Stage set, funds in place for Perseverance Theatre’s 40th season


Art Rotch and crew in rehearsal for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” March 2017. Rotch has led Perseverance for eight seasons, dividing his time between executive responsibilities and the artistic work of curating seasons, directing, designing and producing. The theatre is recruiting a new managing director to take over operations, allowing Rotch, as artistic director, to focus on productions. Major philanthropic contributions this summer are supporting these and other steps forward for the company, now in its 40th year.

Stage set, funds in place for Perseverance Theatre’s 40th season
Supporters give Alaska’s professional regional company a new lease on life


JUNEAU, Alaska – Perseverance Theatre, Alaska’s professional regional theatre company, is staging a comeback this summer thanks to some visionary donors, while putting final touches on a lineup of American classics, captivating contemporary works, and Alaska originals.

The company’s 40th anniversary season will feature Our Town, by Thornton Wilder; the world-premiere plays Franklin, by Samantha Noble, and Whale Song, by Cathy Tagnak Rexford; the musical Guys and Dolls, by Frank Loesser, Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows; and Steve Martin’s bawdy comedy The Underpants. In addition, Juneau will see at least two Young Company productions performed by students, Anchorage will enjoy A Christmas Carol at holiday time, and several smaller Alaska communities will play host to Perseverance’s acclaimed touring production of The Winter Bear.

See below for Juneau and Anchorage main stage season dates, and please refer to our website,, for show descriptions, subscription prices, and other details.

Of particular note: At a time when many American regional theatres are still striving to achieve gender equity and diversity in their hiring, Perseverance’s creative teams this season are widely inclusive and predominantly female. Alaska audiences will see these titles interpreted by directors Madeline Sayet (of Mohegan tribal ancestry, a TED Fellow and White House Champion of Change Award recipient), Hannah Wolf (Juneau-bred, a 2018 O’Neill Center National Directing Fellow), Shona Osterhout (director of Chicago and other past Perseverance hits), and Theresa K. Pond (artistic director of Cyrano’s Theatre Company in Anchorage, she staged Peter and the Starcatcher for us in 2016); Alaska playwright Arlitia Jones (Christmas Carol’s adapter, a member of the Perseverance Playwrights’ Circle); set designer Akiko Nishijima Rotch (whose scenic painting is part of the magic of Broadway’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child); costume designers Elizabeth Rocha and E.B. Brooks; sound designer Lucy Peckham (who made The Arsonists and To Kill a Mockingbird sing), and indie songwriter Marian Call. Among the men, Perseverance welcomes the return of veteran director Michael Evan Haney (A Christmas Carol) and Guys and Dolls musical director Rob Cohen (Chicago), while Asa Benally, a New York-based costume designer raised on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona, will make his Perseverance debut with Whale Song.

“Perseverance does its best work when we bring together artists from Alaska and guest artists who have something to share with Alaskan colleagues,” said Art Rotch, the company’s executive artistic director for the past eight seasons. “The number of talented directors and designers returning to work with us again this season is exciting, and it’s really thrilling to welcome Madeline Sayet, Marian Call, and Asa Benally to our company.”

Growing the subscriber base in Anchorage—a metro area with almost ten times Juneau’s population—will be a particular priority for the company this year, according to Perseverance’s general manager in Anchorage, Joshua Lowman.

“Our Anchorage audience is going to love these plays,” Lowman said. “It’s taken a few seasons here, but people know who we are, and the level of our work. Attendance is increasing as more and more people recognize that Perseverance means quality theatre, made by Alaska artists, and a fun night out. This season we hope more of our patrons subscribe so they can enjoy everything we do.”

Meanwhile, Perseverance will continue to foster the next generation of artists and audiences through its popular drama camps, STAR (three summer youth productions, running July 20-29), and other educational programming, as well as through creative partnerships with local organizations such as Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau Public Libraries, and Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM). The company will team up with the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council to welcome hundreds of local students to its productions of Our Town and Whale Song, providing low-cost matinees and classroom resources in support of the Kennedy Center-sponsored Any Given Child Initiative. And the Perseverance Playwright’s Circle, convening this week in Anchorage, will help five gifted writers with Alaska and/or Native roots bring to the stage new stories and voices that historically have gone unheard.

“The Playwright’s Circle has been such a tremendous opportunity for me to grow as a playwright and theatre artist,” says Frank Henry Kaash Katasse (Tlingit), author of They Don’t Talk Back, which premiered in 2017 at Perseverance, Native Voices at the Autry, and LaJolla Playhouse. Other Playwright’s Circle members working on Perseverance-sponsored commissions are: Larissa FastHorse (Lakota), Arlitia Jones, Richard Perry (Yup’ik), and Cathy Tagnak Rexford (Inupiaq). The writers will present excerpts at a free play reading event, 2 p.m. this Sunday, July 14, at Writer’s Block Bookstore & Café, 3956 Spenard Road in Anchorage.

“Writing can feel isolating at times,” Katasse admits. “Having a collection of fellow writers to bounce ideas and scripts off of has been unbelievably helpful, encouraging and motivating.”


Philanthropy in the spotlight

Earlier this summer, though, it appeared as though all this theatre activity might be in jeopardy: substantial budget shortfalls from past seasons were weighing heavily enough on current finances to force a cancellation of Alaska performances of the new musical Snow Child, a much-anticipated co-production with Arena Stage. To reserve cash in the wake of the cancellation, Perseverance cut working hours for nonessential employees; a few staff members were furloughed for several weeks. This news led to fears that the theatre might not reach its fortieth birthday.

But behind the scenes, executive artistic director Art Rotch was working with the Perseverance board of directors, advisors from the Rasmuson Foundation, and a small circle of longtime supporters to shore up the company’s finances. Several donors responded with major gifts. On June 29, the theatre announced a six-figure recapitalization package, including $200,000 each from investor/philanthropists Robert Ziff of New York City and John Rubini of Anchorage; a $100,000 pledge from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; $50,000 from Judy Rasmuson, and $100,000 from another current donor who wished to remain anonymous. “Obviously we can’t thank these donors enough,” Rotch said. “As one of them told me, after going over the company’s financials and seeing where we’ve fallen short in the past: ‘The theatre isn’t broken; it’s just broke.’ These are people who understand how nonprofit arts organizations work, and they think we’re a smart investment. That says a lot.”

“My reasons for supporting Perseverance at this time are twofold,” said Robert Ziff, who has a personal connection to the theatre: he and Rotch were roommates at Harvard College, back in the late 1980s, and have been friends ever since. “First, I believe in Art and in what he does. The other reason is, very simply, if people don’t support the theatre, it won’t exist. Perseverance is the only resident, fully professional theatre company in the entire state of Alaska,” Ziff added. “They produce plays that are culturally relevant. If the community wants to have live theatre as an option, as part of its culture, the community has to support this theatre with their contributions, and also with their attendance.”

Another part of the recapitalization package is a $100,000 challenge to individual donors, with a fundraising deadline of September 30, and an additional $50,000 challenge to business and corporate sponsors through the end of this year. The major gifts from Ziff and the others represent almost a three-to-one match of this $150,000 goal. The “Persevere With Us!” challenge already has generated $30,000 in new contributions since its June 29 launch, according to development director Erika Stone. “We’re grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the community,” Stone said. “We’re happy to know that Perseverance means a lot, to a lot of people.”

Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of Rasmuson Foundation, pointed out that Perseverance Theatre is not alone among Alaska organizations in navigating a challenging, changing economic climate for the arts in our state. “We believe in arts and culture as a vital part of the quality of life for Alaskans,” Kaplan said. “We commend Perseverance for taking necessary steps to improve their financial circumstances and appreciate the many individuals and organizations who believe in having homegrown professional Alaska theatre in our state long into the future.”


All hands on deck

The new funds already are bringing Perseverance, which operates on a total annual budget of about $2 million, back up to speed, finalizing artist contracts for the coming season and making significant new hires: veteran theatre artist and journalist Julie York Coppens has joined the staff as director of outreach and communications, and the theatre is actively recruiting a new managing director to take over operations, freeing up Rotch to focus on productions as artistic director. (In the interim, Rotch will continue to serve as executive artistic director.) Cameron Thorpe, one of many Perseverance internship alumni now building successful careers in the field, will be the new company stage manager, and other key positions including technical director and costume shop manager will soon be filled.

“Because the company has been working so close to the bone financially, putting all is energy into maintaining quality on-stage, Perseverance has fallen behind on certain offstage functions that are just as important—things like staff development, audience-building, fostering relationships with other arts and culture organizations in town, and simply telling our own story,” Coppens said. “The sad cancellation of Snow Child and other developments this year left people, especially our longtime supporters in Juneau, with a lot of questions. They don’t understand how past-season deficits led to the present crisis, and they don’t have a clear sense of our goals and strategies going forward.”

A new FAQ page on the Perseverance website addresses some of those issues; others will have to wait, Rotch said, until the new managing director comes on board.

“We don’t want to hamstring that person with too many pre-set conclusions and objectives,” Rotch explained. “But we are going to do a deeper dive into Perseverance Theatre’s business model, including the Anchorage expansion. We’ll look at other ways we might be able to continue operating as a professional theatre in a city of 32,000 people—which,” he added drily, “is actually impossible. Nowhere else today does this formula work, not even close.” Rotch said the company’s leadership team will be supported in this strategic analysis, again thanks to this summer’s fundraising, by independent consultants who specialize in cultural nonprofits.

“I see this as a proof year,” said Perseverance board member James Bibb, principal architect and partner at NorthWind Architects in Juneau. “We have to be successful, at all costs. We owe it to a lot of people.” As tough as the past few months have been, Bibb added, the crisis has energized the board and improved its working relationship with the staff: “The board is more aware than ever of its responsibility, and we’re in a position to make real change now.”

Bibb said the community, too, has a role to play at this important 40-year milestone for the theatre. Members of the Perseverance staff will host a table at the next three Friday evening Block Parties (July 13, 20, and 27), 5:30-7 p.m. at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, to get the conversation started; similar opportunities will follow in Anchorage. “I hope folks will come talk to us, share their observations and concerns, and help us envision a more sustainable future for professional theatre here in Juneau and across Alaska,” Coppens said.

Come October, when the iconic American drama Our Town opens, with an Alaska cast, at the little storefront theatre in Douglas, that vision will begin to play out on stage. Some Perseverance fans might feel a bit like Emily Webb in the last act, renewed in their appreciation for what was almost lost: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”

“Through all these ups and downs we’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘I just can’t imagine Juneau without Perseverance Theatre.’ Well, neither can we,” said Stone, who is also an actor with the company. “It’s going to be a very special season, for the artists and for our audiences.”

Subscriptions for both cities’ lineups are now on sale at or by calling 907-463-TIXS (8497). Perseverance is extending Early Bird pricing (approximately 10 percent off the already discounted regular subscription prices) through July 31. Subscribers may “Pick a Pack” of three or four plays, or become “Super Subscribers,” enjoying the entire season with even more perks including a “Return for free” benefit: if you really love a show you can see it again, space available. Single tickets for the fall shows will go on sale August 6.






Perseverance Theatre’s 2018-19 Juneau Season:


Our Town, by Thornton Wilder

Art Rotch, director

October 5 – November 4, 2018


Franklin, by Samantha Noble

Hannah Wolf, director

November 30 – December 16, 2018


Whale Song, by Cathy Tagnak Rexford

Madeline Sayet, director

February 1 – 24, 2019


Guys and Dolls, Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, Book by Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows

Shona Osterhaut, director; Rob Cohen, musical director; Ricci Adan, choreographer

March 15 – April 13, 2019


The Underpants, by Steve Martin, adapted from the play Die Hose by Carl Sternheim

Teresa K. Pond, director

May 17 – June 16, 2019


Perseverance Theatre’s 2018-19 Anchorage Season:


Our Town, by Thornton Wilder

Art Rotch, director

November 9 – 25, 2018


A Christmas Carol, by Arlitia Jones and Michael Evan Haney, based on the book by Charles Dickens

Michael Evan Haney, director

December 14 – 29, 2018


Franklin, by Samantha Noble

Hannah Wolf, director

January 11 – 20, 2019


Whale Song, by Cathy Tagnak Rexford

Madeline Sayet, director

March 8 – 17, 2019


Guys and Dolls, Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, Book by Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows

Shona Osterhaut, director; Rob Cohen, musical director; Ricci Adan, choreographer

May 3 – 12, 2019