Youth in the spotlight:

S.T.A.R. program offers a hip 'Juliet,' a Tlingit myth, masks

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

Danyon Davis doesn't believe in "puffy-pants Shakespeare," and his directorial debut in Juneau is far from it.

Juilliard-trained, he has brought his experience working with kids in New York City to his production of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" for Perseverance Theatre's Summer Theatre Arts Rendezvous program for kids 8 through 14.

The play uses rock/R&B singer Gwen Stefani's hit "Hollaback Girl" as a jumping-off point to explore Juliet's decisions in her relationship with Romeo. Like the song, Juliet wants to be much more than just a doormat, i.e., not someone who waits idly for their man to "holla back."

The story begins with DJ Lady Montague behind a drum set, then segues into a brawl between Tybalt, Mercutio and their followers. Lady Montague and Lady Capulet are single mothers in the play. Mercutio and the friar are young women.

s.t.a.r. schedule

• what: perseverance theatre summer theatre arts rendezvous program, july 29-aug. 6.

• where: university of alaska southeast noyes pavilion

• tickets: $8 adults, $5 students, at the door.

• "romeo and juliet": 7 p.m. friday, july 29; 5 p.m. sunday, july 31; 7 p.m. friday, aug. 5.

• "salmon boy": 2 p.m. saturday, july 30; 7 p.m. wednesday, aug. 3; 7 p.m. saturday, aug. 6.

• "preposterous: a mask and puppet show": 7 p.m. saturday, july 30; 7 p.m. thursday, aug. 4; 2 p.m. saturday, aug. 6.

"(Shakespeare's) language has been alive for 400 years because of its inherent structure and integrity, but also because it's kind of a world view that is appropriate even today," Davis said.

"I did a lot of work with kids in New York City and saw girls kind of on the margins of a lot of major issues and being pulled this way and that, particularly in their relationships with their male peers. They're taught to be tractable," he said. "Gwen Stefani has presented herself as a powerful young woman and I think a lot of young girls can identify with that."

The annual S.T.A.R. program began rehearsals July 5, and starts its performances Friday at the University of Alaska Southeast's outdoor Noyes Pavilion.

Besides Davis' version of "Romeo and Juliet," maskmaker, teacher, clown and physical theater performer Roblin Gray Davis is directing the original story "Preposterous: A Mask and Puppet Show." The masks are based on traditions that arose from the religious practices of ancient Greece, and the puppets are in the 1,000-year-old Japanese style of Bunraku. Made by the students, the life-size puppets are operated with hands and feet.

The other play, "Salmon Boy," is directed by Shona Strauser who directed a different version of the story for this year's Beyond Heritage festival. The lead character, the salmon boy, does not respect his family's subsistence culture and is ultimately sucked into a river. Underwater, his new sea friends teach him to value his culture.

Each play will run three times between Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and available at the door.

Strauser and Roblin Gray Davis live in Juneau. Danyon Davis is based in New York City and worked with Perseverance artistic director PJ Paparelli a few summers ago on "Hamlet" at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. This fall, he hopes to work on his independently produced adaptation of Henry David Thoreau's first book, "A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers."

"The kids are amazing and have a great deal of imagination," Danyon Davis said. "I think the arts really seem to be a valuable tool in a community like this where everyone seems to have a multifaceted way of life. The kids really see their involvement as what it is in the ideal sense, which is an opportunity for the community to get together and look at certain issues."

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