In 1952, Alaskan artist Rie Muñoz was living on King Island in the Bering Sea. She witnessed a most extraordinary feat when an impending storm threatened the fall arrival of the supply ship, the North Star. Rather than spend the winter without goods and their village priest, the villagers carried their oomiak (kayak) over the mountain to meet the ship in the calm, leeward side. It was an unforgettable experience, one she later told her friend Jean Rogers about after moving to Juneau,
Rogers, a children’s author, was so taken by the story she wrote a children’s book about it, illustrated by Muñoz, changing the timing from fall to “much closer to Christmas.” In the mid-’90s, the book was adapted into an oratorio, featuring a libretto by award-winning playwright Deborah Brevoort and music by composer David Friedman. The result was “King Island Christmas,” a tribute to the tiny Alaskan community that saved Christmas due to creativity, determination and “chutzpah”.
Originally produced in Juneau by Perseverance Theatre, the show was an annual holiday offering for a number of years, but eventually ran its course. Enter Sharon Gaiptman, Deborah Smith and Missouri Smyth, who, in 2010, were determined to revive the show as a tribute to Rogers and Muñoz.
In the past, “King Island Christmas” had been produced as a full scale production, with costumes and props and even sets. The trio decided to keep it simple, relying on Brevoort’s libretto and Friedman’s music to tell the story, performed by children from the Alaska Youth Choir and adults from throughout the community. Smith and Smythe directed the production, stage and music, respectively; Gaiptman produced and promoted it. The end result was seven sold-out performances and a contribution to the arts endowment in the Juneau Community Foundation for almost $13,000 in Rogers and Muñoz’ name.
Now, two years later, the trio is not only bringing the production back to Juneau for the upcoming holiday season and again donating a portion of the gate receipts to the Foundation in Rogers and Muñoz’ names, but they’re hoping to take the almost 60 member cast to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next August. The performances will take place in two locations over two weekends: Aldersgate United Methodist Church, on Nov. 29, 30, and Dec. 1; and the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, on Dec. 6-9. The final weekend’s performances will be held in conjunction with the Capital City’s annual Gallery Walk.
The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, which is co-sponsoring the production, is selling tickets through their website, jahc.org, or by calling 907-586-ARTS (2787).