Perseverance Theatre’s mission is to create professional theatre by and for Alaskans. We value community engagement, cross-cultural collaboration, professional rigor, and regional voice.
Perseverance Theatre was founded in 1979 by Molly Smith as a theatre by, for and about Alaskans. PT was born in Juneau—the state’s capital and a growing community of over 32,000 that is only accessible by plane or boat. 40 years later, Perseverance has grown into Alaska’s largest professional theatre, serving over 17,000 artists, students, and audiences annually. In the 2019-2020 season, under the leadership of Artistic Director Leslie Ishii, Perseverance Theatre is producing musical, contemporary, and world premiere productions in Juneau and Anchorage.
Perseverance is a 501(C)(3) organization overseen by a statewide, thirteen-member board of community members, professionals, and artists. The annual budget is comprised of a diversified funding base including the City of Juneau, the State of Alaska, and the National Endowment for the Arts; foundation supporters including Shubert, Andrew W. Mellon, Rasmuson, and the Paul G. Allen Family; national corporations including ExxonMobil and Alyeska; as well as the generous support of Juneau businesses and individuals. In 2002, PT was one of just seven theaters awarded a $500,000 endowment challenge grant by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through their Leading National Theaters Program. In 2006, the theatre completed its endowment campaign in addition to a $1.1 million facility expansion and renovation project. In 2013, Perseverance paid off its accumulated loans, allowing the theatre to own its lands and buildings outright.
As it enters its fifth decade, Perseverance Theatre is in the midst of several new projects that are ultimately aimed at furthering the mission of creating professional theatre by and for Alaskans. Perseverance’s expansion to Anchorage has allowed to reach twice the audience and has opened up opportunities for further artistic engagement. In the summer of 2014, the theatre launched the pilot of Summerfest, offering three plays for Juneau locals and visitors during the tourist season. Through these endeavors, the theatre plans to eventually reach more than 25,000 people, changing both the reach and business model of the theatre.
In 36 seasons under Artistic Directors Molly Smith (now Artistic Director of Arena Stage in Washington, DC), Peter DuBois (now the Artistic Director at the Huntington Theatre Company in Bostin, MA), the late PJ Paparelli , Art Rotch, and Leslie Ishii, Perseverance Theatre has premiered over 70 new plays by Alaskan and national playwrights, including: Warriors (2014) by Juneau writer Dave Hunsaker; Rush at Everlasting (2014) by Anchorage writer Arlitia Jones; the road weeps, the well runs dry (2013) by Marcus Gardley; The Blue Bear (2011), based on Juneau author Lynn Schooler’s memoir; Battles of Fire and Water (2009), a play by Alaskan Dave Hunsaker exploring the 1802 conflicts between the Russians and the Tlingits; Yeast Nation (the triumph of life), a 2007 musical by Tony-winners Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman; The Long Season (2005), a musical by Chay Yew and Fabian Obispo about Filipino Alaskan cannery workers; and columbinus (2005), a drama exploring school shootings. The latter two received national coverage in American Theater Magazine and NPR. The Long Season was subsequently presented at New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse. In May 2006, columbinus was produced off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop. Paula Vogel’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, How I Learned to Drive, was also written and developed at Perseverance Theatre.
Perseverance is committed to engaging artistic work which speaks directly to the Alaskan experience. The very first production, Pure Gold (1978), was a compilation of stories, including Filipino and Alaska Native old-timers recalling the history of the gold rush days. Moby Dick (2001) was a world premiere fusion of Melville with the whaling traditions of the Iñupiat Eskimos. Performed by a multi-ethnic cast of Alaskan performers, this production later toured to Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Utqiagvik, the northernmost settlement in the United States. Additionally, Macbeth (2004) was set in the context of Southeast Alaska’s indigenous Tlingit culture and was performed by an Alaska Native cast. This piece later toured the state and, in March 2007, was remounted a third time for performances at the new Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C., in association with the citywide Shakespeare in Washington festival. This history of partnership with the Alaska Native community garnered PT a four-year, $400,000 award from the Wallace Foundation in 2003 to deepen and expand the theatre’s engagement with Alaska Native artists and audiences. This season, Perseverance is proud to present Devilfish, by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Playwright-in-Residence Vera Starbard, which adapts a traditional Tlingit tale in a stunning world premiere.
Perseverance was born as a grassroots organization, firmly planted in its community and its state. PT occupies a unique place in the heart of Juneau’s artistic, cultural and social life. The theatre is committed to developing artists, volunteers, audiences, and plays reflective of the Alaskan community, as part of living its mission. As programming continues in Anchorage, Perseverance is becoming a truly Alaskan regional theatre.
Perseverance is built on the sacred lands of the Auke Kwaan and Taku Kwaan of the Tlingit peoples in present-day Juneau, and on the lands of the Dena’ina peoples in Anchorage.