Theatre students debut ‘Earthquake ’64’

The 1964 Alaska earthquake was the second-most powerful earthquake in recorded history, just slightly weaker than the Chilean disaster of 1960. The 9.2-magnitude Alaska quake left a lasting impact not only on the land it destroyed, but the people who experienced the disaster firsthand.

The upcoming debut of the UAA Department of Theatre and Dance’s “Earthquake ‘64” opens on Feb. 9, and will run until Feb. 18.

The play will focus not only on Anchorage and Valdez, but also other areas affected by the earthquake, such as Oregon, Hawaii and Japan.

“Earthquake ’64” was built from scratch, from the script to the set, by UAA’s theatre and dance department. Photo credit: Department of Theatre and Dance

“We are not just necessarily telling one person’s story and experience, it is very much a collage of stories, ideas and events,” Brian Cook, assistant professor of theatre and director of “Earthquake ‘64,” said. “This is a project we created from scratch, so there was never s script to start off with, like with most plays.”

The show is meant to capture the stories of those who lived through the disaster, and it is bringing light to the stories of those who have survived other disasters.

“It is funny, it is sad, you will laugh, you will feel mad about the things that happened, but you will also walk away with a new experience in your pocket,” Angela Colavecchio, theater major and production crew member, said.

The inspiration behind the play came from an experience Cook had with his mother one Alaskan summer.

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“We went to Earthquake Park and we watched a documentary on the history and the science behind the 1964 earthquake. I thought that this would make an interesting show,” Cook said.

“Earthquake ‘64″ was devised in Cook’s ecology and dramaturgy course in spring 2017, and his theatrical devising class in the fall, and many of the 12 crew members were students in those two classes. Taran Haynes, theatre major, has been working on the play since its production began last year.

“We spent a lot of time going to the library and digging through documents and finding people to interview, and figuring out how to fit it all into a play,” Haynes said. “We see the earthquake as a sort of catalyst for change; we wanted to show how much of a mark the earthquake left.”

One of the first people the writers interviewed was Colavecchio’s grandmother, who lived through the 1964 earthquake, and her story was incorporated into the plot of the play.

“I always remembered her telling me about the earthquake when I was a kid, but to actually record that and put it in a play is a whole new experience,” Colavecchio said.

The play aims to express these emotions and experiences through visuals and movement.

According to Cook, one of the challenges in making a play revolving around an earthquake was finding out how to simulate an earthquake on stage. Challenges like this called for unique visuals.

“We kind of use our bodies as an instrument to relay a story, and it is something that I was new to, but it has turned out to be an absolute blast and it is something I am excited to be doing,” Devan Hawkins, social work major and cast member, said. “It is very much a visual and a sensory experience.”

Actors in “Earthquake ’64” use cloth and unique dances to represent tsunamis and flooding on stage. Photo credit: Department of Theatre and Dance

Cook and the cast meet four days a week to rehearse and work on the play. Over the past year, hundreds of hours have been put into its creation.

“It has not always been easy,” Haynes said. “This has been a hard process… it has made both us and the play stronger as a result.”

“Earthquake ’64” opens on Feb. 9 at the Mainstage Theater in the Arts Building. Tickets are available through, and are $9.99 for students, $19.99 for adults and $14.99 for a military and senior discount.