Creative Placemaking in Alaska

Perseverance Theatre Summerfest 2014

 

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This post is part of a series of four articles on Creative Placemaking publishing in conjunction with the 2014 ArtPlace America Grantee Summit. The Summit will livestream Monday, March 3 to Wednesday, March 5 on HowlRound.TV. View the schedule and archive here. In Twitter, use #ArtPlace to participate in the conversation.
 

The who and the what of Perseverance Theatre and Summerfest:
Perseverance Theatre’s mission is to create professional theater by and for Alaskans. We value community engagement, professional rigor, and regional voice.

The Theatre was founded in 1979 by Molly Smith as a theater by, for and about Alaskans and today is led by Executive Artistic Director Art Rotch. Perseverance was born in Juneau—the state’s capital and a community of 32,000 that is only accessible by plane or boat.

Now into our fourth decade, we’ve grown into the state’s leading professional theater, serving artists and audiences annually with classical, contemporary, and world premiere productions on our main and second stages, education and training programs for youth and adults, statewide and national tours, and outreach collaborations with statewide artistic and social service groups. Perseverance Theatre is the resident theater at the University of Alaska Southeast. Perseverance recently launched a subscription season in Anchorage, which is now in its third season, effectively making Perseverance a two-city operation.

Perseverance Theatre was born as a grassroots organization firmly planted in our community and state. We occupy a unique place in the heart of Juneau’s artistic, cultural, and social life and we are committed to developing artists, volunteers, audiences, and programming reflective of the Alaskan community. We are also committed to engaging artistic work which speaks directly to the Alaskan experience.

We are investing in cultural tourism and making a summer theater festival in 2014 with a rich mix of full productions, new play development, and training opportunities that provide authentic experiences in Juneau. This will not only engage our local audiences, but also bring to our regional summer visitors a vibrant theater culture that helps to push the creative potential and diversity of the unique place that is Alaska.

Perseverance Theatre Summerfest 2014, funded generously by ArtPlace, is a six-week festival of three plays produced in a rotating calendar. It will also include workshops and readings of new plays as well as a training component to further train and develop Alaskan talent.

How did we get here?
Perseverance has a long history of creating new work. A great deal of that new work embodies one of Perseverance’s core values: regional voice. In 35 years, Perseverance Theatre has premiered close to 70 new works.

Two of the challenges of creating this work are the distance and isolation of being located in Alaska. These also serve as great opportunities to be unique in perspective and specific in terms of the type of work we do.

Another set of challenges to this work is travel and outreach. As we look to further our mission of creating professional theater by and for Alaskans, we love the mixture of bringing artists in to Alaska to experience and exchange ideas and artistry with those creative souls who make their home here.

And finally (except for this blog post anyway), there is the challenge of reaching the audience, to forward the idea that inside this amazingly beautiful landscape is also a thriving and vibrant culture of art, artists, and stories that certainly have the need and desire to be heard beyond the borders of Alaska. 

We wanted a festival that would capture the spirit of the work we do in our fall/spring season programming; we wanted to find a way to expand our new play development process and give artists the opportunity to be exposed to each other; and we wanted to export the idea that Alaska makes really great theater and that as a destination, its cultural richness is equal to its outdoor majesty.

What has happened so far:
Oh, so much has happened since the planning began late last spring. Staff have experienced so many issues and opportunities, and learned much. The program doesn’t launch until May/June, so at the moment the focus is really on the logistics and making sure we are as coordinated as we can be. The following are just a few highlights of the journey so far:

  • Programming for the festival portion of Summerfest is complete. The rotating repertory of three production are: a remount of our world premiere production of The Blue Bear, based on the book by Southeast writer Lynn Schooler; a world premiere production commissioned specifically for Summerfest about the Alaska Native armed service called Warriors by Alaskan playwright Dave Hunsaker; and the regional premiere of the 2013 Tony Award-winner for Best Play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang.

 

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  • Festival producer, Bostin Christopher, traveled to the annual Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) conference. This year’s conference was simpatico in that the focus of the conference this year was “The Fine Art of Tourism.” Much of the conference was focused on integrating the arts into the tourism landscape of Alaska and was partially sponsored by the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA). ASCA sponsored the keynote address by the renowned Lenwood Sloan, an expert in cultural tourism, who gave a passionate keynote titled "The Magic and Chemistry of Placemaking: Formulas for Success.” Many of Lenwood’s idea are percolating around our offices as we move forward with our project.

 

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  • Partnerships, as always, are key to the development of this project. Perseverance is working with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to rent their venue downtown to present this work and be closer to the main hub of tourism. There is also partnership with the University of Alaska Southeast to integrate into the life of the campus this summer: Perseverance will house artists, rehearse the productions, workshops, and readings on campus, as well as hold the training portion of the summer initiative on campus. An additional integration with the University is the inclusion of three interns from the UAS student body who will work, train, and learn with Summerfest.

 

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And finally, one thing that has been interesting as we have worked on this project is that our main funder, ArtPlace, has asked us to keep track of both insights and questions for the community. This seems an excellent idea and perhaps by sharing a couple of ours, it can spark further discussion within the community, or perhaps even outside the community.

Insights/Questions:

  • As Perseverance has learned recently within our other programming initiatives, partnering is a major key to success. With Summerfest, we look to continue this trend and find partners that will gain mutual benefit by working with us on this venture. We already are working with the University and the Juneau Arts and Cultural Center in a variety of ways and we look to find further partners in the travel industry after this month as well.
  • One question that comes that is coming to the front is how, why, and when should an organization look to partner? What signals a good fit? How do you negotiate these partnerships? And, how do you challenge the organization to work toward new and non-traditional partnerships and make them work? When approaching a potential partner who can’t see the same benefits as you do, what methods can be used to bridge that gap?
  • Bringing a new cultural program into being is a major challenge. For all that appears to be similar to what the organization is doing, there are many new steps and curves in the road that can’t be anticipated. Learning that preparation and strategizing are key and require more resources and time then might be anticipated is a key lesson in learning.
  • Questions that arise are those such as: How much time should be involved in the planning phase before implementation even begins? How do you monitor progress effectively and be sure that the milestones you’ve achieved are leading you down the right path? How can you best model those who’ve come before so the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented?

Perseverance Theatre has always strived to be a theater of place—presenting and creating work that speaks specifically to the culture of what it is to live in this place during this time, a strong regional voice reflecting, gathering, and bringing a sense of community to the people of this place and those who visit here. Our vision is to make Summerfest a manifestation of this continuing mission. Here’s to the challenge and the opportunities!

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Images:

  • Juneau, Alaska.
  • Playwright Dave Hunsaker. Photo by David Sheakley.
  • Sloan Lenwood giving the keynote address. Photo by Clark Mishler.
  • Ryan Conarro in The Blue Bear. Photo by Jamie Lang.

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Thoughts from the curator

A series on Creative Placemaking in conjunction with the 2014 ArtPlace America Grantee Summit.

Artplace Grantee Summit 2014

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