Friday, May 11, 2018

Arctic Entries - Then And Now - Alaska Story Tellers Share Their Stories

Back in November 2010 we went to see and hear something called Arctic Entries - seven story tellers each with seven minutes to tell their stories.  It was a Cyrano's (the original theater on D St) that held about 90 people.

Here's what it looked like back then at Cyrano's:

Image from the 2010 post on Arctic Entries
Like most things at the old Cyrano's stage, it was intimate.  The guy on stage in the picture is Max [Matt] Rafferty who was one of the hosts this week.  He was stepping down from that role, saying the speakers get seven minutes and he's had seven years.  So he thinks it's time. [UPDATE May 14, 2018:  Barbara Brown has become my new editor, letting me know when typos slip in here.  Thank you Barbara!  I do appreciate it.  Memory is a weird thing.  All I can think of is that Max Rafferty was a politician in California long ago and my fingers without my knowing replaced Matt with Max.  Not even a politician I liked.]

We'd heard it had grown a lot - so much so that tickets at the Discovery theater sold out in minutes.  That seemed like too much work.  But I heard the last one of the season would be held in the Atwood Concert Hall (holds around 1900) so I checked on tickets when I had to go downtown anyway.  I got two tickets, in the upper balcony was all that were left.

Arctic Entries has seven story tellers tell seven minute stories each evening.  They have to be their own stories of their own experiences.  Those are the basic rules.  These are generally everyday folks, not professional story tellers.

The image is from before the story telling began.  The place got packed.  They said it held 1900 people.

They also had a band - Blackwater Railroad from Seward.

But the stories were compelling, even from so far away.  It just wasn't possible to find and talk to individual story tellers afterward.

The theme was "Timelapse" and each story teller represented a different decade.  It began with 2000s and went back to the 1970's.  Then after intermission, it went in the other direction - 1940's to 1960's.

The group was diverse!  Adil Raja is a Pakistani immigrant who talked about winding up in Anchorage and falling in love with Alaska.

Mao Tosi, born in American Samoa, moved to Anchorage as a child, got into sports in high school and spent a couple of years in the NFL until he got injured.  Then he came back to Anchorage and became a community organizer.  He told about how his parents left him, when he was in junior high, to live with his 19 year old brother.  It was through sports and people at school and in the community that he kept away from drugs and graduated from high school.  His message was that the love of strangers that 'saved' him is important and we should all share our love.

Penny Scales Fairbanks is a Fairbanks hairdresser and she was recruited by one of the Arctic Entries organizer after hearing the story when she got her hair done.  She talked about how her brother told her he was gay in the 1980s, living in California.  And then that he was HIV+ and wanted help in telling their parents, and how her father's attitude changed while they were in California being with her brother while he was dying.

Donna Walker, Alaska's current first lady, talked about coming to Alaska in 1976 right after graduating from college to become a recreation director at an Alaska pipeline construction camp in Glennallen.  From there she took a similar job in Valdez where she met Bill Walker.  She said before getting married, she told him she wanted four kids and he said he did too.  Later he admitted that however many kids she said she wanted he would have given the same answer.

Then there was intermission and we moved forward from the 1940's.

Margaret Anderson, born in 1933, talked about growing up in Seward in the 30's and 40's.  On the one hand she said it was a great life for kids back then, but on the other hand, she said she couldn't wait to get on the ship out after high school.  But she came back to Seward and packed her seven minutes with lots of stories.

Carmel Walder talked about spending time with her grandmother in SE Alaska while her parents were having trouble and there she learned about order and calm and harvesting herring eggs and fishing.  She went back to her parents and more chaos, but staying at grandmother's had shown her there was another way to live and she graduated from high school and made a life which now includes her own grandchildren.

And finally, we had Paul Ongtooguk who grew up in Nome and was put into a program in the 1960s where Alaska Native kids were sent to white Christian families to live.  He was sent to Oklahoma.  As disturbed as that program was, he did see another life and got through college and has worked at the University of Alaska Anchorage for many years.

At the end of the program, the hosts unfurled a huge check - no one gets paid for working at Arctic Entries and all the proceeds go to Alaska organizations.  The fall non-profit partner was Hospice and the spring 2018 partner is the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Service (RAIS).  I looked on their website to try to find more on the checks, but couldn't.  I think there was a check for close to $20,000!

Arctic Entries website is here.  And at another page you can find links to most of their old story tellers.  (A few in the first year are missing, presumably they weren't recorded.)

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