A new play drags long whispered-about Juneau history into the spotlight.
“Blue Ticket,” a play written by Maureen Longworth is based on more than 50 interviews conducted across more than 25 years, depicts a 1960s Juneau where undesirables — especially homosexual men — could be coerced out of town via late-night actions and a one-way, blue ticket for the ferry. It opens Friday.
Longworth told the Capital City Weekly she had been interested in the topic since she came to Juneau 27 years ago and heard an odd remark about why there was not much of a visible gay male presence.
“We were told there were very few gay men in Juneau because they had been sent away in the 1960s,” said Longworth, who is an active, visible presence in Juneau’s LGBTQ community.
So, she began talking to long-time Juneauites, picking the brains of elders and seeing who knew about the extra-judicial ousting of homosexual men. An amalgam of those stories helped form the play which tells the conflicted love story of a young police officer in a town where otherness could lead to a late-night knock and a titular blue ticket.
People who contributed stories include longtime Juneauites like Karl Schoeppe and Mary Lou Spartz who remembered people that were “blue ticketed,” and Shirley Dean, who was a police officer in Ketchikan in the ’70s, as well as dozens of others with first- and second-hand blue ticket insights.
Spartz said she heard some discussion of a weekend “gay round-up” a few days after it happened in the early ’60s, but was not aware of it while it happened or the particulars of what was done to get people out of town.
“Whatever it was, it must have been very frightening,” Spartz said.
Dean said she saw a frequent inebriate sent out of Ketchikan via ferry. Based on the culture of the time and stories she heard, she has no doubt others considered to be undesirable met a similar fate.
“I was a police officer in Ketchikan in the ‘70s, and in the official state training I had to go through in the academy, they did a course on sex deviance,” Dean said in a phone interview.
Homosexuality was viewed as a contagious, dangerous perversion, Dean said, and the training reflected that. The American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuality was not a mental illness in 1973, well after the events depicted in “Blue Ticket.”
“Everybody knew, but nobody ever talked about it,” Dean said.
The lack of discussion made public awareness of the sorts of stories shown in “Blue Ticket” spotty at best.
“I didn’t realize that had happened here,” said Ty Yamaoka, who plays a barber named Richard in the play.
Longworth said that’s a common response when she talks to folks about blue tickets.
“What’s so remarkable is that the answers are so varied,” Longworth said. “It’s just amazing how it skipped some people especially in a small town.”
Victoria Johnson, who plays Wilma in the play and was born and raised in Juneau, said she had never heard of the type of events depicted in the play until she spoke with Longworth.
“I had never head about the blue ticket, but my dad remembered it,” Johnson said. “That intrigued me more to be part of the play.”
Johnson said it reminded her of another often unspoken chapter in Juneau history — the 1962 burning of the Taku Kwáan village in Douglas.
“It is part of our history,” Johnson said of blue tickets and the burning. “You’ve got to talk about it.”
What’s it like to play a bland brand of evil?
“Blue Tickets” villains don’t see themselves as the bad guys.
Morley, a John Birch Society member helping to suss out deviants played by Dan DeSloover, and Chief Bill Glaston, played by Eric Caldwell, see their actions as the right thing to do.
That creates challenge for actors, who feel their characters are squarely on the wrong side of history, but want the “Blue Ticket” story told.
“I’ve never played such a terrible character,” DeSloover said in an interview. “It’s important to show this violence is part of our history.”
Aside from historical context, Caldwell said the characters, while detestable, are critical for the work’s dramatic structure, too.
“In order to make a play like this work, you have to have an antagonist make the social mores of the day real,” Caldwell said.
Despite the heavy subject matter, both cast and crew said there’s nothing but excitement about bringing it to stage.
“It’s been a really wonderful kind of serendipitous experience,” said director Roblin Gray Davis.
Longworth, who started shaping the stories she heard into a play about five years ago, said it’s hard to believe her work is coming to a Juneau stage. The play was produced by Patricia Hull and made possible with support from the City and Borough of Juneau, the Juneau Community Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation and Holy Trinity church.
“I can’t believe it,” Longworth said. “Especially since I’ve been so long at it. This is sort of like having a baby with a five-year gestation.”
Know & Go
What: “Blue Ticket”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct.17-Sunday Oct. 20; Thursday, Oct. 24-Sunday, Oct.27; Friday, Nov.1 and Saturday Nov. 2. 3 p.m. Sunday Nov. 3. There will be a post-show discussion Oct. 19 and a pre-show discussion Nov.3
Where: McPhetres Hall, 325 Gold St.
Admission: $5-$24. Tickets are available through jahc.org. The play includes brief violence, suggested sexual misconduct and references to suicide. It is recommended for mature middle school-aged students and older.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.