This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Betsy Sims’ name.
As its namesake spacecraft grows more and more distant, Perseverance Theatre’s “Voyager One” draws closer.
“Voyager One,” named for the iconic spacecraft launched late in the summer of 1977, is the premiere show of the theater’s 2021-2022, marks a return of in-person theater to the Douglas Island stage that has long been Perseverance Theatre’s home. It opens Friday night.
“I love this play because it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s thought-provoking, and it offers — I think — hope,” said Perseverance Theatre’s artistic director Leslie Ishii in a video interview. Ishii is also the director of “Voyager One.”
Spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, both carry gold-plated copper records that contain greetings and musical selections intended for any distant lifeforms that might encounter the spacecraft. “Voyager One” is set both in the ’70s and distant future. It focuses on both the low-level personnel tasked with shaping the golden records’ tracklist as well as a mysterious person who awakes in the far future without any memory of how she came to be floating in space.
Both future and past storylines are anchored by Erin Tripp and Jared Olin —both familiar faces on Perseverance Theatre stages and streams —and the voice of Kelsey Riker —another performer familiar to Southeast audiences —is prominent as an artificial intelligence tasked with gently interrogating the amnesiac. Another unseen presence, sound design from Rory Stitt and Betsy Sims, helps firmly establish a sense of time, too.
The visible cast led to some slight tweaks to Jared Michael Delaney’s play, Ishii said. When it was realized two Alaska Native actors were cast as the play’s leads, Ishii said a decision —one endorsed by the playwright —was made to incorporate Alaska Native language into the play. Olin is Tl’eeyegge Hut’aane (Koyukon Athabascan), and Tripp is Tlingit Deisheetaan.
Ishii said she was keenly aware of the importance of portraying Alaska Natives in the future after hearing a speech by Ernestine Saankalaxt’ Hayes, acclaimed writer and Juneau resident, that touched on both the adaptability of Indigenous peoples and the harm perpetuated by narratives that imply Indigenous people do not exist in contemporary times.
“We just thought that would be a tremendous exploration and an important one,” Ishii said, adding that it’s a way to continue to honor Tlingit Aaní (land).
While planning for the show was done during a relative trough in a pandemic wave, Ishii said concerns about a potential surge in either COVID-19 or the flu meant a larger production, such as the musical “Fun Home,” could prove difficult to pull off.
In light of recent case counts, Ishii said it wound up being a prudent choice.
The lingering pandemic will shape things for people in the audience, too. For starters, those looking to buy tickets should do so a day-and-a-half in advance of the show they wish to see, Ishii said. Tickets purchased online can then be printed at home. There won’t be tickets available to purchase in person before the show.
People seeing “Voyager One” in person will need to present proof of vaccination, wear masks, answer health screening questions and have their temperature taken at the door, according to an in-person seating update shared on Perseverance Theatre’s website Additionally, audience members will be unable to pick their seats. Instead, when purchasing tickets online or over the phone, people can make a seating request and the box office will take the request into consideration, according to an email.
The continued strain on Alaska’s health care system was cited as a reason for the recently announced decision to cancel an Anchorage run of the show. However, “Voyager One” will be available on demand digitally from Nov. 12-Dec.12.
The pandemic also led to some choices that will be evident on stage.
Ishii said the choosing “Voyager One” to open the season was a decision made with input from theater staff, and it was partially driven by the relatively small number of cast members needed to stage the play. Additionally, a talented cast composed of locals is helpful in a time when travel can come with extra health risks.
“COVID has become a major factor in every decision,” Ishii said.
It also encouraged choosing a show with a hopeful undercurrent to counter sometimes dismal daily happenings.
While the play does grapple with some weighty topics —an unplanned pregnancy plotline is unexpectedly timely, Ishii said —and feature some adult language —uttered in response to the unplanned pregnancy — “Voyager One” is ultimately a play written in the spirit of the spacecraft perpetually carrying highlights from humanity into the unknown.
That sense of uplift is important Ishii, said, and it aligns with Perseverance Theatre’s mission as a nonprofit.
“As a nonprofit organization, how can we be of service to the community, and that’s to stage a play that fosters hope, and that we will go into the future,” Ishii said. “Jared Michael, our playwright, is someone who believes in hope. This is the playwright as much of the play is for our times right now.”
Know & Go
What: “Voyager One”
When: Friday, Oct. 29-Sunday, Oct. 31; Wednesday, Nov. 3-Sunday, Nov. 7; Thursday, Nov. 11-Sunday, Nov. 14. Sunday shows are at 4 p.m. All other shows are listed with a 7:30 p.m. start time. Tickets can be purchased at https://ptj-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/PTJ/#/events.
Where: Perseverance Theatre, 914 Third Street, Douglas.