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Leon's Productions
Alice In Wonderland
The Hairy Ape
Martini Ceremony
Moby Dick (Norfolk)
The Sea
The Grapes Of Wrath
Moby Dick (Alaska)
The Tempest
Moby Dick (Japan)
Perseverence Theatre, Juneau AK, May 18 - June 3 2001
Conceived by Leon Ingulsrud
Directed by Leon Ingulsrud, Peter DuBois
Set by Art Roach
Lights by Art Roach
Sound by Albert McDonnell
Costumes by Marilyn Wright

This was not only the second production that I did at Perseverence Theatre in Juneau Alaska, but it was the second production that I had done based on Melville's MOBY DICK. We created this itteration with six actors and a set design which required removing the seats from the theatre and putting the audience on benches that were moved during intermission. A huge part of the production was the fusing of native Alaskan culture and myth with Melville's world. A fusion that was even more fertile than I had ever anticipated.
The text drew from the Norfolk production but included much that was re-written or entirely new. We also split the role of Ishmael amoungst all six actors. Playwright Lucy Thurber worked with us putting the text together, and a lot of the staging came directly from compositions that the cast did.
The germ around which this production coalesced is the question “What does it mean to read MOBY-DICK in Alaska?” What does it mean to take this quintessential novel of the American soul and look at it in the context of a place that seems to heighten, epitomize and amplify the American experience?
This question led us quickly to the centuries old whaling culture of the Inupiac people of Barrow. The process of creating the production has been an intuitive tracing of the metaphoric strands that grow out of the resonances and dissonances between Inupiac whaling and Melville’s novel.

The production is not a staging of MOBY-DICK. Anyone who knows the novel will know that this would be a preposterous proposition. Rather the production is a theatrical response to, reflection or refraction of the novel. Key to this is the prismatic structure of Melville’s book. Those who are only familiar with the movie versions of MOBY-DICK have never had the experience of floating through chapter after chapter of digression. It is after all, a very simple story folded into a novel of almost impenetrable complexity. We have embraced this structure, and have striven to respond not only to the plot of MOBY-DICK but to the structure and spirit as well.

The text of the production is drawn primarily from Melville’s novel, but in the spirit of the novel we have also drawn from a range of other sources, including historical and scientific documents, Inupiac traditional stories, The Bible, James Joyce, Dante, Shakespeare, D. H. Lawrence, and Lou Reed. A great deal of text in the production is from interviews of Inupiac whaling captains conducted in Barrow by Peter DuBois in the fall of 2000.

The production is also a celebration and exploration of American culture. Although the American sensibility is often maligned as shallow, blind and brutal, Melville was an artist who believed in the legitimacy of American culture, and it’s potential to surpass the European cultures which so influenced it. From Shaker carpentry to Vaudeville American culture is a rich tapestry of contrasts and contradictions. A culture that contains both Inupiac dances and Rock music. Mayberry and Columbine. It is out of this culture that the production emerges.
It is not the role of art to provide or even propose answers. The novel MOBY-DICK is a prism through which the white light of an unfathomable universe is refracted into a myriad of colors; each with it’s own labyrinth of mystery.

As an artist working in America in the year 2001, I am acutely aware of how fiction has ceased to function within our society. As a culture, we seem to have difficulty hearing the truths that our dreams our whispering to us. We are hungry for the “real”, the “actual” and in the process have become addicted to a state of being that relegates stories and myth to the social backwater of “entertainment”. Yet it is in the hyperbolic, histrionic opera of our fantasy that the meaning of our existence is being etched into time. And it is in the arena of our myths that we can begin to communicate and share understanding with the other cultures that surround and permeate us.
I claim Herman Melville’s MOBY-DICK as a fundamental myth of my culture. It is, for better or worse, the great American story. I don’t claim to understand it, but I smell the marrow of my own bones in it’s pages. It is as flawed as any soul on the planet and as perfect as any night sky. Like all great works of art, the mystery of the work is indistinguishable from the mystery of the universe.

Please feel free to contact Leon if you have any comments or questions.


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