The Opening the Box of Knowledge talkback after the performance on October 13th was incredibly heartwarming and eye opening. Qacung Blanchett and President Richard Peterson of Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska were the hosts for the evening. Together with the cast members they sat down to discuss the world premiere of Frank Katasse’s Where the Summit Meets the Stars and connect about their shared love of theater, representation of native voices in modern media, and enjoy each other’s presences.
The energy in the room was warm and jovial from the get go, the participants almost immediately cracking jokes about Poutine before even introducing themselves. This quickly became a running gag – people would mischievously slip a poutine joke into their responses as the discussion progressed. The artists’ love for art and their community was ever present in the roles that each of them played in transforming the show from words in a script to a fully realized, incredible production. Remarking on how Ed Littlefield and Jill Kaasteen Meserve expertly concocted an intricate soundscape for the show, Qacung said “…it felt at times like I was in a concert.” Jake Waid, who plays John in the show, mentions that he jumps at the chance to be involved in one of Frank’s shows saying, “He really is a genius, what Frank does is he just dives into the ocean and he comes up with a raw gem”. Naturally, this took a hilarious turn as each of the panelists made a point to face the previous speaker and lauded them for their genius.
One notable theme of this discussion was the many ways the American theater has failed to equitably represent Indigenous stories. Focusing on shows that primarily highlight caucasian protagonists and stories. President Peterson says, “I always talk about representation matters. Art and music, they’re kind of universal and can be taken in by everybody right?” The panelists said that this is why Where the Summit Meets the Stars and the collaboration with Perseverance Theater is so important. This work aids in the continued re-indigenization of theater and the decolonization of the rehearsal process. To this point the cast shared stories with President Peterson and Qacung Blanchett about how they would take days to go outside. Going on canoe rides, creative team blueberry picking trips, and taking a dip in the cold waters of Auke bay. Supplanting eurocentric ideas of what a rehearsal period looks like.
Erin Tripp stated, “Especially since Vera’s ‘Our Voices Will Be Heard” and “Devilfish”, […] I feel like there’s been a bigger drive forward to indigenizing the stage here. And also making it, not just indigenizing the performances but also the space for the Native community to feel welcome to come here and create our art and tell our stories”.
The conversation flowed very naturally into what representation means on a larger scale, in mainstream television and streaming services. With some shows such as Reservation Dogs representing Indigenous voices truthfully while many others not doing nearly enough. Not putting in the work necessary to craft stories that Indigenous people can truly see themselves in. But the participants of the talkback were proud of the work that Native artists are doing to lift each other up. Creating work that inspires others to have their stories heard. Qacung Blanchett says, “I feel like there’s been an explosion of indigenous cultural expression and we’re apart of it, all of us.”
As the talkback was coming to a close President Peterson had one more message for the cast and for the audience, “Where the Summit Meets the Stars, Devilfish, all these other plays and what Perseverance is doing matters. Because representation matters. My heart’s really just full of gratitude for all of you for putting yourselves out there, sharing your art, sharing your love, and representing us in the best possible ways.” Perseverance is honored and humbled to be a place in which the Tlingit and all Alaskan Native artists can come to create art that captures their experiences, their lives, and their love. We seek to be good stewards of this land and of our stage so that trust and gratitude can continue to be built.
Thank you again to President Richard Chaylee Éesh Peterson and Stephen Qacung Blanchett for collaborating on a wonderful talkback. Your partnership is forever humbly appreciated. Gunalchéesh!