As the new season of blockbuster Marvel movie franchises arrives with its loose references to Norse mythology, an even more epic and grand ancient tale is being woven this week in the capital city.
Thor, Loki, and many others from the Norse pantheon will be electrifying the stage when Perseverance Theatre’s Young Company in Douglas performs “Tales from the Nine Worlds: Selections from Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.” Performances will run Friday, May 18 through Monday, May 21.
The production, with 16 actors ages 8-13 years old, is directed by Julie York Coppens, who also adapted the script from legendary author Neil Gaiman’s book “Norse Mythology.”
The project began last winter when Coppens — a seasoned theatre veteran both on and off the stage — was travelling, and happened to pick up a copy of Gaiman’s book to read on a flight.
“Literally, before we took off, I knew, this has to be theatre,” she said.
The first scene Coppens worked on adapting was “The Master Builder,” which tells the story of how the wall around Asgard — one of the Nine Worlds in Norse mythology — was constructed.
“It’s a border wall, it was a stupid idea, it was completely corrupt in how it was conceived, and it was … a complete boondoggle,” she said. “It’s a great story.”
Sending along the scene to the publishing company, Coppens explained what she had in mind for the production. She was put in touch with a licensing agent in London, who worked with her to provide a contract and permission to stage her adaptation in Juneau.
Coppens said that she ended up receiving positive support about her project from Gaiman’s representative, and that in part it may have been helped by including a reminder of what the author himself wrote in his introduction to “Norse Mythology.”
“That’s the joy of myths,” he wrote. “The fun comes in telling them yourself — something I warmly encourage you to do, you person reading this. Read the stories in this book, then make them your own, and on some dark and icy winter’s evening, or on a summer night when the sun will not set, tell your friends what happened when Thor’s hammer was stolen, or how Odin obtained the mead of poetry for the gods…”
“I was like, ‘Hey, you told us to make these stories our own, that’s what we want to do in Juneau, Alaska. What do you think?’” Coppens said. She has since passed along her complete adaptation for Gaiman to read.
Though the stories being depicted in “Tales from the Nine Worlds” are centuries old, Coppens said that they hold a relevance and connection to modern theatre audiences.
“The fact that these stories survived as long as they did, as widely as they were told … there had to be a hunger for them, there had to be a human need,” she said. “Anytime you do anything with mythology, I hope it prompts the audience to think, why did these humans need these stories then, why do we need them now? Why do we need theatre now?”
Even the elements in Norse mythology that seem hopeless or dark, Coppens said, serve a vital purpose in storytelling.
“In our darkest hour, there is the hope of a new dawn, and to just remind ourselves of that,” she said. “Mythology reminds us of those big ideas, and makes sure that we remind each other and don’t forget that, things look really bad now, but it’s not over.”
Coppens said that one of the central goals of working with her Perseverance Theatre Young Company troupe for the production was creating a theatrical performance that allowed for agency of the participants in their roles, rather than “that kind of work where the kids are … just a body in a costume looking cute, saying a line, and standing where a grownup told them to stand.”
“This is a work art they are creating with each other,” she said. “Every important decision, we make collectively.”
Ten-year-old Arlo Davis, a 4th grade Harborview Elementary School student, plays Odin, father of the gods. Though the character he plays is very serious, he said, he has found the play to be entertaining and lively, especially with all of the dynamic activities on stage.
“It’s just such a fun thing,” he said.
Davis said the performance can be enjoyed by all ages, adults as well as children, and that in addition to the levity, some of the story elements have a more somber tone.
“Scene six is especially dark,” he said. “All the gods die. Everything dies, basically.”
“And then life is reborn!” interjected 10-year-old homeschooled Rebecca Maxwell, who plays a multitude of characters throughout the production. “It’s a story of how the world ends, and how it begins again, and then it ends again, and begins. There’s really no finish to anything.”
Maxwell said this was her first time reading Gaiman’s take on Norse myths, but has been interested in other tales from the ancient past.
“I like Greek mythology a lot, so I thought this would be fun,” she said.
Among the many roles she fills, Maxwell said that her favorite part she plays is the goddess Freya’s cat.
“They’re my favorite animal,” she said.
“Tales from the Nine Worlds: Selections from Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology” will be on stage at Perseverance Theatre’s Phoenix Theatre (914 Third Street, Douglas, Alaska) with nightly shows at 6 p.m. Friday, May 18 through Monday, May 21, and with an additional matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 20. Tickets are $10 for students, $20 for adults, and are limited to 50 seats per performance. For tickets and more information, go to online at http://www.ptalaska.org/young-company/, or call (907) 463-8497.
There will also be a sneak peek preview performance at 11:40 a.m. on Saturday, May 19 in the Egan Library at the University of Alaska Southeast, part of Community Day on Campus sponsored by Juneau Jazz & Classics. For more information, visit https://jahc.org/events/community-day-on-campus/.
The cast includes Axel Boily, Arlo Davis, Carmen Farr, Lydia Heidemann, Sydney Hood, Molly Joca, Rebecca Maxwell, Hazel McWilliams, Audrey Noon, Nina Rautiainen, Denali Schivens, Minta Schwartz, Kate Stickel, Clara Torgerson, and Cadence Ward.
In addition to adapter/director Coppens, the creative team includes costume designer Ruth Fulwiler, scenic designer Marley Horner, puppet/props designer Rhonda Jenkins-Gardinier, and lighting designer William Conrow, with music by Wardruna.
• Richard Radford is a freelance writer living in Juneau.