Perseverance Theatre’s 40th Season opener now in rehearsal:
Irene Bedard will play the Stage Manager in an all-Alaskan Our Town for a new generation
JUNEAU, Alaska – Irene Bedard, the Anchorage-born actor of Native descent who gave voice to Pocahontas in the Disney animated films, among other groundbreaking roles, will play the Stage Manager in Perseverance Theatre’s 40th season opener, Our Town. The iconic American drama by Thornton Wilder, featuring an all-Alaskan cast directed by Art Rotch, will play Oct. 5-Nov. 3 at the theatre in Juneau, and Nov. 9-25 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts in Anchorage.
Bedard will also take on a leading role in Whale Song, the world-premiere play by Cathy Taganak Rexford (Inupiaq) that will perform through the month of February in Juneau, and March 8-17 in Anchorage.
An alumna of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she studied theatre on a full scholarship, Bedard has ancestral ties to the Inupiaq, Yupik, and Métis Cree nations, and she has family connections to Perseverance: her brother Joe Bedard is the board president, and her sister-in-law Vera Starbard (Tlingit/Denaina) is a playwright-in-residence. Joining the Perseverance ensemble has been a long-held wish, Bedard said, though a busy film and television career—from the trailblazing 1998 indie hit Smoke Signals to recent appearances on Westworld and The Mist—always prevented it. (She also has a 15-year-old son.)
Now, Bedard is taking the Perseverance stage for the first time, in a part historically associated with white leading men: Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, Paul Newman and Spalding Gray, to name a few famous interpreters. In recent years, more women and people of color have claimed the presiding role, as well as Our Town itself. A Pulitzer Prize-winner from 1938, and still one of the most-performed plays on American stages, Our Town has outgrown its unfair reputation as a quaint Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
“This is a play about being a human being,” Bedard said. “It’s about the human spirit, it’s about life and death and birth and loss and grief and forgiveness and family and togetherness. So of all the plays where I could circle back and be on stage in Alaska—I think it’s wonderful that it’s this play.”
Director Art Rotch said Alaskan audiences will see themselves clearly in the play’s three straightforward acts, which center on daily life, love and marriage, and death—and in the play’s characters, the flawed but endearing parents, children, town leaders, gossips, and ne’er-do-wells who make up the tight-knit Grover’s Corners community.
“You’ll know these people,” Rotch said. “Thornton Wilder’s writing is so iconic and so relatable—everybody gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, everybody knows the intimacy of those family relationships and those love relationships. And we’re all mortal.”
In addition to the nontraditional casting of the Stage Manager role, the director pointed out, all the couples in the play are interracially cast. Two young Juneau actors, Ty Yamaoka and Ashleigh Watt, play George and Emily, the high school sweethearts at the center of the story. The Perseverance ensemble also includes artist-in-residence Enrique Bravo as Dr. Gibbs, Shadow Meienberg (Cherokee) as Mrs. Gibbs, Brian Wescott (Yupik) as Mr. Webb, Valorie Kissel as Mrs. Webb, Caleb Bourgeois as Simon Stimson, and Diane Fleeks as Mrs. Soames.
Reflecting on her own role, Bedard said, “The Stage Manager is sort of like God’s conductor, some sort of angel,” similar to the Northwest Coast Native persona of Fog Woman, whom Bedard recently portrayed in a cultural showcase at the Alaska State Fair. “She’s like the first woman, the woman of all women,” Bedard explained. “So if I’m imagining a Native woman Stage Manager in 1918, is she a clan mother? Is she a medicine woman?”
These are some of the questions Bedard, Rotch, and the rest of the Our Town company are delving into this week, as Our Town begins rehearsal at the little storefront theatre in Douglas.
“Perseverance has become a place where we can gather as artists and explore what it means to be Alaskan artists,” Rotch said, addressing the cast at the first table-reading of the play Wednesday night (Aug. 29). “Our Town is a perfect piece to do that with.”
Perseverance’s first staging of the play was in 1982, just three years into founding director Molly Smith’s bold endeavor to bring serious theatre to the Juneau community. This new production, with Bedard as the leading storyteller, Rotch said, might be a chance for longtime audiences to reflect on the company’s evolution since then, and to embrace Perseverance’s future as Alaska’s professional regional theatre.
“I’m really grateful to Irene for playing this role,” Rotch added. “To do this play in Alaska today… the first voice we hear should be a Native voice.”
Showtimes and ticket information
Our Town will have previews at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 and 4, at Perseverance Theatre, 914 Third St. in Douglas. Regular performances run Oct. 5-Nov. 3, with curtain times at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 4 p.m. Sundays, plus a 7:30 p.m. performance Wednesday, Oct. 24 (half-price Juneau Arts Night). Oct. 7 and 11 shows are Pay-What-You-Can. Regular single tickets are $28-$44 for adults, $19-$27 for students, and are available at www.ptalaska.org or by calling 907-463-TIXS (8497).
In Anchorage, Our Town will have a Pay-What-You-Can preview at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 in the Sydney Laurence Theatre, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, 621 W. 6th St. Single tickets are $48-$60 for adults, $25-$37 for students and military, and are available at www.centertix.com, or by calling 907-263-ARTS (2787). Rush tickets are available for $15 for every performance, starting a half hour before curtain at the Centertix box office.