Bostin Christopher as a bellowing zombie chasing human prey. Erin Tripp as a bored Juneau teen plotting a car theft at Pel’Meni. And Tom Robenolt as a (very un-PC) gay Japanese ninja security guard confronting stowaways on a whale harvesting ship.
These three roles were among the many taken by local actors Tuesday night during WriteOn, a presentation of one-act, student-written plays.
Five students from Val Ringle’s literature class at Yaakoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School worked with Perseverance Theatre’s Director of Eduction Shona Strauser to produce their plays over the course of eight weeks. They were given few restrictions in terms of content, hypothetical budget and setting — and it showed in the completely uncensored, imaginative stories brought to the stage.
In “Outing,” by Bethany Carlile, a father and son on a fishing trip get stranded on an island, bringing out the dad’s “Man vs. Wild” side.
In “Three Junvenile Delinquents,” by Destiny Starr and Rose Jaynes, three Juneau teens steal a car (and a dog) and crash it in a ditch on Fish Creek Road.
In “Bonding,” by Tom O’Daniel, an electronics-obsessed teen learns to appreciate the beauty of the sunset, thanks to his grandfather.
In “Immune,” by Sariah Wilson, a group of friends holed up in a remote cabin discover the cure for a zombie epidemic that’s terrorized the world. And in “Whale Wars,” by Jonah Graves, two men with questionable morals attempt to prevent a Japanese whaling ship from carrying out its harvest. (Spoiler: the whale wins.)
Other students who wrote plays with WriteOn were Calvin Boddy, Sarah Higgs, Nikaya Lundy, Ruby Nashoanak, Davonte Peterson, Daniel Stevens and Dalton Wells.
In addition to being an interesting display of teen creativity and a springboard for conversations about censorship, the evening highlighted the skill of local actors, who delivered their expletive-filled lines with enthusiasm, bringing the teens’ unique worlds to life.
Participating actors were Christopher, Tagaban, Robenolt, Enrique Bravo, Bryan Crowder, Taylor Vidic, Erin Tripp and Hadassah Nelson.
The program is also an example of the quieter ways Perseverance works offstage in the Juneau community to promote creative education. Other youth-oriented programs include the Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous (STAR) program, Young Company and the UAS Acting Program.
WriteOn, produced annually in collaboration with the Artists-in-the-Schools program, involves classroom study, playwright and peer feedback, writing and rewriting, and attendance at a Perseverance mainstage play. Concepts covered include story structure, character building, point of view, voice, dialogue and stage direction.
The program was developed in 2009 with help from Perseverance’s Ruth Kostik, who brought three theater artists — Merry Ellefson, Ryan Conarro, and Strauser — into four high school classrooms to work with teens, with support from the Association of Alaska School Boards and Alaska Initiative for Community Engagement (ICE). It is now supported by the Artist In The Schools Program, a partnership between the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Rasmusson Foundation, Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and various funding sources in the schools.
This year Artist In The Schools has offered 14 arts residencies in the Juneau School District focusing on mosaics, collage, video, puppetry, felting, theater, creative writing, charcoal drawings, oil painting, basket making, marimba playing, graphic design and playwriting.