In November, Humanities teacher Craig Schuetze directed his two freshman classes to dive deeply into the Popol Vuh by staging theatrical performances of selections from the epic. The two plays included selections from the first and second parts in the Popol Vuh. The Popol Vuh is a three-part collection of creation myths following the ancient Mayan K’iche’ people who lived in what is now modern-day Guatemala. The Popol Vuh contains stories on subjects like greed, heroism, unequal power distribution, and more. These themes play essential roles in the mortal and immortal dimensions of the K’iche’ text. We’re going to be exploring these plays and the possible influence they may have on the Humanities department.
The first installment of the Popol Vuh recital follows the path of the first set of hero twins (Junajpu and Xbalanque) on their journey to defeat Seven Macaws, an arrogant ruler, and his evil children. The twins first encounter one of Seven Macaws’ sons, Sipakna, who angers the twins by needlessly killing 400 supposedly insolent boys. In return, the hero twins trick him by leading Sipakna into a collapsing cave where he eventually met his death; clearly, trickery is another common theme throughout the Popol Vuh. Next, the twins meet the earthshaker, another child of Seven Macaws. The earthshaker, or Cabrakan, is killed when the twins slyly employ a poisonous crab. After many circuitous adventures, the twins finally encounter Seven Macaws, who violently rips off Junajpu’s arm before scurrying back to his palace. As revenge, the twins go to Seven Macaws’ palace and pretend to be doctors who can fix Seven Macaws’ toothache. The ploy works, and the twins eventually slay Seven Macaws and take back Junajpu’s arm. This section of the book represents the twin’s victory and strength in successfully rebelling against Seven Macaws. To perform this section of the book, Schuetze’s Humanities class used cardboard cutouts for scenery and many well-constructed costumes for crucial characters. Examples of these were a yellow onesie meant to represent Sipakna, played by Wyatt Muncy ’25, and a cape with a gilded crown designed for the rich and arrogant Seven Macaws, played by Foster Lippsmith ’25. In addition to the costumes, stuffed animals were even used to represent animals that the character encountered. Although this play was conducted on short notice, these actors still managed to convey this victory accurately.
The second installment of the Popol Vuh play took place a few days later and described the trials of the hero twins’ journey to Xibalba, the underworld. Ready to slay more villains, the twins intend to eradicate the evil lords that ruled the underworld. In this section of the book, Junajpu and Ixb’alanke again go through many trials, testing their strength and bravery. Climactically, the twins defeat the lords, achieving vengeance for their murdered father. Overall, the actors of this play did an outstanding job with a very complex storyline. Responsible for many great decisions, the students who put on the play worked well together, especially with the excellent props, acting, blocking, and directing. Some of the props included large mirrors which were painted to represent both the underworld and overworld, flowers that were offered to the lords, and even a handmade altar with candles for the performance. This class chose to tell the story of the play by having narrators, played by Beth Huggins ’25 and James James ’25, depict the events of the story while actors acted out the narrated scenes with occasional dialogue. This way, the class was able to explain a very complicated plot thoroughly by the narrators while actors gave the audience a visual representation of the story.
These performances evoked many intricate themes, such as perseverance, trickery, and justice without rendering the plays inaccessible to people who have not read the book. This was the first play that Humanities classes put on for the community about a book that the class read. The Popol Vuh was also a new text for the Humanities department to teach at Sequoyah. Overall, with its complicated storyline and symbolism, the play was a monumental feat for the Humanities department and one that may even pave the way for future performances.