Experiences in Southeast Alaska

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 1999

They're not your typical playwrights: five actors, a waitress, a little girl, a police officer, a hair stylist and a bartender.

``Short Stories,'' the new production opening Friday at Perseverance Theatre, was written this spring by people in Juneau. The 25 contributors ranged in age from 9 to 90. They included Marcus and Mamie Jensen, who have lived in the area since early in the century, and Tlingit artist and carver Nathan Jackson.

``Short Stories'' is not a play with a typical beginning, middle and end.

``It's little snippets of everyday life that are put together to form a picture,'' said production manager Susan Wilder. ``We've been calling it a kaleidoscope of images, music, stories and dance.''

'Short Stories'

Time: 8 pm, Fridays and Saturdays; 7:30 pm, Thursdays; 6 pm, Sundays. Pay as you can tonight and May 26 - both at 7:30 pmPlace: Perseverance Cost: Tickets range from $13 to $22

The actors at times portray themselves and address the audience directly. Other times, they present vignettes taken from interviews with residents. Their monologues and dialogues range from pivotal life moments to ordinary, everyday happenings. Scene transitions are sometimes subtle, sometimes abrupt.

When Darius Jones landed a part in ``Short Stories'' several months ago, he had no idea that interviewing community members would be his first task as an actor.

He and his four fellow cast members interviewed 20 people who shared their hopes, fears, regrets, memories and insights. The actors also interviewed each other. The cast members, sound designer and directors then took those experiences and feelings and together wrote the script and designed the production.

``All the words are from people of Juneau,'' said actress Ekatrina Oleksa. ``We chose different things that struck us from the different interviews.''

She said the music in the way people speak, and the rhythms of speech, were also worked into the script. The speech influenced the choreography of movement on stage as well.

``We used not only what people said, but how they said it,'' Oleksa said.

The play is a collaborative project between Perseverance and members of the New York-based Saratoga International Theatre Institute, or SITI. The group was founded about six years ago by Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki and Obie Award-winning director Ann Bogart of New York.

Bogart, a longtime friend of Perseverance Theatre founder Molly Smith, came to Juneau several months ago to help launch the production. Two directors and a sound designer from SITI worked with the Perseverance cast for the past month. Guest director Leon Ingulsrud said the relationship people here have with their Southeast Alaska home is just what the SITI company hoped to express when it conceived the idea for ``Short Stories'' several years ago.

``It's exactly the thing that this piece is looking to explore - about how we live our lives on a real day-to-day level,'' he said.

Sound designer Darron West also offers direction. The old maxim about too many cooks in the kitchen applies to theater, and it's rare to find more than one director advising actors.

``It's usually not done for good reasons,'' Ingulsrud said with a laugh.

This is the first time they've tried it, and it's working out well. They share a common aesthetic philosophy, and have the same goal in mind.

``Because we work together so much, we're very aware of each other. It's been really great, and we're not stepping on each others' toes,'' he said.

Ingulsrud said West's sound design is an integral part of the production and incorporates music, spoken word, rhythm and sound.

``It's like another actor on stage. Sometimes it supports what's going on onstage, other times it's counterpoint,'' he said.

In addition to Oleksa and Jones, the cast includes Marta Lastufka, who's appeared as a singer and actress in a number of Perseverance productions. She performed in ``The Goblin Market'' and ``The Seagull,'' which also included Oleksa, earlier this season.

Gene Tagaban and Lonna Stevens round out the cast. They worked with Naa Kahidi Theater and perform with their own company, Raven's Voice Theater.

Oleksa isn't sure how people will react to the nontraditional format of the play, but she hopes it will make people think about themselves and their neighbors.

``I hope it will make people look at things in a little different way,'' she said. ``Like the way we take strangers for granted, or that we live in such a small town.''

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