STAR backstage: learning the language

Director and actor George Holly, second from left, leads actors Virginia Roldan, 15, left, Corinne James, 8, Raven Ward, right, through a rehearsal of The Bailer at the Back of the Boat at the Noyes Pavillion at the University of Alaska Southeast on last Thursday. Along with The Bailer at the Back of the Boat, performances of Pirates of Penzance Jr. and Romeo and Juliet are being produced. Performances run through Aug. 12 at the Noyes Pavilion on the UAS campus. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Festival passes, which are good for three performances, are $25. Tickets may be purchased at the door.

Perseverance Theatre’s summer program for youth culminates this week with final performances of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Pirates of Penzance” and Ishmael Hope’s new play “The Bailer at the Back of the Boat.”


All shows are staged at UAS’ Noyes Pavilion on a unit set designed by Erik Chadwell. The symmetrical, multi-leveled, angular set offers unique spaces for the very different stories to be told. Colorful banners and simple props help establish the different worlds of each show.

Another strong element is the work of costume designer Rick Silaj. Each actor is individually fitted and dressed head to toe in a costume from Perseverance’s collection. “Pirates of Penzance” costumes stay within a time period and have a very British flair. “Romeo and Juliet” costumes are ageless, pulled from many periods, but color-coordinated, with Capulets in purples and Montagues in greens. For the Alaska Native story, “Bailer at the Back of the Boat,” performers wear a base costume with added elements — octopus bags, a bear skin cape and Tlingit regalia.

As director of the program this summer, I was able to peek in on the 42 actors as they rehearsed the past four weeks in classrooms at UAS. Each of this year’s STAR directors had to address the challenge of language with their young performers.

Actor and teaching artist Dawn Kolden directed “Pirates” with assistance from Thunder Mountain High School music teacher Tyree Pini and pianist Jacque Farnsworth. STAR graduate Jessica Jones served as assistant director. Kolden and Pini hit the songs early and practiced, practiced, practiced to master the syntax, diction and wordiness of Gilbert and Sullivan. At 6-feet plus, Pini stands far above his singers. It was easy to see his mouth exaggerate the words as he conducted soloist and ensemble rehearsals. Kolden worked on unpacking the story with actors. In a sweet, encouraging way with a huge smile she asked an ensemble, “I have NO idea what you are saying in that song. Do you? We’ve got to figure it out so you can show us with your bodies and your faces and with energy in your voices.” Kolden is like Tinkerbell in many ways, flitting about the room, adding light and energy and a little madness, as she sets up playful choreography. While Kolden figures out how pirates should pose with swords held high, British bobbies practice their duck-like march in the hallway. Kolden believes in assigning students the responsibility of helping each other learn. She directs by showing postures and shapes with her own body, offering kids images to think about, and setting up big pictures step by step. She is very fun to watch. So is her show. “Pirates of Penzance” plays on Saturday, Aug. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

Theatre in the Rough regular Donnie Gott directed “Romeo and Juliet” using an adaptation created by The Seattle Shakespeare Company. Rehearsals began with a table talk, a theater tradition in which actors sit around a table, read the script, and talk about the dimensions of the play and the characters. Understanding the story and the words was a continuous process guided by assistant director and STAR Education Intern Haley Pelissier. A classics major, she easily provided non-stop assistance not only with the words, but with dance. As Gott began blocking while actors read their lines, she offered insights into the subtext of the lines to help the young people make physical and vocal choices. When encouraging Juliet to be bold, Gott explained, “When your mom tells you to marry Paris, you really want to scream at her, but you can’t. You must protect Romeo. Show me that tension. I want to SEE it on your face and HEAR it in your voice.” When talking to actors, Gott’s voice zings with enthusiasm, and her understanding and love of the language carries through to the cast, Do not fear this Shakespeare. The students on stage know their parts and play them well, and the production moves along at a quick pace. The final performance of “Romeo and Juliet” is this Friday, Aug. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Songwriter and performer George Holly directed and performs in “The Bailer at the Back of the Boat.” The brand new script crafted by Ishmael Hope is a salute to those who have come before, the elders who tell stories to teach young people important lessons about life. Moments in the history of local Tlingit people are described and staged. Holly helped his cast speak Tlingit, as did playwright Hope, and songs in Tlingit are interwoven into the text. Translations are embedded into the performed stories, making this an entertaining and educational work. STAR graduate Austin Tagaban, a performer in the play, served as Holly’s assistant director and also as props master for the entire STAR company. Holly helped his actors better understand the Tlingit culture by inviting them to join him for a salmon dinner on the beach and a dip in the cold waters of Southeast Alaska. “The Bailer at the Back of the Boat” plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m. Tickets, $10 for adults and $5 for students, are available only at the door.

Perseverance Theatre’s Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous, begun in 1982, is a five-week program open to kids ages 10 to 18. For more information, visit


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Area students pursuing artistic excellence may apply for scholarships as part of the Margaret Frans Brady Fund.

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