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NEWCOMB — If Newcomb High School students Arianna Happy and Zhoniba Belone were nervous about performing in the school's first theatrical production, it did not show.

Happy and Belone, along with nine classmates, are part of the first theater class offered at the school in years. Their first play was held on May 13 to students from Newcomb Elementary and Middle schools.

The class was developed by teacher John Templin, who proposed the idea to introduce students to theater and to provide an alternative to athletic and academic programs.

The 25-minute play, co-written by Templin and student Khaliyah Keedah, is about a Navajo boy who learns a valuable lesson after acting mischievous at his grandparents' home on the Navajo Nation.

Keedah, a junior who transferred from Piedra Vista High School in Farmington to Newcomb in January, is taking the class because it centers on creativity.

"I took it on as an elective. I didn't know what to expect but I talked to drama kids at PV so I went with what I understood from them," Keedah said.

"I've always been focused on academics instead of my electives, so this was a nice change of pace," she said adding she hopes word about the class inspires other students to participate next year.

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"It's not always easy whenever you want to do something outside the norm. Having a class like this, I think it's a great impact on Newcomb High School," Keedah said.

Launching a class from scratch has not been easy but Templin spent the fall semester teaching the basics of theater, including taking six students to watch the national touring production of "Wicked" in October in Albuquerque.

Since the school lacks an auditorium, Templin transformed a classroom into a black box theater. The modification involved using donated items, including a large canvas from the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.

"We had absolutely nothing to get us started. …The classroom has changed from a regular classroom into a performance space," he said.

Toby Begay, a junior, had never acted but his interest grew after joining the class in October.

"I could see this (class) growing for other kids," Begay said.

Principal Jeffrey Sagon backed the proposal early on and commended Templin and the students for creating a space that encourages dramatic art.

"Newcomb students are some of the most incredible kids. This is one example of their potential and brilliance," Sagon said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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