For this Rose, it’s an Xtratuf existence trying to blossom amid the thorns of trauma that have prickled her Alaska Native family for generations in Juneau.
Perseverance Theatre will begin its 44th season with the world premiere of “Where The Summit Meets The Stars” written and directed by Frank Henry Kaash Katasse, a Juneau resident and Tlingit artist with a long history on the Douglas Island stage.
Written in just five days back in 2017, Katasse described the play as a contemporary Indigenous piece that brings the audience along a Tlingit woman’s journey in 2015 Juneau as she navigates through the peaks and unknowns of the intergenerational trauma that haunts her life and the generations before her.
The audience follows the main character Rose as she wakes up from a flight gone wrong on a mysterious boat with a familiar stranger who pulled her from what was almost certain death.
As they ride through the darkness and fog of the open ocean waters, she unknowingly walks the line between her reality and the generation before her that runs parallel to ancient Tlingit stories. Through the story, she comes face-to-face with herself, her Alaska Native heritage and the trauma that lingers through her.
The play is driven by music, dance and the culture of the Tlingit people and brought to life the cast of three Indigenous actors, Kenny Ramos (Anthony), Xáalnook Erin Tripp (Rose), Jake Waid (John) and musician and composer Ed Littlefield and apprentice Jill Kaasteen Meserve.
With a simple turn of her head and a shift in the lights, Tripp brought the audience from one location to another, one generation to the next during her performance at the theatre’s Wednesday night rehearsal. Her character clad in a raincoat and Xtratuf boots — with the tops folded down — reminds the audience that she too lives in this rainy town surrounded by Alaska Native history and filled with tourists.
“These characters should be people that you know or that you are and connect with these characters and build bridges between the Indigenous and Tlingit cultures and the American culture that we live in,” Katasse said.
The play is accompanied by live music and sounds composed by Littlefield and his apprentice Meserve who stood in a booth matching the set with various alternative instruments like pots and pan, buckets of water and a scratch board.
Katasse, who was born in Petersburg but grew up in South Douglas at the end of 4th street right above Sandy Beach, said he wanted the “Where The Summit Meets The Stars” to embody pieces of Juneau life that the audience can latch on to and connect with the storylines and characters that bring it to life.
He said when he originally began to write what would become “Where The Summit Meets The Stars” during a residency with La Jolla, he intended to write a comedy. However, the idea for “Where The Summit Meets The Stars” began to creep into his mind and overpowered everything else.
“Whenever you get an idea for a play, even if it’s just an idea it will just haunt you, so you have to just feed the seed and nourish it to see where it goes,” he said. “This play just sort of haunted me.”
He said the play came to him both when writing, and also in his dreams. He recalls waking up in the middle of the night with his brain full of ideas and plot lines he couldn’t figure out while awake the day before.
Leslie Ishii, Perseverance Theatre’s artistic director, said she was excited to start the season with Katasse’s work as she said the theater continues to strive to practice decolonizing and anti-racism while lifting Juneau artists and Southeast Alaska communities.
“‘Where The Summit Meets The Stars’ challenges us to look deeply into ourselves to heal and break the cycles of trauma as our families grow,” she wrote in an email to the Empire. “Katasse and his play affirms that Alaska Natives are tremendous leaders; a force for change as they revitalize their languages, culture, traditions and ways of life.”
Know & Go
What: “Where The Summit Meets the Stars”
When: October 7-23, times vary per performance
Admission: Regular price $45, pay-as-you-will at the door Oct. 9, Oct. 12
Where: Perseverance Theatre, 914 3rd St, Douglas, AK 99824, masks required indoors.