Alaska Native playwright Vera Starbard, who wrote “Our Voices Will be Heard,” produced this winter at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, and in Hoonah and Anchorage, has received a three-year grant, through Perseverance, from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
She will join Perseverance staff and fulfill a three-play commission for Perseverance Theatre during her residency, each focused on Alaska Native topics and issues. In addition, Starbard will assist Perseverance Theatre in its goal to produce more theatre written by Alaska Native playwrights. She will also help Perseverance build even stronger ties with Native organizations the theatre has partnered with for years, as well as develop new relationships in Alaska, and with Native theatre companies around the nation.
“Financial security for artists can be elusive. Artists must supplement their income, or work primarily at a job unrelated to their art to make ends meet,” Starbard said. “The opportunity to work on my writing full time is a game changer for me, the gift of time to research, write, and produce is priceless.”
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with the goals of allowing playwrights space to create their art, and to encourage a theatre culture that embeds playwrights within theatre companies, funds three-year salaried positions for playwrights within regional theatres across the nation. Of the 24 playwrights who have been selected for this national program since its inception, Starbard is both the first Alaskan, and the first Alaska Native or American Indian playwright chosen for the residency.
Starbard is editor of First Alaskans Magazine, and is co-founder of the Alaska Native theater group Dark Winter Productions. Starbard is Tlingit and Dena’ina Athabascan, born in Craig, Alaska, and now lives in Anchorage. She completed a novel in 2010 after winning a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award, and has won numerous statewide and national awards for her journalism and public relations writing. For the residency, Starbard will split her time between Juneau and Anchorage, two communities in which Perseverance Theatre has offices and regular season productions.
Perseverance Theatre has been working with Starbard for the past three years through Dark Winter Productions, and in producing “Our Voices Will Be Heard” and other short play projects. Perseverance’s goal with the residency is to incorporate Starbard into the staff, mentor her in play production, and partner on Native theatre building goals.
“Vera is both a terrific writer and an effective advocate for Alaska Native voices in the theatre. Indigenous writing is woefully under-represented on American stages, but thanks to The Mellon Foundation and talented emerging writers like Vera, we can begin to write a new chapter in our story as a theatre field including vital Native voices. This work matters because not only are Alaska Natives master storytellers and performers, Alaska Natives and Native Americans have histories too often misunderstood, hidden, or, worse yet, appropriated by others. Three years of residency and three plays by a Tlingit writer in residence at Perseverance is a great beginning to what I hope will be a much larger effort including other Native writers, performers, and theatre artists, to make an equitable theatre that honors and sustains the voices of Alaska Natives as generative artists on our stages,” says Perseverance Theatre Executive Artistic Director Art Rotch.
The full award amount of $205,000 covers a three-year salary, benefits and research time. Starbard also has the opportunity to apply for a development fund to learn and hone skills. The award includes annual gatherings and week-long development residencies at Boston’s Emerson College throughout the residency. The residency begins July 2016 and runs through June 2019.