Widening our Welcome, Progress on Perseverance Outreach

by Joanne Alcantara
from the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska
Volume X. Dec-Feb 2014

In Douglas, Alaska, the new year sweeps in with a wild, cold gust from the Juneau Icefield. The challenges of winter are upon us and the Perseverance spirit continues on, pressing forward with the season and the changes it brings. The process of adding language on diversity and inclusion to our values statement is taking shape, with community gatherings, board meetings and an intentional conversation at the end of this month.

On January 10th, Perseverance opened the world premiere of Alaskan writer, Arlitia Jones’ Rush at Everlasting. This exciting new play brought lively women’s roles to the stage with a poetic story that captured the energy of the Alaskan frontier. As part of the opening weekend festivities, the theatre’s new outreach dinner and discussion group gathered again. Attendees included partners at Sealaska, Southeast Alaska Independent Living, University of Alaska Southeast and the Juneau Community Foundation.

At the very first gathering, the conversation revolved around the mission of the theatre and what it means to produce professional theatre by and for Alaskans. Participants dissected the language, including what professionalism in the arts means and who this term excludes. They also shared their own perspectives on the pressing stories that need to be told. This animated group provided an opportunity for theatre staff to listen and hear new ideas for making the theatre a more inclusive space.

At the second convening, with Rush at Everlasting, Artistic Director Art Rotch carried in the energy of the previous meeting and shared our internal process about the values statement of the theatre. He brought into the room the words that have been marinating within the staff: diversity, inclusion and social justice. Christy Eriksen, representing our partners at Sealaska, an Alaskan Native institution, fired up support for using the language of social justice, because of the sense of movement implied in the word. Participants shared the excitement of having an institution, like the theatre, in the community committed to equality and progress, a spirit not fully heard using the word diversity. Indeed, for this group, diversity took on a two-dimensional image of boxes and checkmarks while the words social justice rallied a vision for developing thoughtful and inclusive practices.

Rotch reminded the Board of Directors at their latest meeting that progress continues with crafting the language for the revised values statement. The theatre will have an opportunity at the end of January to further the conversation on art, inclusion and the theatre. We are pleased to have Leslie Ishii, an artist and educator who participates in Theatre Communications Group’s diversity and inclusion arc, available to meet with members of the board and staff via phone conference. She will help guide a discussion and provide the story of a similar process that occurred with TCG. The outcome of this will be a presentation to the Board for a thoughtfully revised values statement that we all believe is needed to guide and assess our work.

With these emerging conversations, the energy from the road weeps…the well runs dry can still be felt. What happens when a community starts to take stock of its history and wounds, clearly seeing the truth of its past and present? How do we redefine our values while continuing to be genuine to ourselves and our history? How do we move forward with existing power structures, acknowledging their contributions, while searching for a new way to understand and relate to each other?

In the coming weeks, a non-traditional cast for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, will grace our rehearsal rooms and eventually the mainstage in Juneau and Anchorage. The opening weekend of this production will present another chance to gather in conversation, assess progress and create new visions with our outreach dinner group. Other ideas that were generated from this group, such as ASL-interpretation, diversifying the usher pool and an on-site babysitting night will be explored during the run of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as the theatre makes strides in widening its welcome.

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