Cultural Engagement and the Racial Divide

by Joanne Alcantara
from the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska
Volume I. Nov-Dec 2011

Perseverance Theatre, the only professional theatre in the state of Alaska, is situated in the small town of Juneau, Alaska. It is a town surrounded by a receding glacier, a mountainous rainforest and ice fields. It is isolated by geography accessible only by air or sea and like many towns in America are faced with challenges of the rights of poor people, workers, native people, minorities, women, youth, elderly and LGBTIQ community members.Over the next three years, the theatre will bring a variety of works to the stage with the potential to spark some difficult conversations. This spring, Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” will grace the stage. Since the theatre opened over thirty years ago, it will be the first production with a mostly African American cast. The following year, Perseverance will present “Defenders of Alaska Native Country,” a historical piece on the struggle for native rights by Ishmael Hope, a local Tlingit and Inupiak writer. Marcus Gardley’s “The Road Weeps, the Well Runs Dry,” which presents complex dynamics between Seminole and African American communities, will be staged in the 2013-2014 season.Through this series, the artistic team at Perseverance Theatre hopes to push the theatre to be a place for real engagement between diverse community members on issues such as race, identity, migration and belonging. Even in the planning process, important questions have already surfaced. What does it mean to do work on racial justice in the arts? How are community members impacted by the plays chosen by the theatre? What accounts for the racial divides within the arts community in Juneau? What will it take to strengthen our community?

The majority of Juneau residents have less than one hundred years of history in this isolated town, but most feel strongly about their home. Migrants all have their stories about what brought them here. Everyone has a story about why they stay. For many, it is the feeling of freedom, the possibility of dreams, a hunger for the outdoors and the wild or simply family. But Juneau is no utopia. The land has its own history, belonging to native communities before it was occupied and claimed by other powers, and today’s diversity is the product of political and economic trials.

Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” local writer Ishmael Hope’s “Defenders of Alaska Native Country” and Marcus Gardley’s “The Road Weeps, the Well Runs Dry” will all be staged in Juneau, Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre in the coming three artistic seasons. This three-play series, written by playwrights of color and addressing issues of race, class and belonging, will create new opportunities for dialogue and artistic growth. In a small community containing Alaska’s only professional theatre company, we are looking forward to these conversations, where art and community interact. It has the potential to shift and shake relationships, melting old ideas and deepening our understanding of one another.

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