Tradition with a Twist

Devilfish showcases indigenous legends


Traditional themes merge with the modern in Perseverance Theatre’s production of Devilfish. 

Devilfish opened Sept. 20 at Perseverance Theatre. Devilfish is a play written by Alaskan local, Vera Starbard and directed by Leslie Ishii. 

Starbard is orignally from Craig, Alaska and is Tlingit and and Dena’ina Athabascan. She is the playwright in residence this year at Perserverance Theatre. 

“In prehistoric Southeast Alaska, when humans and animals still talked and lived amongst each other, a monstrous sea creature destroys an entire village. Only the young girl Aanteinatu survives and is left to forge a new life among strangers. A mysterious wolf and an ethereal legend guide the child to find the wisdom and strength to become the woman of her destiny,” according to the Perseverance Theatre’s website.

“It’s not a traditional story, but it was inspired by the kinds of traditional themes and traditional legends that were told,” Starbard said. “The play itself is built on very cultural and traditional foundations…”

The opening night started off with dancers from Woosh.ji.een, a local Native dance group, singing and dancing on stage. The dancers then handed out gift bags to the audience; practicing a tradition of gift giving at Tlingit gatherings.

UAS Native and Rural Student Center coordinator, Kolene James and her husband Lyle James, helped choreograph the dances for the play.

“There is thousands of dollars’ worth of Native art as props that were donated and loaned for use and created specifically for this play,” Starbard said.

Some of the artists that created props for the play also had their art included in a mini Native art market right outside the theatre. There were also items from the Mt. Juneau Trading Post in the market as well. 

Starbard explained that she is trying to “Indigenize” the process of preparing for a play by making rehearsal family friendly and incorporating Tlingit language in rehearsal.

Devilfish will be at Perseverance Theatre until Oct 12. The play will be shown next month in Anchorage.

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