Calgary Herald Preview: Ambitious author-actor turns to Indigenous legends for new solo show

There’s an old spirit dwelling inside youthful Calgary artist Zach Running Coyote. He’s talented, wise and creative well beyond his 23 years.

Running Coyote is best known to Calgary audiences for his stunning work in Marking Treaty 7’s productions of 509 and Okotoks, and his tour de force turn as author, composer and actor in his solo show, Kohkum and Me, that ran in the Motel Theatre last year. Rosebud Theatre audiences know Running Coyote for his performances in the Steve Martin musical Bright Star as well as Cariboo Magic and The Laramie Project and he has also appeared in The Badlands Passion Play.

Running Coyote is currently the artist in residence at Making Treaty 7 where, under the guidance of Justin Many Fingers, he has created another solo show called Snowblind. It will premiere at Lunchbox Theatre Feb. 15 through March 7.

Snowblind is inspired by a Blackfoot story known as Napi and the Compassionate Woman, and it has allowed Running Coyote to explore the impact of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a condition he struggles with but which has not hindered his creative impulses.

“In Blackfoot stories, Napi or the Trickster is a character who keeps making stupid choices. In Compassionate Woman, he is playing with some chickadees which show him how to make his eyes fly out of his head. He doesn’t take their warning that he can’t do it too often or his eyes won’t come back, which is what happens.

“Napi tricks a kindly woman into believing he is just snowblind and she takes him in and cares for him until she discovers his lie.”

Running Coyote used this legend to create the three characters in his play. There is Napi, a 60-year-old Indigenous man busking on the streets of Calgary, who is befriended by a 70-year-old Indigenous elder who takes him into her home. They turn her home into a coffee house and refuge so it is a relationship that benefits both of them until the woman discovers the reason Napi spent most of his life in prison.

Running Coyote plays both Napi and the woman plus a pair of radio voices.

“The woman is listening to a radio program in which the host is interviewing me, Zach Running Coyote, about my brush with the law caused by my struggles with FASD and how it impedes a person’s ability to grasp the concept of cause and effect.

“I let these three people tell my story through storytelling, poetry, songs and dance. I’ve written four new songs and I may use all of them or just three.”

As in Kohkum & Me, one of the characters that Running Coyote plays is a female elder.

“I know these incredible women and they have had an enormous impact on my spiritual, creative and physical life. One such elder, Joyce Healy who is a Blackfoot knowledge keeper, helped me understand Napi and his role in Blackfoot legends, so her input was vital to Snowblind.”

Running Coyote says Snowblind may deal with serious subject matter but it is not without humour. Ultimately, he hopes audiences find it positive, uplifting and entertaining.

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