By founding Perseverance Theatre, Molly Smith sought to answer this question: Can a professional theatre by, for and about Alaskans, succeed?
In 1979, Perseverance Theatre produced our first play. Pure Gold was commissioned by founder Molly Smith to launch her new theatre company in Alaska’s capital. After a sold-out run to a local audience, Pure Gold toured the state, including performances at Anchorage’s Sydney Laurence Auditorium. That summer, the theatre rented a closed-down bar in Douglas and played for Holland America Line passengers. Later, Perseverance purchased the bar building and launched a 5-play subscription season for Alaskan audiences. In the remote small city of Juneau, growth was rapid: By our tenth anniversary, we had produced several signature Alaskan theatre pieces.
Perseverance Theatre’s first decade was an experiment, with a start-up, entrepreneurial culture. In 1990, as our second decade began, our budget had passed the million dollar mark, and we had launched a professional Alaskan acting company. By the beginning of our third decade, Perseverance’s successes made it a Leading National Theatre according to Doris Duke Foundation. Pure Gold continues to be a model of the work that Perseverance Theatre does and where it finds its audience: a new play by an Alaskan writer, premiered in Juneau, toured to audiences around the state, and marketed to visitors in the summer months.
Today, Perseverance is the most widely known and respected theatre in Alaska, and is well-positioned to build on our name and track record to further our mission to create Alaskan professional theatre. Artistically, Perseverance continues to have great opportunities.
- Tony-Award-winner Mark Hollman has proposed a new musical about Bigfoot that is just right for Alaska;
- with support from the Alaska Humanities Forum, we are adapting a theatre piece from a local memoir (The Blue Bear) by a Juneau writer which will include Japanese artists.
- two well-regarded new play development labs in New York City (Clubbed Thumb and The Lark) have approached Perseverance about partnering on projects;
- we are involved in developing a cohort of Alaska Native writers for future production.
Strategically, we have opportunities to strengthen ourselves financially as well:
- we’re pursuing additional opportunities that could consolidate our objectives in tourism. Main-stage subscribership grew each of the last three years from 360 subscribers to 545, and we’re seeing a similar upward trend with individual donations;
- we are working with strong partners in Anchorage to explore a plan of regular operations there;
- in Juneau, we’ve been asked to participate with a consortium of local non-profits in a downtown re-development project that might, if it pencils out, address our long range facility needs while forming institutional relationship with more Alaskan partners.
On the other hand, Perseverance Theatre faces major obstacles to accomplishing our plans. Our Juneau location and Alaska’s geography has made consistent outreach to the rest of the state difficult. Financing a major cultural institution operating predominantly in a remote Alaskan community with a small population (30,000) has been challenging for most of the last thirty years. Economically, the theatre has been fragile for years and has recently been on a decline: measured in real dollars, today we have fewer staff, pay lower fees for artists, and have smaller financial resources than at almost any time in our last 15 years. (See Table 1) This erosion of our capacity is partly due to the national recession, which came at the same time (2008) as Perseverance replaced both our Artistic and Managing Directors. Perseverance experienced a somewhat similar financial decline in 1998, when Founder Molly Smith departed. Our budget has only partly been restored. The long-term trend shows that sustaining a professional scale in a small community is difficult.
Table 1. Perseverance Thetare’s gross revenues from 1982-2015. Last five years projected based on implementing our long range plan.
Our new plan gets ahead of this long-range trend by developing additional audiences for our work while capitalizing on our proven ability to create great theatre for our Juneau audiences. Our goal is to begin our fifth decade in 2020 both artistically and economically vibrant. We have five initiatives to move us forward:
- Maintain our Juneau subscription season in order to keep creating great Alaskan theatre.
- Broaden the Alaskan audience for our existing work with a new 4-Show ‘Statewide’ subscription season at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts (ACPA) Sydney Laurence Auditorium in Anchorage based on transferring productions developed in Juneau to Anchorage for a second run.
- Produce for the tourism market in the summer months in order to broaden our audience to include visitors and to offer employment to performers during a time that we are now dormant.
- Establish an acting company with 4-6 benefited, 12-month positions to perform roles in Juneau, statewide and in tourism, and to train and mentor other performers.
- Create a training and new-play development institute in Juneau in the summer.
If successful, we will create a Perseverance Theatre with the capacity to reach wider audiences, put more resources into innovative programming tailored to Alaska, and able to employ Alaskan artists at more livable wages.
Table 2 and 3 showing growth in attendance by broadening markets, and attendant growth in pay for artists
If we complete this work, Perseverance Theatre will be more connected to the entire state and better able to bring together artists from across the vast landscape that is Alaska. The dialogue required to work on a statewide scale will enrich Alaska and create a unique kind of regional theatre: one located in a vast state that is still coming to understand and know itself and at the same time still small enough that it can do so through its art.
In other words, a professional theatre by, for and about Alaskans.
Mission & History
Fourth Decade Plan
Willoughby Arts Complex
Board of Directors
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