three-person panel, whose judges included John Lithgow (yes, that John Lithgow).
In the end, his words were deemed to have the most “promise” of the bunch. On top of the prestige and the $250 scholarship, Tsosie was given access to a professional dramaturge, who helped him tweak the piece even more into form.
In his friendly way, he downplayed all of this.
“I just thought it was something funny,” he said, of the work. “I said I’d just play along with it, and the next thing I know, I get this call, saying I won.”
Despite his shrugging attitude, he stressed that writing has given him something new, something he hadn’t quite gotten from years of sports.
“You can express yourself,” he said. “You can say what you wouldn’t normally say, in a different way.”
Even now, he isn’t sure where the comedy came from. He’s never been to New York, and the characters aren’t based on people he knows. But when he sat down to write, there the words were, bubbling to the surface. To him, creating a new world, that was freedom.
“No one can really judge you for it (your writing),” he said. “You can be yourself.”
From the plain way he delivered the words, it was obvious how much he believed in them ” and in himself, actually. He continued, talking about his plan to come back to Red Mesa, Ariz., the reservation he left eight years ago. There, he said, the mentality is all about survival. Upon his return, as the first college graduate of his family, he hopes to inspire, counsel and teach teens. He wants them to know they can succeed ” but first, he has to.
“I can’t screw up,” he said, “I’ve got to lead by example, for them.”
And, though he might not know it, there’s a whole community here rooting for him.
“He’s so genuine and so helpful and so kind,” said Adriana Ayala-Hire, the Pre-Collegiate director at his high school.
Ayala-Hire, who heads a program for first-generation college students, had a real caring about her voice as she described the teen. A member since his junior year, he’s been an integral part of the program, she said. Recently, he and other members spent a few weeks living and attending class at the University of Colorado at Boulder. On the closing night, Tsosie gave speech to a banquet hall full of participants and sponsors. He opened up about his dreams, his past and his heritage. By the end, he had moved the room, and himself, to tears.
“He’s just so humble,” Ayala-Hire said, “Definitely a role model.”
Though she doesn’t know him well, Chip Winn Wells was oh-so-enthusiastic about Tsosie, too. Literary manager for the competition, Wells had no hand in choosing his piece, but felt inspired by it, all the same. There’s a bit of cosmic symmetry at work, she said, as his director, Wes Savage, is an alumnus of Dartmouth, Tsosie’s dream school. It’s “pretty cool,” she added, that such an inexperienced writer from Glenwood would beat out so many others.
“One of the things that is so exciting is that talent can never be dismissed,” she said.
“It (the play) is performable because other people want to see people share their stories and their sorrow and their humanity. That’s what makes the world happen, I do believe.”
Tsosie’s most important critic, however, didn’t have any long explanation of his work. In fact, his mother, Jessie Grey, said he hasn’t even let her read it. He wants it to be a surprise. But that didn’t seem to matter to her. She’s so proud.
A single parent of four, Grey, 42, recounted why she uprooted her family from Arizona. She didn’t say much, but her few words were heart-wrenching. She came here for a “better life,” she explained, and she thinks Lance has found it.
“I feel good,” she said. “He’s going to learn more. He’s going to educate for himself. But I’m going to miss him.”
Tsosie, no doubt, is going to miss her. But he is also clear that he wants more than his family had. In his culture, he said, you learn about a “blessed road,” a charmed path you can either take or ignore. Right now, he feels he’s on it.
“I want to be someone people look up to and say, ‘He’s a good guy,'” he said. “I want to make a difference.”
And, like those who know him, you can’t help but wish him the best.
Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111
Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO Colorado
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