Join Paul G for an interview with writer and star of Bear Grease – Crystle Lightning.
Bear Grease is an Indigenous twist on the classic musical Grease.
Bear Grease Live
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Intro: Welcome to Powwows live podcast from Powwows.com connecting you with native culture since 1996. Here's your host Paul Gowder.
Paul: Hello and welcome to the Powwow Live podcast. I'm your host, Paul Gowder. And this is the show from powwows.com where we explore all things native culture. Today, I'm excited to have with me one of the stars and creators behind a new musical, Bear Grease. They're taking that classic American musical, Grease, and putting an indigenous twist on it. Stay tuned for that interview in just a moment, but I do have a couple of announcements. One, we are counting down the days until the 2023 Gathering of Nations Powwow, back in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I'm flying out in just a few days and I'm excited to be back at the gathering. We are hosting a giveaway, thanks to our friends, over at Eighth Generation. We're giving away three Eighth Generation blankets. You can enter daily for more chances to win. Head over to powwows.com slash win to find out how you can enter the contest and get your chance at one of those three blankets. And at the end of today's episode, I'll give you a special bonus code that'll get you exclusive entries only for listeners of today's podcast. The calendar over at powwows.com is filling up with powwows for this spring and summer, not just gathering nations, but there are dozens happening all over Indian country. Be sure to check it often. Powwows.com slash calendar to find one near you. We have so many listed, I know you can find one close to you and in your state, powwows.com slash calendar, or you can even download the entire calendar to your device, your phone, your laptop. We have a PDF that's free and we update it every month. powwowcalendarbook.com to get that downloaded right to your device. Today's show is brought to you by our friends over at Powwow Nation. Those are the folks that have joined our Patreon and help support us generating content just like this. If you'd like to be part of that exclusive community, I'd love to have you over there. We do some fun things like a monthly Zoom call and you get some exclusive gifts over there. So check it out over at powwownation.com. I'd love to have you as part of that community. And I appreciate all of our Patreons for supporting powwows.com and helping us create more content. Let's get to today's interview. And it is Crystal Lightning from Bear Gryse. Bear Grease is a traveling show that her and her husband, MC Red Cloud, created. Gryse is that iconic musical that takes place in the 50s with the movie that we've all seen, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. And Crystal and MC Red Cloud kind of had the idea of putting an indigenous twist on it. The cast compromises familiar characters like Sandy, Rizzo, Danny, but with Bear Grease, they give every character a little indigenous touch with elements of humor, music, fashion, where it really gets personalized. And it's one of those things that, whether you're getting all the inside jokes or not, everybody's gonna enjoy it. And if you have a little bit of that Indian humor, you may get a little bit more out of it. It's a great way to retell that story. while bringing in some representation of native culture and native themes. So I'm excited that Crystal was able to spend a few minutes with me and tell us about this production. They are touring around in Canada and in the United States. They're heading down to Albuquerque next week and they have many, many more shows coming up. So be sure to go over to baregreaselive.com to find out where they're gonna be and see if you can catch this new show, Bear Grease Live.
Crystal: My name is Crystal Lightning. I am an actor's performer and I am co-creator and director of the Indigenous musical Bear Grease.
Paul: So I saw this a few, like a couple of months ago. I saw, you know, we wrote an article about college.com kind of covering the idea of this. And as a musical theater fan, it was super exciting to see you guys or producing something like this. Where did the idea to produce Greece into an indigenous story come about?
Crystal: Well, Cloud and I, my husband, we were sitting on the couch and we were watching TV and Greece comes on and we both love Greece. So we stopped flicking the channels, we looked at each other and I said, man, wouldn't it be cool if there was an indigenous version of Greece? And that's how it started. Like that's how the the seed was planted. And then it just went on from there.
Paul: You never know what I did.
Crystal: Okay, let's just start writing the basics and cast in all indigenous cast. And yeah, it just started rolling.
Paul: So is your background in theater?
Crystal: Yeah, I'm a trained actress my whole life. I grew up in Los Angeles. I trained at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. My mom's an actress, she was actually my coach as a child actor, and then once I graduated high school, I decided to take this on seriously and then started studying acting, yeah, theater and film.
Paul: That's cool. All right, so for somebody who's familiar with Greece, and most people have probably seen Greece at this point, what's, you know, how did you guys adapt it? What's the, can you give us some previews of what the story's like in your indigenous twist on it?
Crystal: Yeah, so we kept the story. Danny and Sandy's love story, high school, you know, that whole vibe. But then we intertwined native humor in there, traditional drum, you know, we kept the doo-wop the 50s time period, but we just added like, for example, my ribbon skirt or my poodle skirt, I turned into kind of a ribbon skirt, you know, and then we add like native bling in there, we add some roundies in there, we mix hip hop with doo-wop. And then, yeah, we just, it's the native humor. So we kept like the same songs, like for example, Summer Lovin', you know, summer lovin', havin' a blast. We do summer snaggin', havin' a blast. I met a girl, crazy for me. I met a boy, he's not related to me. So, you know, stuff like that where it's gonna really get the native audience, but also other audiences. We don't want this just to be for our people. We want we want everybody to enjoy it. So Yeah, and everybody does from what we've seen.
Paul: Yeah It's um, it's fun to see things like that, you know with reservation dogs, you know, i've got some friends that Aren't familiar with any you know, kind of the inside Indian humor, but they love the show and I don't know if they get all the jokes But they get them right and it really does appeal to so when you can tell Tell the stories like that with with a little bit of uh Indigenous humor. It's really I think it really does appeal to a lot of people. That's awesome.
Crystal: Yes, absolutely.
Paul: So you guys have been doing the show up in Canada, correct?
Crystal: We've been doing it all throughout Canada and the states.
Paul: Okay. and you're heading down to Albuquerque is I understand right?
Crystal: Yes. Yes We're heading down to Albuquerque for gathering weekend.
Paul: Nice. Alright, so tell everybody If you're heading to gathering, where can you see the show?
Crystal: We will be performing the 28th and the 29th at the Kimo Theater in Albuquerque.
Paul: All right, and we'll have links to where you can go and find out tickets and everything like that. So tell me about the rest of the cast. What's the rest of the cast like? Are they musical theater people? Or do you know, as you mentioned, you got some round dance singing and some other stuff. Are these any singers that we may be familiar with?
Crystal: Oh yeah, okay gosh, I'm so excited and proud of my cast. We have some all-star actors and we also have some first timers who this is actually their first production. So it's been really amazing watching their journey start from day one to a year and a half later and how just amazing these performers are. So we have Joel Ouellette. So he played my son in this TV series called Trickster. He's on, he's an amazing actor. He's a Canadian Screen Award nominee. We have Robert Mesa, who is actually from Santa Fe and he just did The Accused and he was on Grey's Anatomy, he's Navajo. We have Tammy Rae LaMouche and Melanie MacArthur who are just the most amazing vocalists. They're award-winning singers. We have Nipi Esku, who is an award-winning fashion designer. And we have Red Cloud, of course, my husband. And we have Rodney, who's an actor. And they're all indigenous. We have Artson, who we have here from Los Angeles. And I mean, he's been in the music game for a long time. And this is actually his first theatrical debut. So it's really exciting. We have people from all over the place. And it's been a really fun, one of the most fun times in my life directing this and producing it. So I'm really proud of them.
Paul: I love the idea. I hope we see more things like this. You know, a few years ago, was it the Navajo translated Star Wars, did a version of Star Wars in the Navajo language. So it's kind of fun to see some of these things get a twist on them. So I like that.
Crystal: Yes. Yeah. You know, you know what we'll do too, which is really fun is we'll tailor some of our words to whatever community we're going to. Like, for example, we have a couple of lines where we talk about fry bread. And so if we're in Canada, we'll switch it to Bannock or if we're, you know, there's like, we'll change Danny's last name to let's say we're a Navajo nation country. We'll change his last name to Yazzie. You know, like we'll tailor it to wherever we're at so that. audiences is more involved, you know, they're more in and that's really fun.
Paul: That's so cool. This is great. Um, all right. And so after you leave gathering, what else can people find the show?
Crystal: So we actually start our, um, our hopelessly devoted to you tour, um, April 6th, and we start in Saskatoon, Canada. We go to Thunder Bay, Ontario, then we go down to Minnesota. Uh, we end up in Albuquerque at the chemo. and then we come back up and do a few more shows in Canada. And then we'll be hitting more US dates after that. But those are all TBA. So for right now, we're just focusing on the next month and a half, and then the rest of the year is all, it'll be on our website, Bear Grease Live.
Paul: How long do you think the production's gonna run?
Crystal: Oh my gosh, so. It's for right now, we have full dates until the end of the year, until December 23rd. We're all booked up until then. Yeah. So we're actually not taking any bookings right now for the next year, because there's also some talks of this turning into a television show. Um, so there's some big networks interested in that, which is so exciting. So we kind of have to wait on tour dates for 2024. Um, but so far, yeah, all of 2023 is all booked up and we'll be hitting, um, all turtle, turtle I am. Excuse me, Turtle Island.
Paul: All right, you heard it there. Make sure you check in. We'll have all the links and make sure everybody knows where the dates are. But if you're coming to Gathering, that's the best place to see it. I wish I could sneak away to be able to see it.
Crystal: Oh, you can't sneak away?
Paul: No. Well, there's only a couple of us that do the streaming. So it's not one of those things. I can't really sneak out too long.
Crystal: Yeah. Well, I… faith. I know that you're gonna see it one of these days.
Paul: Yeah, I've got to find it.
Crystal: The cool thing too about the time is we're having kind of an early show. So there's a you know, we all know there's so many after parties at Gathering. There's Gathering MCs. There's all kinds of really awesome stuff going on. So we intentionally made the show a little earlier so that you come check out the show and still make all your other fun, fun gigs.
Paul: Oh, there you go. Now, you can definitely work it into your schedule if you're coming out to Gathering. Very, very fun. Yeah, it's a great Greece is a great story and to be able to, I love not just the indigenous thing, but if you can make things modern and more relatable, I think you can continue to tell these great stories and have people relate to the characters.
Paul: Yeah, very innovative.
Crystal: Right, and another thing is like, I don't know about you, but growing up, I never saw anything cool like that with our people on there. I never saw us represented in that type of way. you know, ever. So we wanted to create something that was fun and exciting and, you know, something that the people leave the theater and they go, wow, that was so much fun. I laughed, I cried. And, you know, we want, we want it to pertain to every age as well. So that's a really cool thing about this show, too, is that the young people love the hip hop element, the music, the visuals, you know, we have a full blown screen behind us. So it's like a movie theater screen. with things going on behind us and the lyrics. So that gets like the younger generation. And then we have, you know, the 50s doo-wop, which gets the elders and they're like, that was my era. And I never saw this before. And you know, there was this one show where, in Vegas, and we had this cook-em, grandmother drive all the way from Mesa, Arizona. And she comes up to us after the show and she has tears in her eyes. And she just said, wow. that was so beautiful. You know, you guys represented us and made me laugh and your voices and looking at the outfits and everything, she was just so proud. And so that's why we do this. You know, we want to affect people in a good way. So many of our stories are, it's just part of our history. You know, so many of our stories are filled with trauma and sadness. So we really wanted to create it because we didn't. We didn't have those kinds of opportunities. So we just decided, let's just create it ourselves and see what happens and people are digging it.
Paul: Yeah. One of my favorite things I remember going to the theater and seeing was Godspell. And that was when they came back through and they had modernized it. You know, I'd seen videos or whatever and I was excited to go because the songs were okay. But then seeing the performance where they had totally reworked in little modern. Elements and so it was so relatable and you left the theater going that was so cool. You know, I got all of it Yeah, I love when you can update sure. I mean not all shows can be updated, you know But when you can do that, I think it does make the show so much more relatable.
Crystal: Yes, it's the original but just add little modern twists to it. Exactly. I agree.
Paul: But in so now my mind is racing of all the other shows you could do this with.
Crystal: Ohhhh, We have some in the bag right now. Right now we're working on, have you ever heard of Hairspray?
Paul: Yes. Oh yeah, I love Hairspray.
Crystal: We're working on Bear Spray.
Crystal: And West Side Story, we're working on Red Side Story. So we're like, we're working on it, yeah.
Paul: Yeah, West Side Story was definitely one of the first ones that came to mind when I'm sitting here thinking about it.
Paul: Yeah, And I love the music of Les Mis. That's, I mean, just setting that in America would be cool. Um, yeah, right. Yeah.
Crystal: I might have to give you a little commission for that.
Paul: Uh, yeah, I mean, that's cause that's a story that could be rewritten easily for another location, but it is intrinsically in, in that, that time period in that, um, place, but you could, yeah, that would, that would work well. All right, so I'm excited. I'm going to have to follow you guys for a while now. Yes. See what else you come out with. That's great. That's really great. Well, thank you for spending a few minutes with me. And I hope everybody will try to make it out to Gathering, if not find you somewhere on tour.
Crystal: Yes, please come. You won't regret it. You'll laugh, and you'll have the most amazing time. We have such an amazing cast who's been working so hard to entertain you guys. So come on out. Let's have a good time.
Paul: Thank you so much.
Crystal: Thank You!
Paul: ready to sing along with Summer Nights and the Bear Grease cast. That's going to be great. Thanks so much, Crystal, for spending a few minutes with us. All right. As promised, here is the bonus code for our eighth generation blanket giveaway. Powwows.com slash win gets you into the contest and you can use this code 116401. 116401. find the place where it says bonus code, put that in, and you get extra entries that only listeners of this podcast will get. Again, thank you so much for spending some time with me. I hope you enjoy the show and hope to see you down the road. We're gonna take a little break from the show while I head out to Albuquerque. Then the week after that, my family and I are getting on a cruise. We're doing a transatlantic cruise. We will be at sea for a long time. And we'll be back in June with more shows and interviews and More to come from the powwow life podcast. So thank you so much for your support and I'll see you back soon.
Ending: Thanks for listening to the Powwow Life Podcast from Powwows.com. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get notified of our next episode. Find a Powwow near you by visiting www.powwows.com forward slash calendar. Support Powwows.com by visiting www.powwownation.com.
Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Paul G