New takes on annual programs and brand new projects are in Perseverance Theatre’s future, said the theater’s artistic director Leslie Ishii in a video interview. (Peter Segall | Juneau Epire)

New takes on annual programs and brand new projects are in Perseverance Theatre’s future, said the theater’s artistic director Leslie Ishii in a video interview. (Peter Segall | Juneau Epire)

Persevering theater: Stage is set for new efforts

The show goes on for Perseverance Theatre.

Despite pandemic-related challenges, the stage is set for new efforts at Perseverance Theatre.

In the short-term, the professional and nonprofit theater is gearing up for its annual summer program, and artistic director Leslie Ishii said plans for its 42nd season are in the works.

“We’re in these extraordinary, unprecedented times with the COVID pandemic, and it does require you flex that muscle to pivot at any moment, especially in service to the community, and to make sure we’re being responsible,” Ishii said in a video interview. “I feel that’s our mandate to make sure we’re operating safely and responsibly on behalf of our community.”

In the immediate future, that will mean a virtual version of the theater’s annual Summer Theater Arts Rendezvous program. STAR starts July 20 and runs through Aug. 7.

[Songwriter helps bring Blackbear to life on stage]

“We have a great faculty,” Ishii said. “Lily Odekirk is our program manager, and she’s had a little bit of history with STAR up to this moment, so it’s wonderful to have that continuity. She’s gotten some spoken word artists in there. We have our Alaska Native part of our faculty, too. Kolene and Lyle James will do movement. Erin Tripp is going to direct a scripted piece that’s by Frank Henry Kaash Katasse.”

A radio play, art in activism and more will be part of STAR, too.

Regular tuition costs $300 per student, but scholarships are available through the Zach Gordon Youth Center and for Alaska Native students through Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Scholarship application forms are available through Perseverance Theatre’s website at https://www.ptalaska.org/star-program//.

“Please, please take advantage of that,” Ishii said. “We want to make sure we can lower any barriers so our young people can participate in STAR.”

Registration for the program is open up to two days before it begins.

Looking further ahead

Plans for the theater’s upcoming season aren’t yet ready to be shared —Ishii said an announcement is hoped for around the end of this month —but technology will be a major part of the season.

“We’re hoping to do about a six-month announcement,” Ishii said. “We have some really exciting and innovative offerings. This opportunity to go virtual to make sure we’re staying safe for our community has opened up a really interesting opportunity and really a silver lining.”

Ishii said serving Juneau and Anchorage is important to Perseverance Theatre, virtual productions offer a chance for the professional theater by and for Alaskans to reach more people in other parts of the state.

“We’re hoping we can bring theater and our stories that we know heal and entertain and hopefully give a moment of relief with our storytelling,” Ishii said. “How can we lift up our artists of Alaska? How can we continue to be of service? So we’re really excited that we’re going to go virtual through the end of December.”

[Artistic director envisions inclusive future]

Perseverance Theatre’s ongoing efforts are shaped by more than one current event.

Ishii said the Black Lives Matter movement, equity, inclusion and cross-cultural values continue to be things Perseverance Theatre pays attention to, and a program expected to launch in August will reflect that.

“We’re identifying Black artists, Black curators that will help us curate a Black Arts Matters initiative,” Ishii said. “In this state, we’re so incredibly diverse that it’s been a fantastic education for me to get to know the communities around Alaska.”

In the meantime

While a flurry of activity looms, Perseverance Theatre has not been entirely silent or inactive since the mid-March decision to postpone the run of “Fun Home” that was supposed to conclude its 41st season.

The theater has sought grant funding and received some funding through the Paycheck Protection Program that Ishii said allowed the theater to bring back some furloughed employees.

“Going forward, we feel that we can definitely get through to the end of this year through December,” Ishii said. “But we will definitely need folks’ support in coming on and viewing and trying out that virtual platform. We’re working to create pricing that is lowering the barrier so that folks can tune in with us. We’ll definitely need the support of the community.”

Ishii said in her first year as the theater’s artistic director she’s found the community to be extremely receptive and supportive.

[Theater hires new artistic director]

“My first year coming into the artistic directorship, I couldn’t have come into a more welcoming and generous community,” Ishii said. “This is the way we build a knit-together safety net for these times. Hopefully not for a long time again. These kinds of moments of how we come together and support means the world to me. I deeply appreciate this community.”

The theatre has been offering live video theater workshops with Peter J. Kuo, associate conservatory director for American Conservatory Theater, and Ishii said a continuation of those classes is likely.

Additionally, during the relative lull, Perseverance Theatre worked with both City and Borough of Juneau and Bartlett Regional Hospital to create some public service announcements.

“That’s first and foremost on our minds,” Ishii said. “how can we be of service to the community and how can we promote best practices during this pandemic.”

Ishii said that commitment to community and best practices persists and is part of how the theater is planning its path forward —especially in light of most of the theater’s usual season falling in flu and cold season.

“We’re looking at all those possibilities and doing tremendous research,” Ishii said. “This is going to bring in best practices that we continue. This isn’t a one-off during COVID. There are best practices that I want to — that we will — continue.”

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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