For those wondering what it takes to get an hour-long, small-stage production mounted, consider that playwright Ishmael Hope developed an annual Native storytelling festival to make his latest show possible.
Hope said he first came up with the idea for "Brother" when he was 19, but he didn't have the money to put it on stage. So he started the Beyond Heritage festival in 2001 in an effort to raise money.
"That sort of started my career in Native theater," he said. "I made some money for the play, but I didn't finish the play. So it's just seven years of putting it away for a while and then totally revisiting, totally rewriting."
Hope will finally see "Brother," a play about a Tlingit family going through generational struggles, debut Thursday, March 20, in the Phoenix Room at Perseverance Theatre in Douglas. The Second Stage production draws from experiences within Hope's family and those of past elders.
Hope said "Brother" is not a definitive statement about Tlingit identity, instead it offers a segmented glimpse at one family's struggle for dignity amidst the clash of old and new generations.
"This is a noble family from great traditions," he said. "They're mired in this world. If you took a snapshot of this family, you might think it's the typical stereotypical trailer home: low income, drinking, sweating, swearing family. But underneath is this nobility and this strength, even in this cultural devastation in the past couple of centuries they've gone through."
The cast includes veteran Perseverance actors Jerry Demmert and Lily Hudson, and newcomers Andrew White and Angelo Katasse. All are Native, an important consideration even though it reduced the potential number of performers.
"The acting pool's pretty small here in Juneau, and we didn't have any money to bring in people from Outside," said Flordelino Lagundino, who Hope recruited to direct the play. "Those two (new) individuals were very interested and very excited about the project. They were really connected to the subject matter, and they wanted to do it."
It also turned out the newcomers brought undiscovered personal connections to Hope and his family history. His great-great-grandfather turned out to be White's grandfather. Katasse's grandmother, Elizabeth, was part of a story Hope authored in comic book form.
Hope even added to his family during the play's rehearsal period, when Hudson, his longtime girlfriend, gave birth to the couple's first child.
Such heartwarming developments seem appropriate for a production that's part of Perseverance's Family Play Series, but Hope said the play itself is filled with language and themes, such as abuse, that might not be appropriate for young children. He's also worried how those words in such a personal project will play with a much more mature audience - the elders whose influence he hopes so much to present.
"In some ways I'm terrified, waiting to see their reaction, because (the characters) have to deal with some hurtful or challenging things," Hope said.
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