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Do you know what happened in the world today?

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2004

A stay-at-home mother believes George Bush is conspiring with Osama Bin Laden for political gains.

An oil petroleum distributor hopes the United States can finance the reconstruction of Iraq solely with oil revenue.

A Filipino postal worker cares more about the price of gasoline for his delivery truck than the price of war in the Middle East.

How do they get their news? Do they know what happened in the world today? And what do they think the world thinks about the United States?

Those are three of the 10 characters in "Juneau in the World," a documentary-style theater piece sponsored by By The People Juneau and Perseverance Theatre. It runs at 7 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, April 26-28, at the KTOO-TV studio.

Former Empire reporter Julia O'Malley interviewed 12 Juneau residents in March and April 2003 on their world viewpoints. She whittled their comments into a 10-actor, 40-minute piece, interspersed with live video footage, with help from former Perseverance artistic director Peter DuBois. The project is part of By The People: America In The World (www.by-the-people.org), an initiative of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions to start dialogue in small communities across the country about international events and foreign policy discussions.

Admission is free but seating is limited to 50 seats. O'Malley will moderate an audience discussion following each night's presentation.

"We sat down and brainstormed segments of the population, and the idea was to represent an accurate demographic," O'Malley said. "The project is trying to show how people have become alienated from the civic process. By starting these conversations, they hope that people will feel more engaged with their neighbors, begin to see their places in a different way and become more informed and more likely to participate in civic dialogue."

O'Malley worked on one play before, a piece with Sara Boario about their grandmothers. It showed at Anchorage's Out North Theatre as part of an under-30 play festival in January 2002

Most of the characters that O'Malley interviewed for "Juneau in the World" were in their late 30s to late 40s. One was a Juneau teenager. Some talk about Sept. 11. Some discuss Iraq. Some reflect on the morality of killing. Still other discuss their fear of SARS. All the interviewees remain anonymous in the play.

"The play isn't about people having anxiety attacks," director Alanna Malone said. "It's much more grounded in the times that have passed since Sept. 11 and since the war started last March. It's a different world, and what do we do about it? Maybe we don't agree. Maybe we don't know what to do.

"Each actor looked at the rhythm and the tempos of the text and tried to find the attitudes and the underlying themes for their parts," Malone said. "I don't think anyone will have any idea of who it is unless they were on the inside of the interview process. I don't even know the people who were interviewed."

The action of the play is framed around a living room, where a mother and father sit on a couch watching a television. The other eight actors are seated on either side, as if in Greek chorus. One large screen is set up behind the couch, and several video monitors are interspersed throughout the set. The 10 actors do not interact directly so much as share their opinions and transition in a readers-theater format.

"The father is kind of a working-class, folk-music enjoying Juneau-ite," O'Malley said. "He's outraged at what he feels is our country going backwards in terms of civil liberties. I felt like he was really persuasive, and he seemed most well-reasoned. I know he's maybe to the left of the spectrum, but I feel that Juneau itself is to the left. I felt like he was just a guy in his living room, and that was something most people could watch and relate to."

One of the characters, a preacher, says war can be moral. If a homicidal manic with a meat ax is chasing your family, would you shoot him?

Another character, the professor, talks about the dispossession of Alaska Natives in terms of the dispossession of populations in the Middle East.

The secretary character works 9 to 5 and gets most of her information from the paper and the nightly news.

"I think about this as a conversation between citizens of Juneau and between people and the news media," O'Malley said.

"There's this old adage, a southern woman's code, that you never discuss religion, money, your weight and politics," she said. "I won't say if I agree with the first three parts, but one of the things that has really deadened many Americans and made them feel disenfranchised is a lack of continuous civic dialogue about politics."

•••

Postal Worker - Carolyn Garcia; Anthropologist - Shadow Hotch; Secretary - Mary Lou Spartz; Oil Industry Worker - Ed Christian; Mother - D.J. Lindsay; Father - Rand Bigelow; Teacher - Patricia Hull; Priest - Mike Peterson; Cruise Ship Industry Employee - Patrick Moore; Teen Girl - Tess Cannon.



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