Annie Bartholomew prepares her banjo for rehearsal for her Victorian folk opera, “Sisters of White Chapel,” at the Treadwell Mine Office on July 5, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Annie Bartholomew prepares her banjo for rehearsal for her Victorian folk opera, “Sisters of White Chapel,” at the Treadwell Mine Office on July 5, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Play brings rarely-seen side of Klondike Gold Rush to fore

The performance will look at the lives of some of the women of the era.

After years developing and refining, local artist Annie Bartholomew will bring her Victorian folk opera to Juneau audiences.

“Sisters of White Chapel: A Short But True Story” premieres Thursday at the Treadwell Mine Office Building after a development cycle beginning at the start of the pandemic that saw the production torn down and rebuilt.

Named after White Chapel, Dawson’s City’s Gold Rush-era red light district, the performance is based on women who went to the Klondike and other sex workers of the era, Bartholomew said, whose tales often go underreported.

“I hope the audience leaves more curious about this history and the perspectives that have been overlooked,” Bartholomew said. “I hope the show inspires more collaboration between music and theater, and results in more Alaskan artists telling stories of this place and our history.”

One of the original sources of inspiration was an 1898 Klondike Nugget article about a woman, called Milley Lane where a woman brought low by unfortunate circumstances found herself boarding with one of the madames of the White Chapel district.

“We thought, this is going to be the longest one-woman play in the world unless we change it,” said Heidi Handelsman, the play’s director, in an interview. “It became an ensemble piece rather than a one-woman show.”

[Juneau man dies in motorcycle crash]

Much of the material that would inspire the writing for the show came from archives and material from the time period, Bartholomew said, like the Klondike Nugget article.

“I had so much to learn. It’s a new form of media,” Bartholomew said in an interview. “I wanted to use so much archival material, so that was a whole other beast. How do you translate this for an audience?”

The stories of those women who came north alongside those chasing the dream of the Klondike Gold Rush forms the bone s of the story, Bartholomew said: telling the story of groups who aren’t as well represented in media as others.

Annie Bartholomew, right prepares for rehearsal for her Victorian folk opera, “Sisters of White Chapel,” along with the music director Kat Moore, center and director Heidi Handelsman at the Treadwell Mine Office on July 5, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Annie Bartholomew, right prepares for rehearsal for her Victorian folk opera, “Sisters of White Chapel,” along with the music director Kat Moore, center and director Heidi Handelsman at the Treadwell Mine Office on July 5, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

“Yellow journalism drove people north. There were a lot of tall tales,” Bartholomew said. “We’ve got so many experts, it’s great. It’s local theater, but it’s so much more.”

The timing of the performance is auspicious, said musical director Kat Moore, a singer-songwriter, with its focus on women’s stories in a time and place where they had few overt rights and little power.

“This play right now for me feels very appropriate,” Moore said in an interview. “There’s a lot of light-heartedness to the performance, but the story is one about women’s access and rights and how that has changed in some ways and how it hasn’t in others.”

Moore praised the performance for looking closely at some of the ugly realities of the Gold Rush-era, bereft of retroactive airbrushing away of some of the pervasive misogyny suffused the culture.

Annie Bartholomew’s new Victorian folk opera “Sisters of White Chapel” will premiere this week at the Treadwell Mine Office Building. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Annie Bartholomew’s new Victorian folk opera “Sisters of White Chapel” will premiere this week at the Treadwell Mine Office Building. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

“It’s nice to take a nonromanticized look at the Gold Rush,” Moore said. “It’s dirtier and rustier,” Bartholomew added.

The play will be performed for free at a variety of venues around Juneau, including the Treadwell Mine Office Building, Glory Hall, Riverside Rotary Park and Mendenhall Valley Library. The Treadwell location is her favorite, said Handelsman.

“There’s something very special about hiking through the forest to the space,” Handelsman said. “It’s surreal. It’s magical.”

The environment and the weather could introduce considerable variety into the performances, Moore said, praising Theater Alaska for its willingness to play with the venues.

“You could come to the same site twice and see two completely different performances,” Moore said. “I think it’ll be really neat for the guests to see these beautiful instruments in these spaces.”

Music director of “Sisters of White Chapel” Kat Moore readies the space for rehearsal at the Treadwell Mine Office on July 5, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Music director of “Sisters of White Chapel” Kat Moore readies the space for rehearsal at the Treadwell Mine Office on July 5, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Moore said it was her first time working on this kind of performance.

“This is the first time I’ve done musical theater. Annie gave me lines, so this is the first time I’m acting too,” Moore said. “(You have to factor for) how much more theatrical you need to be. We’re not a pit orchestra.”

The all-female cast has been a delight, Bartholomew said.

“Everybody is so awesome. It’s such a pleasure to work with everyone. There’s such talent in the cast; we struck gold,” Bartholomew said. “It’s all Alaskans acting and performing. It’s such a dream to have all these gals singing my songs.”

That variety has been a huge asset, Moore said.

“I feel like I’ve learned something new from every cast member,” Moore said. “It’s been a joy to work on.”

With a limited run here in the next two weeks, Bartholomew said she hopes she can take it on the road in the future, heading to places where the tale will resonate with the history.

“We’d love to perform the show in Skagway and take it to the Yukon, eventually doing a run up north on the road system to Anchorage and Fairbanks,” Bartholomew said. “My dream would be to tour it in mining communities across Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48 that share a version of this history.”

A complete list of the free performances occurring between July 7 and July 17 can be found at theateralaska.org/sisters-of-white-chapel. Tickets for the Crystal Saloon performances on July 16 and 17, which include a VIP cocktail hour and other musical performances, can be purchased at crystalsaloon.com/shows.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 8

Here’s what to expect this week.

Bill Thomas, a former Republican state representative from Haines, announced Friday he is dropping out of the race for the District 3 House seat this fall. (U.S. Sustainability Alliance photo)
Bill Thomas drops out of District 3 House race, says there isn’t time for fishing and campaigning

Haines Republican cites rough start to commercial season; incumbent Andi Story now unopposed.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on May 18 at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Peltola among few Democrats to vote for annual defense bill loaded with GOP ‘culture war’ amendments

Alaska congresswoman expresses confidence “poison pills” will be removed from final legislation.

A celebratory sign stands outside Goldbelt Inc.’s new building during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Jan. 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Medical company sues Goldbelt for at least $30M in contract dispute involving COVID-19 vaccine needles

Company says it was stuck with massive stock of useless needles due to improper specs from Goldbelt.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 12, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A yearling black bear waits for its mother to return. Most likely she won’t. This time of year juvenile bears are separated, sometimes forcibly, by their mothers as families break up during mating season. (Photo courtesy K. McGuire)
Bearing witness: Young bears get the boot from mom

With mating season for adults underway, juveniles seek out easy food sources in neighborhoods.

A chart shows COVID-19 pathogen levels at the Mendenhall wastewater treatment plant during the past three months. (Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Wastewater Surveillance System)
Juneau seeing another increase in COVID-19 cases, but a scarcity of self-test kits

SEARHC, Juneau Drug have limited kits; other locations expect more by Saturday.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference Feb. 7. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy picks second ex-talk radio host for lucrative fish job after first rejected

Rick Green will serve at least through Legislature’s next confirmation votes in the spring of 2025.

A used gondola being installed at Eaglecrest Ski Area may not begin operating until 2027, according to Goldbelt Inc. President and CEO McHugh Pierre, whose company is providing $10 million for installation costs. (Eaglecrest Ski Area photo)
Eaglecrest Ski Area gondola may not open until 2027 due to CBJ delays, Goldbelt CEO says

Agreement with city allows Goldbelt to nix $10M deal if gondola doesn’t open by May 31, 2028.

Most Read