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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Waking life: Actors rehearse the opening scene of the high school play "The Passage Inside."
For its fall play, the Juneau-Douglas High School theater department presents a story with few true characters, a plot and tempo that could change each night and a setting that evokes the human condition rather than any specific location.
"The Passage Inside" is Juneau's introduction to what director Roblin Gray Davis calls "contemporary full-face-mask, performance-movement theater" and it begins with the cast of 19 laying on the floor of the stage in a "sea of unconsciousness."
"It's very metaphorical," sophomore Michaela Goade said. "From that unconsciousness, you form. And then you're aware of everything around you: people, feelings. And then you start to group. And then you feel hatred and anger and you form a society. And there's conflict and war, and love and death, and rebirth and coping."
"There's a barrier between what's normal and what isn't normal, and we kind of drift into the normal part of the world," sophomore Sonne Kyle-Olsen said. "We emerge from these small beings, and we evolve and learn and grow. Each actor represents their own view of how they feel about the scene."
In general, the hourlong "Passage" is a sort of creation story, or at least a mythical story about the experience of being human.
As society grows and conflict begins in the play, two characters emerge and become lovers. The man dies. The woman searches for him and must cross the dark gulf between the world and the afterlife.
"The movements that we use convey meaning to our audience and other people, just like in daily life," said Davis, a longtime performer and director of physical theater. "As actors, creators and performers, we're looking at how we can express the idea and feelings and thoughts that we have through our movements.
"In one particular scene, we've taken the idea of birthing, looking at the first creatures emerging out of the primordial sea of life and waking up on the land and discovering a forest for the very first time," he said. "We use that both for the psychological and metaphorical act of coming of age, growing out of childhood and a realization of adulthood. Or it could be waking up in the morning and coming out of the land of dreams."
The play is accompanied by New Zealand composer John Metcalfe's "The Inner Life," a combination of ambient, avant-garde, classical music and electronica.
The production includes 13 different face mask designs. Each of the actors wears two or three masks, for a total of 44.
"The masks can really become anything you want them to be," sophomore Cate Ross said. "They can portray any emotion and any feeling, just by how you're moving your body. One mask has a slightly open mouth that can be either fear or surprise. We're expressing emotions through our body, not our face or our voice."
Production on "Passage" began with a workshop on the concepts of physical theater. The cast divided into groups of five and was asked to create a variety of expressions. That turned into a course on movement, as the actors explored ways to segue from one emotion to another.
"It's a really cool play," junior Eric Choquett said. "We're not constricted by boundaries, and it's not just about life on Earth. We go so much further beyond that. The show really goes over a lot of the human emotions."
"The actors created all of the choreography," Davis said. "This style of theater is probably something that Juneau has never seen the likes of before. It's open to whatever the actor-creator comes up with."