Perseverance Theatre’s latest play is an all-ages pleaser with a message, said actors who will perform in the live, virtual run of “The Spirit of the Valley.”
The play, written and directed by Juneaite and Perseverance Theatre mainstay Frank Henry Kaash Katasse, tells the story of Tlingit twins Kaash and Shaa, who find themselves on the adventure of a lifetime. Along the way, they meet animals and learn lessons about environmental stewardship and responsibility.
“It’s going to be such a good time,” said Samantha Bowling, who portrays both bumbling and beguiling Bear in the play, during a video interview. “It’s such a funny script. It packs a good punch as far as the message is concerned.”
Some of the show’s intended messages are less overt.
Katasse, who said “The Spirit of the Valley” began as something like a writing exercise for his wife and kids, said the play’s normalization of Tlingit names is important to him as is the show’s all-Indigenous cast.
“So much of this is so important as far as representation,” Katasse said in a phone interview. “There’s going to be, hopefully, a lot of Native kids who will see this show.”
Additionally, Katasse said the play’s contemporary setting is meaninful to him. He said it’s important to show Native people and their values exist in the present day.
“These values that we had a long time ago are still here,” Katasse said. “They’re still with us.”
Bowling will be performing in the show from the East Coast, but the show also features actors and production from folks who will be familiar to fans of the capital city’s theater scene, such as Erin Tripp, who provides narration as the Storyteller, in “The Spirit of the Valley.”
“It’s a really, really funny play,” Tripp said in a video interview. “It’s directed toward kids, but I think it’s good for everybody.”
Katasse said his experiencing working with kids makes him mindful of writing for a young audience without dumbing things down or talking down to the audience.
“Having worked in theater camps and having worked in the schools, too, you realize just how sharp these kids are,” Katasse said.
He also said there are jokes, such as an ad-libbed reference to ’70s rockers the Eagles, that are likely to only be understood by adults.
Tripp said actors were given room to improvise and add personal touches to their characters.
“Frank wanted us to feel ownership over it,” Tripp said. “Making sure it sounds like something I would say. It’s been really fun that way, too.”
Katasse said the work’s been truly collaborative and noted Tripp’s role spun out of a summer youth production of the play directed by Tripp that was conducted over Zoom.
Information conveyed by stage directions doesn’t translate especially well to a virtual production, so a narrator character made sense, Katasse said.
Like Perseverance Theatre’s last production, “In Love and Warcraft,” “The Spirit of the Valley” will be livestreamed with performers occupying separate spaces. Unlike the last show, on-demand dates were not announced ahead of time, so Perseverance Theatre advises potential audience members are encouraged to see one of the seven live performances.
To create the appearance of shared space, Tripp and Bowling said the show features creative use of green screens. They praised the behind-the-scenes efforts of graphic artist Nobu Koch, costume designer Rochelle Smallwood and director of photography Josh Lowman among others.
“There’s a lot of great people behind the scenes that are making it happen,” Tripp said.
Bowling and Tripp both said theater has made a relatively graceful transition to pandemic realities, but live, virtual theater does present unique challenges.
“It’s an acting style that’s kind of a hybrid between theatrical and cinematic,” Bowling said noting there are some things she needs to monitor out of the corner of her eye while performing. “There’s a lot of trying to build the plane as we fly it.”
However, both she and Tripp said it’s a flight of fancy they hope families will take.
“We really take the audience on a super-fun ride while also delivering a really good message,” Bowling said.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.
Know & Go
What: “The Spirit of the Valley”
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6, 7, 13 and 14; and 4 p.m. Nov.8 and 15. There is a 10 a.m. student matinee on Nov. 12.
How much: Tickets cost between $12 and $27. They can be purchased at https://www.ptalaska.org/SOTV/.