Our Town?

Play about globalization, environmental change originated in Ketchikan but can be about any Southeast community

Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2006

The play "Bed Sheets" was conceived in Ketchikan, but could be talking about any Southeast Alaska town.

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Written by Evon Zerbetz and Erin Hollowell and adapted for the stage by Taylor McKenna, the play is a series of vignettes examining a small Alaska fishing and logging town as it grapples with tourism, globalization and environmental change.

The play, performed twice in Ketchikan, makes its Juneau premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, in the Egan Lecture Hall as part of the University of Alaska Southeast's Pacific Rim Forum. The performance is free and open to the public, but recommended for mature audiences.

"I don't think it answers a whole lot of questions about the future of Ketchikan or any small Alaska town that's undergone such extreme changes, but it asks a lot of good questions," said McKenna, the play's director.

McKenna has directed a variety of projects in Ketchikan with the First City Players.

"I look at the relationship that we have to our town, either as consumers or residents, much like the relationship between couples," she said. "I tried to use that intimate relationship between a man and a woman or a man and a man as a way of exploring our own intimate relationship with our town. Are we a caring, thoughtful partner? Or are we a selfish partner?"

pacific rim forum


saturday, march 25

7 p.m. - "beyond oil," a lecture by kenneth s. deffeyes

thursday, march 30

8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. - "identifying the intersection," a series of discussions on energy trends.

4 p.m. - new works for piano with stefan hakenberg, alexander tutunov and michael kerstan, uas egan auditorium.

7:30 p.m. - "hair," at perseverance theatre, followed by a talk-back session

friday, march 31

8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. - "at the crossroads," a series of talks on current energy and environment issues

saturday, april 1

8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. - "facing the future," a series of talks on energy outlooks

7:30 p.m. - "bed sheets," an original play

"Bed Sheets" premiered in 2005 at "Ketchikan Unzipped," the University of Alaska Southeast-Ketchikan Humanities Forum. It's intended to raise questions about industry, energy and the changing resources of small communities.

Four actors play a variety of roles: a gay Alaska State Trooper, his boyfriend, an abused wife, a banana, a kumquat, political opponents. The play does have a few recurring characters. "Dolly" is based on Dolly Arthur, the famous Ketchikan madame of the 1930s. "The Doll" is a modern-day shop girl, hawking trinkets to tourists.

"The nice thing about framing the piece between these two whores from different eras is that neither one wins," said Rod Landis, McKenna's husband, one of the actors and a teacher at UAS-Ketchikan. "It would be so easy to pile on tourism, but a lot of the communities in Southeast Alaska wouldn't even exist without tourism. We have to ask ourselves, 'What's necessary for survival and how do we reinvent ourselves as communities?'"

"Our community's become so divisive and polarized," McKenna said. "If anything, we're not coming closer as a community to creating a vision for the future."

All the scenes in the play take place around a bed.

"The bed is a site of intimacy, not just for sexual relations, but it's where dreams happen, it's where death happens, it's where children play," Landis said. "It's a really nice way to collect the images and the possibilities."

The bed that's been used in Ketchikan is too large to transport to Juneau. North Douglas wood artist Dave Walker, a university employee, has crafted a new bed specifically for the Juneau performance.

Zerbetz is known throughout Southeast Alaska for her illustrative work in children's books. She took one of Landis' creative writing courses a few years ago at the UAS-Ketchikan. One of the stories she wrote, "The Mirror," was a conversation between an abused woman and a mirror.

"She was doing some dynamic work," McKenna said. "At that time we weren't even thinking about our production, but Rod said, 'You have to look at this stuff that Evon's written.' It was interesting and engaging and passionate and all those things that poetry should be."

About a year later, Karen Polley, then the director of the Ketchikan campus, made a number of grants available to the faculty. She mentioned that she was interested in bringing edgy Ketchikan-specific theater projects to town.

McKenna applied for one of the grants and asked Zerbetz if she was interested in collaborating on a piece.

"One of the reasons I really wanted to take on this project was just to have a voice after the 2004 elections," Zerbetz said.

"It was the collaborative nature of the project that really appealed to me. I was on a children's book deadline ('Ten Rowdy Ravens')at the time, and I think that's also an interesting part of the work. Having these dual projects totally consumed me, and I actually really enjoyed having that diversity."

Zerbetz suggested Erin Hollowell, an accomplished poet whose work she knew through a writers' salon.

The two set to work on creating a large collection of poetry and eventually handed the file to McKenna, who began weaving the pieces together into a play.

"I didn't want it to be just a poetry recital," McKenna said. "I wanted it to come alive on the stage.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com

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