In 1979, Anita Maynard-Losh gave up her penthouse in downtown San Francisco for a somewhat-nomadic new life - teaching theater in Bush villages along the Kuskokwim River with the Alaska State Council on the Arts' Artists in Schools program.
She went to Hoonah for a four-week residency in 1981, met her first husband and stayed for 11 years. It was on Chicagof Island, in their small cabin with no running water or electricity, that she first perceived the similarities between the Tlingit culture surrounding her and the Elizabethan culture of William Shakespeare.
"In my imperfect understanding of the Tlingit culture, there's a huge emphasis placed on the idea of balance," said Maynard-Losh, the associate artistic director at Perseverance Theatre. "There's the idea that the good of the whole needs to come before the good of the individual. When Macbeth goes after his personal ambitions, that's when everything is thrown out of balance."
Maynard-Losh's Tlingit-inspired adaptation of "Macbeth" opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. It combines two parts of her life that have seemed far apart: "The life I had in Hoonah and the life I had in San Francisco."
The play stars 13 Alaska Native performers and includes sets designed by Tlingit artist Robert H. Davis and costumes designed by Tlingit designer Nikki Morris.
"This is not my culture, and I've been very clear about that," Maynard-Losh said. "The people in the play and the designers, it's their culture. They bring so much of who they are to it, along with their understanding of where they came from."
"Macbeth" runs through Jan. 25 and eventually will tour to Anchorage and Fairbanks during the 2004-05 season. Its pay-as-you-can performance, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, will be followed by a free question-and-answer session on the making of the play. "Macbeth" was partially funded by the New York-based Wallace Foundation's Leadership and Excellence in Arts Participation initiative, a program that encourages public participation in the arts. LEAP awarded Perseverance $400,000 over the next four years.
Maynard-Losh's adaptation consists of Shakespeare's original prose, as well as some Native language. Tlingit (by Ishmael Hope), Gwich'in (by Allan Hayton) and Yupik (by Ekatrina Oleksa) are spoken during Macbeth's coronation. The costumes, characters and crests in the play are based on Tlingit imagery. Shakespeare's three witches are Kooshdaa kaa here, represented by land otters. Tlingit scholars Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Native storyteller David Katzeek and Sitka's Paul Jackson have acted as consultants.
"We're trying to make sure we're not exploiting or appropriating imagery or stories," Maynard-Losh said. "So we're asking advice and help in working with something original."
Oleksa (Lady Macbeth), Perseverance's new part-time development director, studied Tlingit folklore last spring at University of Alaska Southeast. Oleksa is adopted Tlingit. Her father is Ukrainian and her mother is Yup'ik Eskimo.
"The strongest parallel between the traditional Tlingit cosmology as represented in a lot of the oral literature I've read, and the Elizabethan culture that 'Macbeth' came out of, was that there was really a strong sense of the idea of balance in the universe," she said. "There was a natural order reflected in society, and when part of that society revolts against that order, nature revolts in response."
Jake Waid (Macbeth) is Tlingit-Haida and one-quarter Scottish.
"I've been really focused on theater and acting and not necessarily being a Native actor looking for Native roles," Waid said. "None of it has been dealing with my culture. So this was a good opportunity to delve into that."
For Tlingit actor and storyteller Gene Tagaban (Banquo), the play has been a chance to work with an all-Native cast and work through Shakespeare's language. Tagaban choreographed the dancing.
"I dislike reading Shakespeare, but I really like to watch it onstage," Tagaban said.
"Storytelling is storytelling," he said. "Shakespeare wrote of castles and queens, and we just take houses, beaches, leaders, cousins and relatives."
George Holly (Lennox), a former member of the Juneau dance group Yun Shu Kaa and now a senior in the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Native studies program, composed two songs for the play with the help of the Dauenhauers.
The first song, "Like a crab," plays off Macbeth's greed and begins in his coronation scene. As a crab has two different-sized "hands," so too does Macbeth: one hand of self-aggrandizement and one that's helpless. Macbeth abandons the his people, as a crab sheds his outer container (a Tlingit metaphor for ancestors).
The second song, "Daa Sayu," or "What is it?," appears in the potlatch scene, shortly after Macbeth arranges Banquo's murder. Raven tries to coerce Macbeth to dance, as the party crowd sings, "What is it? Is it something strange and different? Is it a rock? Is it a piece of grass?" Macbeth is overcome with guilt.
"Rock and grass refer to an old Athabascan story of Raven first making humankind," said Holly, an Athabascan. "First he made them out of rocks and then he decided they would last too long, so he made them out of grass. We sing, "Can you believe it? How that rock can roll? How that grass can sway?' Then Raven opens a transformation mask and inside is the face of Banquo."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Macbeth - Jake Waid; Duncan - Gary Waid; Lady Macbeth - Ekatrina Oleksa; Banquo - Gene Tagaban; Fleance - Austin Tagaban; Macduff - Wes Roberts; Lady Macduff - Shadow Hotch; Malcolm - Ishmael Hope; Donalbain - Raven Waid; Lennox - George Holly; Ross - Allan Hayton; Porter - Gary Waid; Siward - Gary Waid; Seyton - Sakara Dunlap; Hecate - Wes Roberts; Witches - Shadow Hotch, Lily Hudson, Sakara Dunlap.
Director - Anita Maynard-Losh; Assistant director - Chris Mierzejewski; Set designer - Robert H. Davis; Costume designer - Nikki Morris; Lighting designer - Tobin D. Clark; Stage manager - Susan Wilder; Assistant stage manager - Jenny Butler; Composer - Gene Tagaban; Sound designer - Albert McDonnell.