The Artists Speak, Each Story Opens Hearts

by Joanne Alcantara
from the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska
Volume IV. May-June 2012

Marcus Gardley arrived in Juneau, Alaska last March, enhancing Perseverance Theatre’s celebration of The Land Marks Festival, a week-long exploration on the themes of place, identity and culture in theatre. In this time, Perseverance was able to have a reading of “The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry” and hear from Gardley on a panel of diverse theatre artists. The success of the week was in the connections that were built, and Perseverance hopes to continue the momentum as it prepares for the next season.

Marcus Gardley and Flordelino Lagundino connect as they prepare for The Land Marks Festival Panel

In the concluding panel of The Land Marks Festival, Gardley was joined by Ishmael Hope, Alaska Native playwright; Flordelino Lagundino, Artistic Director of Generator Theatre Company; Ed Bourgeois from the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Donna Walker-Kuhne from the Lark Play Development Center. Shona Strauser, Perseverance Theatre’s Director of Education, moderated the group and invited each participant to share their story.

Lagundino, who recently produced Ralph Pena’s “Flipzoids” in Juneau, spoke first saying, “I was born and raised in Washington D.C. My parents were Filipino immigrants who came in the 60s. I first came to Juneau to be an actor with “The Long Season,” a musical about Filipino cannery workers in Ketchikan. I was a grad student at the time and there were not many opportunities to be in a play about Filipinos, or a Filipino musical. As an actor, it was different to be able to put on the skin of a Filipino and speak from that voice. I think it’s really important to be able to see representations of ourselves and the theater is a great way of presenting a mirror of society.

Gardley joined in and spoke about growing up in Oakland, California with a large family deeply rooted in the church. In his life today, Gardley related, “To me, theatre is church, a place where we gather and support each other.” The depth of this energy was unearthed in the process of researching his play. “The characters found me,” Gardley said, “I had to write it. Through the research for the play, I tapped into our blood line. I’m discovering who I am in a magical and real way. All the characters are based on members of my family.”

Like Gardley, Ishmael Hope has also had to dig into his family history to research and write his play, “Defenders of Alaska Native Country,” which was read for the first time during The Land Marks Festival. Hope said, “I value my ethnic background, but I also value knowledge, learning and finding truth… My interest in indigenous stories comes from being an American and living in America. As a consequence of colonialism, Native cultures don’t die, but our masters do get endangered.” Hope has seen the focus of his work as finding and telling great stories.

In a light moment, Gardley said, “A long time ago, I realized I was a bad actor, but as a playwright, I can be on stage without having to be at the theatre eight days a week!” We are looking forward to the full production of “The Road Weeps, A Well Runs Dry” in Juneau. It will be an exceptional event for this small town where the story of displacement and migration is a familiar one for many of the ethnic communities. Gardley’s spirit and the strength of his family and history will fill the theatre and move our spirit and open open our hearts to both the pain and resilience in each of our own histories. What is your story of preserving and sharing your family history?

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