SHIPROCK — Martin Sheen was "just another actor" Monday evening in Shiprock, according to the star himself.
Alongside about a dozen Shiprock High School students with little to no acting experience, the A-list actor starred in a play written and put together by students.
The play was called "Navajo News," a comedic series of sketches about the Navajo way of life. It was a one-night showing at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock.
The students were part of the Native Vision summer camp, which is put together by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.
Usually the camp pairs Native American students with current or former professional athletes to help them learn sports skills. The camp does not always take place in Shiprock, though it also was here two years ago.
This year, however, for the first time, alongside the sports clinics it introduced a theater component, compliments of Sheen himself.
"It was his idea," said Vaz Santosham, the acting coach for the program.
Sheen and Santosham became friends when they worked together on a film produced by Santosham's mother, Patricia.
Patricia Santosham's husband, Mathuram, is one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins center.
When the Santoshams asked Sheen to speak at a fundraiser for the camp, the family did not realize how involved Sheen would want to be.
"Acting is what I do for a living. Activism is what I do to stay alive," Sheen said Monday at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock, just before showtime.
Sheen, who talked with everyone and granted photographs and autographs galore, fit right in. He wore a white shirt, jeans, glasses and cracked jokes with anyone around.
Though it was his first time in Shiprock, he has been in the Four Corners before, he said.
"So often, you come to a place like this thinking you're going to teach, and so often you end up learning something," Sheen said.
The actor worked particularly closely with one student, Miracle Russell, 16, a Shiprock High School student.
"He really is sweet, and nice, like a grandfather," Russell said. "Yeah, it's like you're hanging out with your grandfather."
Sheen said students like Russell inspire him and remind him why he first got into acting.
"Most of (the students) are very shy -- they're not intimidated -- they're just shy," Sheen said. "You can really only learn about yourself through others."
Sheen, who starred in films such as "Apocalypse Now" and television shows such as "The West Wing," has been appearing in Broadway shows lately.
Not suprisingly, he packed the house at the performing arts center on Monday, with a number of audience members bringing DVDs and old movies for Sheen to sign.
"That's what the arts are all about," he said. "It's about reflecting the spirit."
Jenny Kane covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane