Project: Professional Production and Development for Alaska Native Playwrights
Grantee: Perseverance Theatre
Story by: Frank Henry Kaash Katasse
This was what I told a group of students in the International Club at East High School. This room was filled with kids from all across the globe. I wondered if any had ever thought that writing a play could be something they could do.
I didn’t. Wasn’t even something I considered. Especially in high school. I didn’t discover the stage until I was in my 20’s. Before then I was quiet. Except to my close friends. I was a decent student, but no subject in particular kept my attention.
Then I discovered acting. My life changed. Getting up, pretending to be someone else that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. There was a major setback I discovered as time went on: what would I use to audition for shows?
This may not come as a surprise, but there aren’t many plays to pull monologues from for young(ish), native, males. So what did I do? I wrote one. There was a homeless man standing outside the office I worked at – at the time- and he was looking up. It was raining out. He was smiling. What was he thinking about?
I didn’t know, so I wrote what I thought he may be thinking.
“…I took that shower but even the cold water couldn’t cool me down. I eventually got out and sat on the curb outside. It was raining that day. Been camping ever since. That’s the only way I can sleep. If I hear the rain, then I know I ain’t in that desert no more. That’s why I love living in our rain forest, because it rains every day.” – Tim (from my monologue, They Don’t Talk Back)
That monologue was the first thing I wrote. From there more and more stories started pouring out of me. I had acted in dozens of plays at that point, but never once thought I could write one. Next thing you knew, I had a full length script. I never took a play-writing class, so (I later found out) my format made the script hard to read. I didn’t care about my grammar or structure, I just wanted to tell my story. It was there. Dialogue. Action. Drama. A story.
I wrote characters that I would want to act. I wrote things that I saw, or heard, or lived that were unique to me as a Tlingit man growing up in Southeast Alaska. Never once thinking that the play would get read, let alone produced in California (Native Voices at the Autry and La Jolla Playhouse) and across Alaska (Perseverance Theatre).
Like I mentioned, I was more than happy flying under everyone’s radar growing up. So when people lined up to see my play, to watch my stories, I wondered why I never thought about doing it before. Then it dawned on me: I never knew that being a professional storyteller was an option.
When The CIRI Foundation (TCF) provided the opportunity for me to have my story told in Anchorage as part of Perseverance Theatre’s 2016-2017 Season, it also provided an opportunity for me to reach out to students in the Drama class and International Club at East High School. It gave me the platform to tell those kids that they too have stories. That by just being in this classroom – sometimes thousands of miles from their birthplace – they have a story that people may want to hear someday. Maybe some of them are quiet and shy, but by me being there that day, maybe they were inspired to tell a story of their own someday. Maybe as book. Maybe as a song. Maybe as a poem. Maybe as a script for the stage. Whatever way they decide, I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.