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Interview: Clara Natonabah, Performing Arts Director At Santa Fe Indian School

Interview: Clara Natonabah, Performing Arts Director At  Santa Fe Indian School Santa Fe Indian School performing arts director Clara Natonabah has no shortage of creative outlets; the Berkeley music grad is a member of the Two Worlds theatrical ensemble, recently performed in the UNM production of 1n2ian by Jay B. Muskett, and is a gifted singer and songwriter. In addition to her personal performance opportunities, she has chosen to take her gifts and use them to shape the lives of young performers at SFIS. I chatted with Ms. Natonabah over her spring break about the all-encompassing performing arts program she has built for her students.

Tell me about your performing arts background.

Clara Natonabah: I started out with dance when I was really young - I actually used to perform with NDI (National Dance Institute) for a really long time. When I was in middle and high school, I got into performance poetry through the Santa Fe Musical and Spoken Word team. We travelled internationally through a cultural exchange program, and to San Francisco through Brave New Voices. Through all that, I always wrote my own songs and had the opportunity to record on a few albums. I was accepted into Berklee College of Music in 2011, and then came home to Santa Fe Indian School, where I've been able to experience the other side as a creative director and event coordinator for my students.

What sorts of performance events have you done with your students at SFIS so far?

Clara Natonabah: We've put together a Celebration of the Arts performance, which has gotten bigger over the last three years and has also gotten a lot of community support, which has been amazing. They show off their creative abilities and some performed songs they wrote... this year is also the first time I've had an actual class as part of the school day for my students.

What is your curriculum like at SFIS?

Clara Natonabah: I start out by really working to build that sense of community. That's so important because when my students write, I want them to write from a place of honesty, openness, and authenticity. They have to trust each other with their stories. Performing can be much more loving when the people involved genuinely care about the other performers. So that's really important.

After that, I teach a little bit of everything - some movement, acting, scriptwriting... I also do music and songwriting. Something my kids are working on right now is actually filming their own music video, so they're learning about that technology, as well. IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts) recently got a performing arts major, and I'm really looking into ways that I might be able to collaborate with them. I see a lot of common areas between our programs, and I love the idea of having that opportunity to give my students that option for their future and working together to create amazing indigenous performers.

What do your program and the performing arts program at IAIA have in common?

Clara Natonabah: both of our programs are very humble and smart; they're compassion based performing arts programs. The indigenous perspective on performing arts is a little different; it's not just entertainment, but is more like ceremony - like when you dance at a Pueblo. It's very communal. We're really looking to build up the community and work with IAIA there; I'm hoping to take my students to an open mic that is part of a senior project there in May.

What other performance opportunities do your students have, besides that, class based performances, and Celebration of the Arts?

Clara Natonabah: My Masters degree is through the Bread Loaf School of English, and I'm a Next Gen site leader, so I work with my students a lot on getting out there as leaders, and creating a network to tackle social justice and environmental issues. Which isn't directly connected to theatre, but...

It all goes together, though.

Clara Natonabah: It does. I'm also excited for opportunities for my students to collaborate with other students in the area through Theatre Santa Fe and the youth programming coming up with that. I want my students to build that community and see everything out there for them.

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