Category: Theater

November 29, 2015 George Hyde

When the opera “Hansel and Gretel” was written by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck in 1893, it was acclaimed for its reliance on folk music to tell a classic fairy tale in musical form. It’s doubtful that anyone back then pictured the opera being adapted to fit Inupiaq lore and culture.

This Alaska Native adaptation, “Aklaq and Nayak,” will be presented as a collaboration between UAA’s Opera Ensemble and the Anchorage Opera. Like its premise, the show’s audience has been broadened to include other communities, and also to demonstrate to the university that opera is a viable option for students studying music.

“Our goals with this collaboration were to demonstrate to UAA that there is sufficient interest in opera performance to consider a post-baccalaureate certificate in opera performance and to hopefully start an educational outreach program at Anchorage Opera using the cast, set and costumes to tour to area schools starting in 2016,” Reed W. Smith, the general director of Anchorage Opera, said.

While the production will premiere at UAA with matinee and evening shows this month, there are additional plans to bring the show to other schools and communities around Alaska, with touring costs — along with sets, costumes and publicity — being provided by Anchorage Opera.

The new libretto was written by Mari Hahn, an associate professor of music at UAA, and Willa Towarak Eckenweiler, who is Inupiaq and, according to Hahn, is very familiar with Inupiaq culture, language and folklore.

“The challenges that people face who still depend largely on a subsistence lifestyle, and can’t find food because of climate change, has an important part in the story,” said Hahn.

The cast for the production is comprised of singers from UAA and from the community at large, including Alaska Native performers like Kira Eckenweiler, who will play the leading role of Nayak — this opera’s interpretation of Gretel.

While Anchorage Opera has previously offered masterclasses and workshops to UAA students, this joint effort treads new ground in UAA and Anchorage Opera’s partnership.

“With this collaboration, we are forging a wonderful relationship that serves both sides,” said Hahn. “AO [Anchorage Opera] is interested in cultivating local talent, and outreaching to local and more distant communities to expose more people to opera that is accessible. For UAA students, it gives them invaluable opportunities to receive advanced training, more high profile performing opportunities, and gain experience with the educational component of the outreach programs.”

“Aklaq and Nayak” will show in the Recital Hall at the UAA Fine Arts Building on December 11-13, at 3:00 and 7:30 p.m. each day. Tickets are $23.75, $12.50 for seniors or military, and $6.75 for UAA students.

November 15, 2015 George Hyde

The story of Marie Antoinette, like the French Revolution it takes place in, is very tragic and violent. This goes without saying. UAA’s Theatre Department, however, wants to look at her story in a more psychological light.

Their upcoming production of “Marie Antoinette” uses expressionism and surrealism to explore Marie’s character. It shows her unhinging even before she gets brutally killed.

“Expressionism tells the story through the eyes of the protagonist, Marie, which allows the audience to care about her journey and parallel her rise and fall of power to the celebrities of today,” said Nova Cunningham, assistant professor of theatre and the director of the show.

The show was proposed for the 2015 season by Colleen Metzger, another professor of theatre who specializes in costume design. She shared a passion for both the French Revolution and Marie herself, being the “Queen of Fashion” that she’s known for.

“It is exciting to be able to show off Colleen’s fashion expertise and talent in a production that showcases the lead as a confection created by society,” said Cunningham.

The extravagant costume design is complimented by the uncanny scenery and unpleasant atmosphere to create an experience that some working on the show have called surreal.

“It’s a psychological take on Marie Antoinette that actually slips into the nightmarish part of her world before she gets her head cut off at the end. It’s horrific,” said Michael Noble, a student working wardrobe for the show. “It’s not just tragic or sad, or grand. There’s a lot of terror in this take on it. It gets a little surreal too as she goes more insane from the pressures of being an unwanted queen in a France that’s about to change irrecoverably.”

Emily Pratt, who will be playing Marie for the show, agrees.

“If you come to this show thinking it’s going to be a bland historical drama about the life and retelling of Marie Antoinette, you will be incredibly surprised,” said Pratt. “If you’re not prepared for it, it’ll be a total shocker.”

While it is a challenging production, the show is supported by a very strong production team. Everyone from the crew to the actors themselves have helped make the production a visually and narratively intriguing one.

“From concept to build, the collaboration of designers, crew members and actors have all had input in this production,” said Cunningham. “Each added elements to help tell the story.”

Those who want a more striking and ominous look into the psyche of the “Marie Antoinette” will find something to enjoy with this production. From the strange scenic design, to the lavish costumes, to the strange talent, it’s an oddball look into a story that was already pretty gruesome to begin with.

Marie Antoinette” is showing in the Mainstage Theatre in the Arts Building from November 20 – 29. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, and Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM. Tickets are available at the door or at

April 7, 2015 George Hyde

You’ve seen them, no doubt — the posters detailing an upcoming Shakespearean production. With zombies. Yes, from April 10-26, UAA Theatre and Dance will perform “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead,” the conclusion to UAA’s Shakespeare season that previously included shows like “Twelfth Night” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” And what better conclusion than…

April 1, 2015 Samantha Davenport

The Fine Arts Building showcased Bare: A Pop Opera this past weekend. The story encircles the lives of Peter and Jason, two gay roommates and their secret at a Catholic boarding school. I walked into Room 150 to watch a play. I walked out pondering my self-worth, if God is really listening, and the fear…

February 18, 2015 George Hyde

Two of the nuttier characters in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” have their own stories to tell, and it’s up to UAA’s Department of Theatre and Dance to tell them in the upcoming production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” part of a Shakespeare season also including “Twelfth Night” and “William Shakespeare’s Land Of The Dead.” The…

February 11, 2015 George Hyde

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and love is in the air. But when asked about the mythological love stories of old, many students know surprisingly little. “I know that Zeus pretty much had sex with everybody,” said Kayla Miller, a student at UAA with an undeclared major. “But I don’t know much else.”…

January 12, 2015 George Hyde

How exactly does one describe a graphic novel for the stage? Proposing a solution to this odd question is “The Intergalactic Nemesis,” a sci-fi adventure coming to the Performing Arts Center this month. “The show bills itself as a live-action graphic novel,” said Joe Selmont, the communications specialist for the Anchorage Concert Association. “It’s really…

September 30, 2014 Jacob Holley-Kline

Just next month, the UAA Theatre Department will begin its 2014-2015 season. With a musical, a Shakespeare comedy and two modern comedies that turn Shakespeare’s universe hilarious and meta all at once.

Title: “The Fantasticks”

Run date: Oct. 3-19

Director: David Block

The world’s longest-running musical is finally coming to UAA. Clocking in at 54 years in production and more than 17,000 performances all around the world, this classic show follows the lives of neighbors Matt and Luisa and their feuding fathers. Despite their parents’ quarrels, Matt and Luisa fall in love. Guided by the mysterious narrator El Gallo, “The Fantasticks” is a poignant and romantic tale.


Title: “Twelfth Night, or What You Will”

Run date: Nov. 21-Dec. 7

Director: Steven Hunt

The bard returns in force to the UAA Theatre Department with their production of his comedy, “Twelfth Night, or What You Will.” Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated in a devastating shipwreck and Viola, believing her brother to be dead, dresses up as a man and serves under Duke Orsino. When Sebastian comes back after seven years gone, the confusion only increases for the characters.


Title: “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”

Run date: Feb. 20-March 8

Director: Dr. David Edgecombe

Focusing on the eponymous minor characters from “Hamlet,” “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” puts the events of “Hamlet” in the background and the titular courtiers in the front. Major characters from “Hamlet” make brief appearances, reenacting scenes from the play, creating an absurdist and utterly unpredictable universe.


Title: “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead: A True and Accurate Account of the 1599 Zombie Plague”

Run date: April 10-26

Director: Tom Skore

After the premier of his newest play, “Henry V,” Shakespeare finds himself in the middle of a zombie outbreak. A customer has been bitten in the theatre and the Queen and her servicemen come seeking safety. When the Globe is quarantined, all those survivors have to fight for their lives.

April 9, 2013 Nicole Luchaco

If there is one word to describe this play, it is intense. This classic from playwright Mark Medoff is full of brusque thematic elements, dark twists and unexpected turns.

“I saw this play many years ago and have always wanted to do it,” said director David Edge­combe, who is also a theater and dance professor. “The time seemed right, I am very excited about this.”

The play is set in a little New Mexico diner in the early 1970s. The plot details the events of a hostile, bizarre and sporadic diner-takeover.

The play opens at an early hour in the diner with the titu­lar character, Red. He sits at the counter smoking a cigarette, drinking a cup of coffee and despondently reading the news­paper — then in bustles the late and flustered waitress, Angel. As the waitress apologetically makes conversation with the disgruntled co-worker, it quick­ly becomes evident that she is in love with him. He is oblivious to her affection and probably couldn’t care less about her.

The play’s cast consists of eight actors. Three of them pull central focus: Stephen, (Red Ryder) a despondent and outspo­ken youth who thrusts his emo­tions on the world, played by Chris Evans; Angel, the whimsi­cal and energetic waitress who is secretly in love with him, played by Aspen Murray; and Teddy, the raving ex-war veteran who changes their lives forever.

With the exception of Angel, whose character can be overly sensitive and swooning, the act­ing was quite believable. Grant­ed, Murray had quite the job cut out for her. But in the tenser moments of the play, her hys­terics only seemed superficial when great depth of character was a necessity.

The opening scene’s conver­sation between Angel and Red also seems to run quite long. However, the dryness of this interaction beautifully sets the stage for an interesting segue to the cacophony that follows, and that [that… mood? Chaos? Style of segue?] is perpetu­ated throughout the remainder of the play. Whether or not the writer originally intended this as an emotional dichotomy is unknown, but it does the job quite effectively.

Just as the audience settles in for the most boring two-way dialog of all time, the tables (no pun intended) are violent­ly turned with no end in sight. You will be uncomfortable, entertained, impressed, dis­gusted and stretched over the course of this play. Because of this, the play is a definite suc­cess, conveying complex and contradictory emotions within a storyline that seems all too bizarre.

Including a ten-minute inter­mission, the show runs just under two hours and is immacu­lately staged. Through the com­bined efforts of Edgecombe, Scene Shop Manager Adam Klein, Scenic Artist Daniel Glen Carlgren and a slew of oth­er dedicated and visionary indi­viduals, the UAA Harper Studio Theatre (Fine Arts Building, Room 129) has been absolutely transformed. The set design is beautifully executed.

When you attend this play, you feel as though you are watching from a corner booth, as if you are a part of the play, a bystander who is lucky enough not to be noticed in the midst of the disastrous events.

Tickets range from $10-$17. For further information call the UAA Box Office at 907- 786-4849 or visit http://www.­tercalendar.cfm/.  

February 27, 2013 Heather Hamilton

Who would’ve thought an eccentric old lady would steal the show? Jane Austin’s “Sense and Sensibility” (adapted by Jon Jory and directed by Elizabeth Ware) is currently showing on UAA’s Mainstage Theatre, and while the production itself is witty and fun, nothing takes the cake quite as insistently as Grace Hawkins’ portrayal of Mrs. Jenkins,…

February 12, 2013 Heather Hamilton

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou … what was the line again?

It may sound easy, but landing a role in one of UAA’s Theater shows isn’t a cakewalk, even if it is a university production.

May 15, 2012 Heather Hamilton
Jason Buck plays Dr. Willy Von Whackoff, a psychoanalyst and the narrator of "Saucy Jack.". Photo courtesy of Britany Lynne White Photography

Anchorage has a booming theater community; between the numerous theater companies, the city offers a wide range of productions for a wide range of audiences.

Most of these companies are minor ones, but the smaller they are, the more dedication and hard work it takes to make their productions stand out and be noticed.

“Here, within the smaller companies, we take on so much more, but in the end, I don’t see that so much as a bad thing,” said Rj Haywood.

Haywood is the director of “Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens” (a musical written in 1995 by Charlotte Mann and Michael Fiddler and based on the book by Charlotte Mann), which is currently playing at Mad Myrna’s, a local bar and nightclub, where Haywood also works as a bartender. As far as theatrical productions go, the bar is probably best known for its annual productions of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” every fall, which Haywood has served as assistant for in the past.

According to Haywood, the bar put on “Saucy Jack” in 2007, as did UAA in their 1999/2000 season, but when he was asked by Charlotte Kopp to direct the production, he’d never heard of it.

“I had never even seen the show…so they brought it to me, and I read the script, and I didn’t get it. I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do this guys.” We watched the UAA production, and I really liked it,” said Haywood.

“Saucy Jack” can best be described as an intergalactic version of “Rocky Horror,” but with less “Time Warp” and more disco (as well as even more blatant sexual innuendo). The entire show is set in the seedy Saucy Jack’s Night Club and Cabaret, which features acts by undiscovered and mediocre artists under the employment of Saucy Jack (Cameron Morrison, also the assistant director) himself. But all is not well, the Slingback Killer has been knocking off Jack’s acts just as they’re about to make their break in show business. Who shows up to get the bottom of the crime and save the day? The Space Vixens Jubilee Climaxx (Charlotte Kopp, also the costume designer and musical director), Bunny Lingus (Bridgett Sullivan) and Anna Labia (Shawna Rayn Borgen, also the choreographer) of course!

The entire cast and crew of the production number at less than 20, and with some of the 14 actors taking on other responsibilities for the show, having only one month to rehearse and construct costumes, and five days to build the set was more than challenging.

“There were some days that Shawna and I were coming here at noon and leaving at six o’clock in the morning the next day, only to go home and sleep three hours and come right back,” said Haywood. “I’ve gotta give it to her, she was coming in here and building with me and listening to me rant and rave, and poor Charlotte’s at home building costumes, and Cameron’s out doing all of our promotion stuff for us. We just really worked our butts off to get this done, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Left to right: Shawna Rayn Borgen as Anna Labia, Charlotte Kopp as Jubilee Climaxx, and Bridgett Sullivan as Bunny Lingus, the Space Vixens. Photo courtesy of Britany Lynne White Photography

The group has one thing going for them; the weekly Friday Night Diva Variety Show is taking a one month hiatus, the duration of “Saucy Jack’s” run, which helps with the need for quick room rearrangement and dressing room difficulties on Friday nights.

“The divas chose to take the time off…The audiences drawn are two different audiences. So they chose to [say] “Let’s just go on hiatus, take a month off, and then we can give the ballroom and all the energies to the “Saucy Jack” crew,”” said Scott Koeller, the sound tech and technical director for “Saucy Jack” (also known as Daphne DoAll LaChores, the drag queen co-host of the Diva Show).

“That makes “Saucy Jack” stronger, and hopefully the absence will make our audience at the Friday Night Diva Variety Show grow a little stronger,” he continued.

It is an appreciated gesture, since the Diva Show is how the performers earn some extra spending money, according to Haywood.

Another positive part of the experience is the sense of community and bonding that the members of the production are being treated with. Bar owner Jeff Wood (Mad Myrna) goes the extra mile to look after them.

“Myrna himself, Jeff Wood, he’s such an amazing producer; he treats everybody here so well, whether it be the last week of rehearsal going out and getting us fruit, making sure we’re all eating properly, and giving people employee pricing on their drinks…the fact that he’s always stopping in and checking on us to see if we need something. He put a cot upstairs for us in case we needed to take a nap and crash out for a little bit; he’s always there if we need to vent,” said Haywood. “The four of us [directors] could have done it, but with a producer like that, it was just so much nicer.”

The hard work has paid off. With nearly sold out shows for the past two weekends, and still two more to go, “Saucy Jack” looks to be another campy Mad Myrna’s success.

“Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens” runs Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Mad Myrna’s through Saturday, May 26. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased either on CenterTix or at the door.

April 3, 2012 Heather Hamilton

Scraps of fabric and fur are strewn about in a haphazard war zone. Plaster faces and half-finished heads are resting on work tables, and whimsical garments are adorning mannequins. It’s not a Tim Burton workshop you’re invading, it’s the UAA costume shop.

March 27, 2012 Nicole Luchaco

The enigmatic musical that moved and defied many generations premiers in Anchorage for your enjoyment and consideration. Starring members of the “Theater Artists United” with a collaboration with the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.

When it first officially opened at the off-Broadway theater “New York Theater Workshop” back in 1996 the musical received much the same reaction that it receives today, you either love it or you hate it.

December 15, 2011 TNL Staff

by Janeen Russell  One of William Shakespeare’s earliest plays, The Taming of the Shrew, wrapped up production last Sunday. Presented by the UAA’s Department of Theatre and Dance at their Mainstage Theatre and directed by Dr. David Edgecombe, this lively adaptation is a lighthearted and memorable romp with the battle of the sexes. Set in…

April 19, 2011 Heather Hamilton

To get what you want out of life, one has to go after their desires and grab them by the reigns.

It’s the same for college classes.

Three theatre majors wanted to expand upon what they had learned in a directing class, but found that part two of the course wasn’t being offered this semester. With one student slated to graduate this May, the other two looking to graduate in December and no guarantee that their course would be offered in the fall, the three seniors took matters into their own hands.

“Jon, Jaron and I approached David about having it as an independent study course. So there’s no technical class meeting; we’re all doing this on our own,” said Kelli Brown, a senior Theater major.

After a semester of individualized study, Jonathan Minton, Jaron Carlson and Brown are showcasing what they’ve learned in their Directing II independent study. “Love, Sex & Marriage” is a series of three one-act plays that the trio has been busy directing. The production will run from Thursday, April 21 through Saturday, April 23 in the Fine Arts Building’s Harper Studio at 7 p.m.

Each one-act play somehow relates to the theme, and has at least one of the three words (love, sex or marriage) in the title. According to the directors, this was an odd coincidence.

“It was really an incredibly fortunate accident,” said Minton, “We actually came up with the title before any of us realized that “love” and “sex” and “marriage” are, one way or another, in one of the titles of the plays.”

The first of the three one acts, “The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year” (written by John Guare and directed by Carlson) is a story about two characters, known only as He and She, who meet in a park on a Sunday afternoon and fall in love. As opposed to the other plays, “The Loveliest Afternoon,” which runs for about 15 to 20 minutes, deals primarily with the romantic aspect of love, and “true love” in general.

“It’s a love story about how two very different people can fall in love,” Carlson said, “Even the craziest of crazy people can fall in love.”

“Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” written by David Mamet, is Minton’s contribution to the evening. The play, which deals with the sexual aspect of love, revolves around four individuals, their relationships dealing with the opposite sex and their conversations with one another regarding those relationships. “Sexual Perversity” runs for about 45 minutes.

“It’s one profanity after another. It’s so layered, and everything that David Mamet writes is incredibly layered, but this play especially,” Minton said, “With every single read, even today after six or seven years…every single read, you discover something more.”

Brown’s chosen play, “A Marriage Proposal” (by Anton Chekhov), is a Russian piece that pokes fun at the mechanics of marriage proposals and the reasons for marriage. Originally set in the late 1800’s in Russia, Brown modernizes the 30-minute play by setting it in the United States during the 1930s Dust Bowl.

“It’s really just about how preposterous the institution of marriage really is,” said Brown.

Minton, who is graduating this May, plans on pursuing a career in directing, and has already directed several other productions locally. Before he moves to New York in October, he plans on directing a few more productions as well.

“In July I’m directing ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ at Out North Theater,” said Minton, “And I will probably be having a final stab at ‘Rocky Horror’ in the fall.”

Minton has directed the local annual “Rocky Horror Picture Show” production for the last two years.

Tickets for “Love, Sex & Marriage” are $7 for the general public and $5 for students with a valid id. Tickets are available at the UAA Box Office in the Fine Arts Building. A pay-what-you-can student preview of the three works will be held on Wednesday, April 20 at 7pm. For more information, check out the Facebook event page.

October 19, 2010 Heather Hamilton

Few can deny the fame of Edgar Allan Poe or his literary contributions to American horror. “The Raven” rendered him a household name immediately after publishing in 1845, and is still arguably his most well known work. But who was Poe the man? What drove him to write such dark tales and poems of illness,…

September 21, 2010 Taylor Campbell

This Halloween, the UAA mainstage is offering up a performance so macabre, so hysterical and so eerie that you may very well fill your need to trick or treat entirely. ““Chemical Imbalance”: A Jekyll and Hyde Play,” directed by Tom Skore, is a non-traditional take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and…

October 9, 2007 Renee Dillard

The production of James Leonard Jr.’s “The Diviners” begins in blackness while “Amazing Grace” is played on a rundown saw. The lights focus on the young musician, dressed in worn rural clothing. Four young women in flapper-style dresses join in with pleasant voices as two characters foreshadow a death to the audience. This would normally be a disappointing prediction, but very little about the play is disappointing.

Directed by David Edgecombe, “The Diviners” manages to incorporate humor into a tale of kindness and survival. It takes place in southern Indiana during the Great Depression, a time especially when love and friendship are important. The community of Zion has managed to come together to rejoice life, despite the play’s inevitable illustration of death.

As the first act closed, a small fragment of light shone onto Buddy Layman’s dirt-covered face as he cackled his distinctive, humorous laugh. Layman’s character as a mentally impaired 15-year-old boy anchored the production with his slow talking and deathly fear of water. His family and friends care for him but struggle to keep up with his energy and curiosity about the world. Ryan Buen breathes personality into his character with consistency and powerful interactions with the rest of the cast. Where an uneven portrayal of stupidity and intelligence could sacrifice the character’s eloquence, Buen’s ability to tackle a role such as this one seems effortless.

Among the characters keeping Buddy in line are his sister Jenny Mae (Kate Williams), his father Ferris (Jerry MacDonnell) and the ex-preacher C.C. Showers (Nathan Huey), who comes to Zion seeking work. Williams and MacDonnell each bring a professional balance into the production, interacting well with the cast and adding an essence of believability to their roles. The most likable character is Huey’s, who initially struggles to make the character his own but comes back with a touching closing performance. The remainder of the cast delivers above-average acting, despite infrequent stumbling with the lines and occasional smirking in supposed times of anger.

Leonard Jr. masterfully tied the story together with well-written dialogue that lends the characters credible southern accents. Buddy’s speech impediment is animated through his stuttering and inability to speak in the first person, which is sometimes entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking. The script certainly makes up for the lack of props, which would have probably taken away from the play itself.

One of the production’s most enjoyable aspects is its appeal to sight and sound, which add to the painted and two-dimensional scenery of hills and trees. The sky changes colors as the time of day and atmosphere alters, and special effects turn the dirt-covered ground into a blue flowing river. Sounds of thunder, crickets and water give life to otherwise nonexistent ingredients that glue the big picture together. The musical accompaniment should not be overlooked; it becomes increasingly enjoyable as the play advances.

The only flaw is the change in scenes, which is done with no discretion as crewmembers nonchalantly enter and exit the set to add and remove props while the acting resumes. To add additional confusion, the indoor settings have ambiguous boundaries. A mere doorframe signifies a house while a window hanging from the ceiling represents a diner, leading the audience to think that the hills and trees are either indoors as well or strange choices for wallpaper.

In spite of a few minor shortcomings, “The Diviners” provide humor, drama and a little romance that intertwine with a dramatic plot and delightful characters. Ironically, this play managed to vividly bring to life a time and place of loss and death.