As college students head back to class in the next few weeks, none will tell a "what I did this summer" story quite like Heather Helms.
The 19-year-old Norge resident toured six East Coast cities over 80 days as a performer in an original musical geared toward children called "Ba-Baaah and the Windigo," part of the Jamestown 2007 commemoration's "Godspeed Sail."
The musical presents the Jamestown story from the perspective of a Powhatan Indian girl named Matachanna, an English sheep named Ba-baaah and a legendary monster called the Windigo. More performances are planned for the Battle of Yorktown's 225th anniversary in October, as well as at Jamestown 2007's main event in May, "Anniversary Weekend."
Helms, a Lafayette High School grad and rising sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University, played the Powhatan girl. Helms' background is African-American, Irish and a little Cherokee.
Q: The Windigo costume is a green monster suit with big ears, big feet and big hands. Had you ever seen anything that weird before?
No. Certainly nothing that striking. "This is the female version of Shrek," is what I thought. Because it's so big, a lot of people, especially little kids, were intimidated by it. But if you look at it, it's got a big goofy smile, a bow in the hair. It is a very friendly creature.
Q: Why did you want to spend your summer as Matachanna?
A: I've always been interested in (performing arts). My old theater teacher ... called all of her former students, really, and she was like, "This is a great opportunity, why don't you guys just come and try out?" As soon as they said there was a young Indian girl part, I just knew.
Q: How is Matachanna tied to Pocahontas, the most famous Powhatan girl in history?
A: She was one of Pocahontas' sisters, an older sister.
Q: What was the highlight of the 80-day tour?
A: Definitely the kids. It's really rewarding to know that this is going to be the highlight of these children's, not lives, but certainly for the year. I know that if I were their age, and got to see something like this on stage, it would be something I would remember for a long time. I can remember going to Disney World and being amazed at seeing all of these animals and characters.
Q: You're a biology major and plan to become a doctor. How does playing Matachanna fit in with that?
A: It doesn't really, to be completely honest. This is definitely an extra-curricular, sort of fun thing. I will say though, I definitely have a greater respect for interacting with people (now), so hopefully that will help me in the future.
Q: Your parents are deaf and mute, so you've mostly lived with your grandparents. How else have you been affected by having deaf and mute parents?
A: I definitely have a sensitive spot for disabled kids and that kind of thing, which really helped. We did have a few disabled kids who would come (to the shows).
Q: In Newport, R.I., at times the audience at the main stage was just a couple dozen people. What was your smallest audience?
A: The smallest audiences that we had were definitely in Boston. We actually did a show for three people.
Q: What about your biggest audience?
A: In New York City, our audiences got so big that the foot traffic was being held up, so they actually had to pull up all of the chairs and make everyone stand. We had to get escorts for each one of the characters, just to get through these crowds of people. We got to sign autographs. That was awesome - I'm not going to lie. I'd say in New York, we had at least 200 or 300 people (at various shows).
Q: Because most of the "Ba-baaah and the Windigo" performers were totally covered by their plant or animal costumes, their parts were pre-recorded and not said or sung live. Was that also the case for you, and did you have any difficulties with that?
A: I was also pre-recorded. It took me a while to get used to it. But I was really lucky it was my own voice. I know my own rhythms and that kind of thing.
Q: In one of your lines in the musical, you say the Windigo "grows stronger with every dark and doubtful thought, so just clear your mind." Is that a lesson for children about fear?
A: Diversity is the big message we're trying to get across. There's a skunk, there's an ear of corn, there's a sheep, and then the Windigo. It's all these different characters coming together. I do think that sentence is probably about fear, more than anything, but (the show's) trying to get across, "Don't judge a book by its cover."
Q: Have you gotten any indication that young adults care about Jamestown's 400th anniversary?
A: I don't know. They picked a really great way to get the message across, through a song and dance kind of thing. It was great upbeat music, geared more toward people my age. I've always liked history, so I guess that's why I'm really into it. But I don't know if I can honestly say that people will jump for joy because, "Hey, it's America's 400th Anniversary."
Q: If you could have dinner with three famous people from history, who would they be?
A: Mother Teresa, Thomas Jefferson and, I don't know, maybe Marilyn Monroe.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times