Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Some thoughts on seeing THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH in Alaska:
About a dozen years ago, Photographer/ filmmaker Ward Serril invited me to work with him on a theatre piece about the Prince of Wales Island caves. Ward was living in Ketchikan at the time, and had been caving with a group of people who been steadily making more and more amazing discoveries, including finding signs of human habitation from about 10,000 years ago. Southeast Alaska, it seemed, might have seen some of the earliest North Americans.
Much more recently, I read Fairbanks writer Dan O’Neil’s book THE LAST GIANT OF BERINGIA, about the geologist who pieced together the various bits of evidence to map and describe the size and nature of the Bering Land Bridge, that original route through Alaska from the Asian continent. Most fascinating to me was the revelation that the land bridge was very broad and covered with grassland, and quite unlike the tundra of today.
Since learning about the landbridge from Dan O’Neil’s work, the village of Shishmaref, which is located on a sandy island near the Bering Land bridge national park and preserve, has needed to make plans to relocate due to erosion. The island where Shishmaref is located has been subject to greater wave action because warmer arctic winters has changed the ice pattern, leaving the island unprotected by ice for more months of the year than before. And so the land bridge continues to dissolve even today.
Living in Alaska, seeing natural wonders and the most active geology on the continent, gives Alaskans a very geologic sense of time. Alaska is a land that was never tamed or conquered, and is unpredictable to live on even today.
This, then, is the place where we are producing THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH. Thornton Wilder, in his play, describes an American suburb bounded by a wall of ice, with large, and strange animals in the back yards. In Juneau, people leave their homes to come to see the play, with a view of the Mendenhall Glacier from their yards and streets before making the drive to the theatre. Just yesterday a visiting actor arrived at the airport, drove out to the glacier, saw three bears and then went to watch THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH. Like Mr Antrobus- Wilder’s everyman protagonist- All of us at the theatre took it in stride.
Alaskans know something of keeping warm and making do, just as the Antrobus family does. We have floods, earthquakes, fires, and fought World War two here, in the Aleutians.
Wilder’s theme is not about enduring trials so much as carrying on, about renewal, about starting over. Many Alaskans start over and over again; How many people do you know who have re-invented themselves in Alaska? It is the perfect place because there is no one to tell you not to. In Alaska, a construction worker can become an actor, an attorney general can become an artist, and a poet can be a fisherman. Living here, where we have to re invent our lives as the sands shift around us, we all seem to have second, third, acts to our lives. More than any other stubborn, optimistic, iconoclastic population of Americans, we know how to make the best of it and start over.
We are all of us, in Alaska, named Antrobus- the family of man- and thank Thornton Wilder for writing a play that celebrates us, warts and all.
Art Rotch, Artistic Director

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