The cast and crew behind “A Tlingit Christmas Carol” smile on a Zoom call. (Courtesy Image / Perseverance Theatre)

The cast and crew behind “A Tlingit Christmas Carol” smile on a Zoom call. (Courtesy Image / Perseverance Theatre)

‘Stave’ off the doldrums: Perseverance Theatre does something new with a classic

You’ve never seen ‘A Christmas Carol’ like this.

Perseverance Theatre’s latest release is based on material that’s been tackled by everyone from the Muppets to Bill Murray.

Despite the endurance and familiarity of Charles Dickens’ mid-19th-Century work, it’s unlikely audiences will have ever seen an adaptation like the forthcoming “A Tlingit Christmas Carol.”

“We want them (the audience) to feel the Christmas spirit,” said playwright Vera Starbard in a video interview. “There’s one moment that becomes a sing-along with the online audience.”

The play, written by Starbard and directed by Madeline Sayet, is a take on the Dickensian classic through the prism of Southeast Alaska Native values —including region-specific takes on Christmas carols.

That means “12 Days of Christmas” gifts that include Chilkat robes and bentwood boxes, Xtratufs trudging through slush as opposed to dashing through the snow and a miserly character having a boarding school mistreatment in their past.

“It’s really woven pretty much through every component,” Sayet said of Southeast culture.

[Sense of play: New production blends message with fun]

The show will be released as five staves that will be freely available to view online each Friday from Nov. 27 through Dec. 25.

“They really do feel like episodes,” Sayet said.

All five staves will remain available through Thursday, Jan. 7, which is the date Christmas will be celebrated by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Starbard noted that denomination’s prevalence in Native communities as the reason for extending availability through Jan. 7, which is also the day on which the majority of the ultimate stave’s action takes place.

Starbard, who describes herself as a Christmas nerd, said the play is actually one of the first things she wrote as playwright in residence for Perseverance Theatre and many of the carols featured in the show pre-date her script for “A Tlingit Christmas Carol.”

However, she and Sayet said the material had to be considerably revised for a serialized and digital presentation. “A Tlingit Christmas Carol” has a contemporary setting, and its characters are aware they’re on a Zoom call and of the impact of COVID-19.

Starbard said the change also meant the show’s actors essentially had to double as crew and handle their own design, makeup and lighting. She complimented the cast on their adaptability.

“A Tlingit Christmas Carol” is also informed by Starbard’s relationship with Dickens’ text.

She said even more than the play’s redemptive theme, she was always struck by Ebenezer Scrooge’s hoarding of community resources as being especially contradictory to the Tlingit values she was taught.

“He didn’t give to other people,” Starbard. “It was such an anti-Tlingit thing to do.”

Starbard said her version also pays more attention between Scrooge and his younger relative in light of the importance of uncles and aunties in Tlingit families.

In the Dickens version, Fred is Scrooge’s nephew and a kindly and wealthy man. Starbard re-imagines the pair as E.B. Scrooge and his niece, Freda. Both are presidents of Alaska Native Corporations with contrasting philosophies regarding philanthropy and management style.

Fred to Freda is not the only gender flip in the show, which features a Tiny Tina instead of Tiny Tim and a Roberta Cratchit.

“‘A Christmas Carol’ is a very male-focused play, so I very purposefully rewrote that,” Starbard said.

However, Starbard and Sayet said the broad strokes of the show’s plot will of course be familiar to most viewers as will the melodies of the music featured in the show —even if the lyrics, which Starbard hopes get stuck in folks’ heads, are new.

“They’ll hopefully be singing Southeast Christmas carols,” Starbard said.

Know & Go

What: “A Tlingit Christmas Carol”

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 27, Dec. 4, Dec. 11, Dec. 18 and 10 a.m. Dec. 25.

Where: Perseverance Theatre’s Facebook page,andPerseverance Theatre’s YouTube Channel.

Admission: Free

Twelve Days of Tlingit Christmas

Sung to the tune of “Twelve Days of Christmas”

On the tléix’ day of Christmas my honey gave to me

A raven in a spruce tree

On the déix̱ day of Christmas my honey gave to me

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the násʼk day of Christmas my honey gave to me

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the daaxʼoon day of Christmas my honey gave to me Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the keijín day of Christmas my honey gave to me

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the tleidooshú day of Christmas my honey gave to me Six jars of berries

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the dax̱adooshú day of Christmas my honey gave to me Seven salmon spawning

Six jars of berries

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the nasʼgadooshú day of Christmas my honey gave to me Eight bentwood boxes

Seven salmon spawning

Six jars of berries

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the gooshúḵ day of Christmas my honey gave to me Nine halibut hooks

Eight bentwood boxes

Seven salmon spawning

Six jars of berries

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

On the jinkaat day of Christmas my honey gave to me Ten canoers paddling

Nine halibut hooks

Eight bentwood boxes

Seven salmon spawning

Six jars of berries

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

Jinkaak ḵa tléix’ day of Christmas my honey gave to me Eleven beaders beading

Ten canoers paddling

Nine halibut hooks

Eight bentwood boxes

Seven salmon spawning

Six jars of berries

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

Jinkaat ḵa déix̱ day of Christmas my honey gave to me Twelve drummers drumming

Eleven beaders beading

Ten canoers paddling

Nine halibut hooks

Eight bentwood boxes

Seven salmon spawning

Six jars of berries

Five copper tináa

Four Chilkat robes

Three pilot breads

Two stoic eagles

And a raven in a spruce tree

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

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