A diary of a traveling theater play: Home again

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

Editor's note: This is part 3 of a three-part series following Perseverance Theatre's tour of "Up! The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair" through Fairbanks (March 4-6), Whitehorse (March 11-13) and Anchorage (March 18-21). "Up!" concludes in Juneau at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 28 at Juneau-Douglas High School. The play, written by Bridget Carpenter, premiered in Juneau last spring.

When we last left Perseverance's traveling tour company, the weary crew had just survived the milk run that dreams are made of: Whitehorse to Anchorage, with stops in Dawson, Old Crow and Fairbanks. UP! premiered in Anchorage on March 18, the day after St. Patrick's Day, at the Sydney Laurence Theatre in the Alaska Center for Performing Arts. It ran for four days next to "Lord of the Dance." We now rejoin the company, back in Juneau, on Tuesday, March 22, almost five days before the tour finale at Juneau-Douglas High School. Jessica Marlowe, a Seattle resident, plays Aunt Chris Shelly. At the conclusion of the play, she will return to Seattle, then journey to Nepal to direct a student production of "Macbeth" in Katmandu. Kathleen Harper, whose family lives in Kenai, is the "UP!" stage manager. She has lived in Juneau for most of the last two years and has worked at the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre for the past five summers.

• Harper: "Fairbanks was rough, because it was the first time we had put it all together and there were a lot of quirks and kinks and knots that had to be worked out, both technically and on stage. Once we got to Whitehorse, a lot of it had been worked out. It was redefining how to do it again in a new space, and everybody kind of spent some time together and made it gel.

"By the time we got to Anchorage, we had already been in two towns, so we really had what we needed to get done. I think people were starting to feel like we'd been on tour for a couple of weeks and we'd been going pretty hot and heavy. But people were also hitting their stride and finding out that they knew what they were doing. We'd reached sort of the zen of the show and how it all fit together. And we all knew that, 'I come and I have this much time to do my warmups, and I have this much time to get my props set.'"

• Marlowe: "I thought we hit our stride in Whitehorse and brought it to Anchorage. I felt we were just coming together. When we'd say certain lines, I knew I was ready and prepared to do my part. I was listening to the play in a deeper place, and I was moved very much by watching it through the sings, and watching people's work. There were moments where (fellow actress) Sara Waisanen would come off-stage, and we would just hug. Or (fellow actress) Alanna (Malone) would come back and say that was awesome. I really enjoyed it, not only on stage but offstage, when everybody's energy was really high and really concentrated. So (Whitehorse) was a good place to work."

• Harper: "The Yukon audience laughed at completely different things and they thought certain things were so funny, and you'd get used to that. It was very interesting to see that sort of thing - what the audience found engaging and what they found not so engaging. It was a real learning experience, what's going to work and what's not going to. Plus, in Whitehorse the stage was much farther back from the audience. And in Anchorage, it was right there in your lap. That changed things."

• Marlowe: "I'm going to quote what (artistic director) Jeff Herrmann said: 'I know that opening night was pure magic.' The audience was just really whooping it up. We had people yelling out bravo, and a couple of people standing up literally. We just felt good about the space, and we had been warned that the space acoustics were troublesome to most actors. I didn't find it so at all. I found it to be a really friendly active space. I think everybody was excited to get it started."

• Harper: "As far as (Anchorage) itself, it was really great. Our hotel was within walking distance of the theater. There weren't as many ride issues in Whitehorse. We were working in a union house The crew that would come in there were union house. We had to be very careful with the time we spent in there.

"(Opening night), the cast just really sparkled and everything went off really well technically. So it was a really good night, and it was well received. The audience can play such a big role, especially in a show like this, where there were a lot of elements of comedy and also elements of drama at times. When you've got an audience that's willing to laugh and give you those reactions, it really helps brings the actors out."

• Marlowe: "We opened (during) St. Pattie's Day, right next to a bunch of Irish dancers, knowing full well that Anchorage was going to party for four straight days. They're going to make it a holiday. "That first night, I have to say everybody was so funny. I think that was the first time we did a bang-up job, and then there were a couple really late nights with the locals."

• Harper: "Bernie's Bungalow Lounge. That was the most frequented. A very fun place."

• Marlowe: "As a group, there is a humor that comes between all of us that we have found in the dressing room or over a meal or in the van going from place to place. Everybody has a nickname. It's become familiar. And there's a quirky honesty and a very funny relationship between all of us, and I think we bring the emotions on stage when we're loose and we feel. That's the important thing that happened on the tour. We found our group's cohesiveness humor. I'm funnier around these people than I am alone. They make it funnier.

• Marlowe: "I'm hoping that high school kids get a chance to see this, because it's so much about ages 15 in the play. It would be like watching the first show of 'Death of A Salesman.' It's about family, and it's about America and it's about how we bow down to the dollar and how we often disregard ingenuity. It's very similar themes. And I feel like when we get high school kids, as we did once in Whitehorse, there was a huge exuberance."

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