‘Molly of Denali’ creators help Juneau kids find their own voices

Nanibaa’ Frommherz (left) and Izzy Kizer participated in a voice acting workshop led by creators of “Molly of Denali,” organized by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, on Aug. 9, 2019. (Photo by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)

The new animated children’s TV show, “Molly of Denali,” is the first national children’s show to feature an Alaska Native lead.

Some of the show’s creators came to Juneau this month. As part of their visit, they put on a vocal acting workshop to help local kids find their own voices.

Joel Price said he didn’t really know what his father had signed him up for.

“Um, just meeting some fancy people,” Price said.

Those fancy people included the creative producer of “Molly of Denali,” Princess Daazhraii Johnson, and the voice of Molly herself: Sovereign Bill.

Tlingit and Muckleshoot actress Sovereign Bill poses at a voice-over workshop at KTOO Public Media before the Juneau premiere of the PBS KIDS show “Molly of Denali” Saturday, August 10 at 9:30 a.m. at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Photo by Sheli DeLaney/KTOO)

For the record, Price said they weren’t actually very fancy at all, just really nice.

Price was one of 13 kids in the workshop on self-expression and voice acting. It was held the day before a community screening of the show in Juneau. Both events were organized by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. KTOO provided the space for the workshop.

Johnson kicked things off with some energizing warm-ups, reaching for the stars on tippy toes, shaking everything out.

When everyone was good and stretched, Johnson and Bill talked about their work and then walked through the basics of vocal acting. The kids got to put it into practice right away, recording some public service announcements, which will air on KTOO.

That was Izzy Kizer’s favorite part of the afternoon.

“I thought I would stutter, or lisp, or mumble or something like that,” Kiser said. “And I actually surprised myself that I didn’t do any of that in the entire recording. I thought I did kind of good.”

Twelve-year-old Kizer is happy to see “Molly of Denali” on the air. The show takes place in a fictional village in Interior Alaska. Molly and many of the characters are Athabaskan. Kizer hopes the show will broaden perspectives.

“Not many people really acknowledge our culture,” she said. “They think we live in, like, igloos with polar bears and penguins, but really we don’t.”

Kizer, who is Tlingit, has some ideas of her own for a kids show set in Southeast Alaska. The main character would be a grizzly bear, Kizer’s favorite, and it would feature other regional animals, like seals and wolves.

“They would solve problems, like, act like people in real life,” she explained, “and they would talk and stuff, and it would be cool.”

Ideas like that are exactly what the workshop’s organizers hoped to hear. Emily Edenshaw is director of business and economic development at Tlingit & Haida, and she helped put together the event.

“There were 13 youth today. If one of them gets the tiniest bit of hope that, ‘Maybe I can do this,’ or, ‘I want to do this’ — this is why I do the work that I do,” Edenshaw said.

Edenshaw, who is Yup’ik and Iñupiaq, said she’s been watching “Molly of Denali” at home with her kids. It’s a powerful experience, she said, watching as a family.

“Being a 35-year-old woman, and I’m having the same experience as my nine-month-old daughter and my 13-year-old,” she said. “My kids are never going to grow up in a world where they’re not going to be able to see themselves represented.”

After the workshop, Johnson offered some short and sweet advice for any kids who want to get involved in the arts: Explore, have fun and be curious.

It’s the kind of thing “Molly of Denali” might say.

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