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A Miracle for Martin SheenJoel Nakamura


In Miracle Russell’s family, all are focused on football and basketball. She says she is the “weirdo-sore-thumb-sticking-out kind of kid” who prefers acting to athletics.

“Not everyone plays sports,” the 16-year-old Shiprock High student shrugs. And not everyone holds their own—on stage with actor Martin Sheen—while making their acting debut.

Miracle is among a dozen American Indian kids whose inner artists were unleashed during camp by NativeVision volunteer Vaz Santosham. The professional actor-turned-drama-coach organized them into a company of actors self-assured enough to write and perform (opposite Sheen, no less) a series of comedic skits aptly described as Saturday Night Live on the Rez.

“I’ve been very lucky with these kids; they’re very receptive,” Santosham says. “With Miracle, all I had to do was open the door just a crack and then all of a sudden it was like, “WHOA! Hi, I’m HERE!”

NativeVision this year expanded its programming beyond sports to add the acting workshop largely because Sheen, a fundraising spokesman for the camp, proposed a new, hands-on volunteer role for himself. He had met Santosham and become aware of NativeVision a few years ago when the two were working together in India on a yet-to-be-released movie. (Santosham’s father, Mathu, directs the Center for American Indian Health, of which NativeVision is a flagship initiative.)

The performing arts, they agreed, should be represented at NativeVision. This year,  as linemen completed tackles and hurdlers hurdled under the New Mexico sun, Santosham’s troupe sweated under the spotlights in a theater adjacent to Shiprock High’s football field and track. Acting, they learned, is less about adding something or trying to change than it is about opening up and exposing what’s already inside. 

"If you had seen Miracle before… she wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Santosham says. “But now she trusts herself.”

That was obvious from the moment she appeared before the community-wide audience that packed the performing arts center for NativeVision’s premier one-night show. She played a wacky talk show host opposite Sheen, who played himself, in a comedic skit written and produced during NativeVision. With her brimming talent and Sheen’s gracious support, her willowy presence stole the spotlight. Nobody was more impressed by Shiprock’s breakout talent than the Hollywood mega-star in their midst. 

“Her name is Miracle,” Sheen declared, “and she is a miracle.”


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