Over the years, the Perseverance Theatre stage has held whaling ships on the open ocean, the shifting mists of Holkham Bay, expanses of the New Mexico desert, and the Underworld, among other things too numerous to name.
Now that endlessly flexible boundary is stretching in a new direction: to Anchorage, where the theater will produce two plays during its upcoming season.
The expansion is designed to not only expand the Perseverance audience but to emphasize the theater’s mission of telling Alaskan stories to an Alaskan audience, and to reinforce the connections between the state’s far-flung inhabitants.
“A little more back and forth will be good, I think,” Executive Artistic Director Art Rotch said. “In addition to the audience, which is the first big question about bringing work up there, it’s can we get more exchange within the theater artists in Alaska, and get to know each other more, because its so fragmented regionally and there’s so much talent all over the state.”
Previously the theater has sent select original plays on the road, such as their 2004 Tlingit “Macbeth,” which traveled to Sitka, Hoonah, Kotzebue, Valdez, Anchorage and Washington, D.C., and 2001’s “Moby Dick” which they produced in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Barrow.
This season marks a more systematic approach to taking shows on the road, with plans to carry the idea through the next five years.
The shows that will be produced in Anchorage are last season’s world premiere, “The Blue Bear,” based on Lynn Schooler’s memoir, and this season’s “Raisin in The Sun,” an American classic. Both will be presented at the Sydney Laurence Theatre at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
“We wanted to do an Alaskan work and a classic, something that people know and want to see because it’s famous, and something that sort of represents what Perseverance is about,” he said.
“The Blue Bear,” which premiered in Juneau in January of this year, tells the story of Juneau wilderness guide and author Lynn Schooler’s friendship with Japanese wildlife photograph Michio Hoshino. In the play, Schooler’s words, adapted for the stage by his sister, Luan Schooler, and Hoshino’s images, presented by video designer Greg Emetaz, combine in an entirely new work. The show in Anchorage will include the original director, Leon Ingulsrud and actors Ryan Conarro and Takahiro Yamamoto.
Rotch said the decision to begin the Anchorage season with this play was based in part on the reaction of Juneau audiences in January.
“I would give credit to the audience in Juneau for making that decision easy,” he said. “People just loved it.”
An entirely new set will be created for the Anchorage production; when it was discovered that the original set wouldn’t work in the new space, set designer Akiko Nishijima Rotch adapted her ideas to fit the new one.
Rotch said it’s possible that bringing a new play up to Anchorage could be a model for future seasons, an arrangement that would benefit the audience as well as the playwrights, who would see their work produced in both locations.
“Something that’s exciting about that, I think, for playwrights, is that they work really hard to get a first production and then their play usually goes on the shelf, it’s extremely hard to get a second production. So if we can do that regularly, we might have something to offer playwrights in Alaska or that come here that’s really unusual.”
“The Blue Bear” will run in Anchorage from Feb. 10-18.
Raisin in the Sun,” which runs April 13-22 in Anchorage, will first be presented in Juneau, from March 9-April 1. Based on the classic American play by Lorraine Hansberry, the production will be directed by Jade King Carroll (see story on C1).
For this play, the Juneau set will be trucked up to Anchorage.
Rotch said the process of expanding to Anchorage has been facilitated by the theater’s partners, specifically the Anchorage Opera, the Anchorage Concert Association and the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, which gave Perseverance resident company status while they establish themselves. All of the support in Anchorage made the idea possible, he said.
Rotch said the capacity at the Anchorage theater is 330, about twice the size of the theater in Douglas, which is 160.
“It’s a little bit bigger, so in a two-week run we can accommodate about the same number of people. And that’s great,” he said.
Rotch said the idea of reaching out to the whole state has been part of the theater’s mission since its inception.
“We’ve always, in terms of programming, looked at the entire state,” he said.
“Those are the stories we tell and the people we work with.”
For more information on this season’s Anchorage productions, visit www.perseverancetheatre.org.