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For director Maynard-Losh, 'Treasure Island' marks a homecoming

Posted: November 7, 2013 - 12:02am
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Anita Maynard-Losh directs Perseverance Theatre's production of "Treasure Island."  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Anita Maynard-Losh directs Perseverance Theatre's production of "Treasure Island."

It’s been a while since Anita Maynard-Losh has directed a play at Perseverance Theatre; 2004’s Tlingit “Macbeth” was her last local production before she moved to Washington, D.C., later that year. But in terms of her lasting influence on the theater and the Juneau community, she’s never really left.

In addition to stretching the company’s repertoire and reputation with plays like “Macbeth,” which ended up going all the way to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. in 2007, Maynard-Losh was instrumental in establishing key community outreach projects in the 1990s, projects that continue to thrive more than a decade later.

She founded the Young Company, reenergized the STAR program, and helped establish a theater minor at the University of Alaska Southeast. She also brought Shona Strauser up from Seattle to head up the theater’s education department, ensuring that these programs would be in good hands moving forward. Maynard-Losh said among the many pleasures of coming back to Juneau to direct the theater’s current production, “Treasure Island,” is the joy she takes in seeing that the programs she helped to create are still going strong.

“I was lucky to be involved in the beginnings of a lot of wonderful things that have gone on to become yet more wonderful in my absence,” she said.

Maynard-Losh arrived five weeks ago to begin work on “Treasure Island,” opening Friday at the Douglas theater. She would have been back sooner, she said, but finding a way to take an extended leave from her job as director of community engagement at the prestigious Arena Stage in D.C., wasn’t easy. Luckily, her boss at Arena Stage, artistic director Molly Smith, has a soft spot for Perseverance: Smith, also a former Juneauite, founded the theater in 1979.

“I was fortunate that Molly Smith said, ‘Go ahead, feel free. Just be available,” Maynard-Losh said with a laugh.

Maynard-Losh began her Perseverance experience in 1982 as an actor, and became increasingly involved over the next 20 years, working as the theater’s education director and associate artistic director under Smith, and directing at least 18 plays. She left town in 2004 to take the position at Arena Stage and has been back to Alaska only a handful of times.

Coming back to direct at the theater where she established herself as an artist has been rewarding, she said, and fitting for the current project.

“‘Treasure Island’ is a coming-of-age story and I feel like I came of age as an artist at Perseverance,” she said. “I think I always will have that connection. ,,, It’s been a homecoming of sorts.”

Maynard-Losh said she was also attracted to the project due to the strength of the script, adapted by playwright Ken Ludwig from the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.

“When I read it, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and I thought, ‘Why am I so excited by this? I know how it ends!” She laughed. “But there’s something about that adventurous trajectory of the piece that keeps you interested and excited. And there are tons of sword fights, tons of on-stage combat.”

Maynard-Losh said one of the interesting things about the original story is that the imagery Stevenson created is now so iconic we don’t even think of it as being the product of one writer’s imagination.

“So many of the images we have of pirates come right out of that book,” she said. “If you think of a pirate, you might have this image of a one-legged man with a parrot on his shoulder. Well, there was no one-legged man with a parrot on his shoulder before this book. ‘Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum’? Robert Louis Stevenson wrote those words. He made that song up! Or the whole idea of buried treasure, a treasure map, and “X marks the spot” — it’s become iconic pirate imagery, pirate lore, but when he wrote it, it was really brand new.”

Maynard-Losh said one of the challenges in preparing the show was to find a balance between that iconic imagery — which can veer into cartoonishness — with historical realism. In preparation, she did extensive historical research on the story, on Stevenson, and on actual pirates of the time.

“This kind of piracy was a real thing. It’s not made up. We have a kind of cartoony or caricature idea of what a pirate is,” she said. “So we’re trying to play against that a little bit and say ‘These are real people,’ because they were real people.”

Ludwig highlights this aspect of the script, she said, in choosing real-life names for some pirates, like Calico Jack, a historical figure whom Maynard-Losh was able to research.

Also a challenge: a script that calls for an inordinate amount of on-stage fighting with swords, cutlasses, daggers and other sharp objects. In making the fight scenes realistic, Maynard-Losh called in fight expert Jessica Jacob of Anchorage. For other scenes, she had to improvise.

“The stage directions in this play (include things like) ‘And then he’s run over by a carriage pulled by horses on stage and dies a gruesome death!’ Thanks a lot, Ken. Of course you can’t do that on stage.”

In making these scenes work, Maynard-Losh drew on the talents of lighting designer Paul Hackenmueller, sound designer Amy Altadonna and set director Art Rotch, who also serves as artistic director of the theater. Rotch was one of the familiar faces at the theater for Maynard-Losh when she returned, as was Marta Lastufka, who designed the costumes for “Treasure Island.”

Maynard-Losh praised the talents of her cast, especially Aaron Aquino Abella (as young Jim Hawkins) and Bostin Christopher (Long John Silver). Also in the lineup is Dan Reaume (Blind Pew/Israel Hands), Shadow Meienberg (Anne Bonny), Enrique Bravo (as Dr. Livesey/Captain Flint), Tom Robenolt (as Squire Trelawney/Billy Bones), Jerry Demmert (Captain Smollet/Black Dog), Eric Vang (Ben Gunn/Jemmy Rathbone), Erin Tripp (Justice Death), Ryan Wilson (Ezekiel Hazard/Tom Morgan) and Jeremy Kotler (George Merry). Stage manager is Olivia Tymon.

In addition to getting the chance to reacquaint herself with Juneau’s acting community, Maynard-Losh has welcomed the opportunity to direct, something she doesn’t often get an opportunity to do.

“I’ve directed readings and workshops, mostly of new work. And I’ve taken time to go away and direct. But when I’m in D.C. I’m either working at Arena or I’m working at Arena,” she laughed. “With a few stops at home every so often.”

In her current position, Maynard-Losh manages many different outreach programs, from after school workshops for kids to skill-building seminars for professional actors.

One recent project, called Voices of Now, took her and three other members of her team to India, where they led local youths in writing autobiographical plays that examined issues that were important to them.

“We had a life changing experience there, really seeing the transformational power of theater in people’s lives.”

This December, with the backing of the US Department of State, Maynard-Losh and her team will travel to Croatia to work with physically-disabled teenagers, and in January will head back to India to bring the program to additional cities. Maynard-Losh said the program incorporates the young actors’ own words into plays, emphasizing the idea that their personal stories, told through theater, are important.

“That’s the way we talk about it with young people: you have important stories that people need to hear, something to contribute that no one else but you can contribute,” she said. “I think that’s a wonderful and magical part about art, that only you can make your art. Only you have your experience to bring to it. And if you don’t make it, it doesn’t exist. It seems really obvious, but when you think about it, it isn’t. People don’t realize sometimes how distinctive their own voice is.”

Maynard-Losh has always had an affinity for working with young artists. She first came to Alaska to participate in the Artists in the Schools program in 1979. Her first stop was Juneau, and her first hosts were Jean and George Rogers, who soon became “huge, important figures” in her life.

A few years later she met her first husband, now deceased, in Hoonah, and the couple spent the next 11 years in that community, with Maynard-Losh commuting to Juneau to take part in theater projects when she could. She met her second husband, Toby Clark, at Perseverance. Clark is also a musician who frequently comes back to Juneau for Juneau jazz and Classics performances, and sometimes, Maynard-Losh said, he comes back from his visits with a wistful look in his eye, talking about the many pleasures of Juneau’s arts community. The connections they both have with the city will never be severed, Maynard-Losh said, despite the infrequency of her own visits to town, and her satisfaction with her life in D.C.

“Perseverance holds a special place in my heart and always will — as Juneau does,” she said.

“Treasure Island” opens Friday and runs through Dec. 8. For more and for ticket information, visit www.perseverancetheatre.org/shows/treasureisland.html.

For more on Arena Stage, visit www.arenastage.org.

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