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“They Don’t Talk Back” is the first play Katasse ever wrote. It won Native Voices at the Autry’s 17th annual Festival of New Plays in 2015.
'They Don't Talk Back' comes home 012517 AE 1 Capital City Weekly “They Don’t Talk Back” is the first play Katasse ever wrote. It won Native Voices at the Autry’s 17th annual Festival of New Plays in 2015.

Kholan Studi, Jake Waid, Skyler Davis and Diane Benson rehearse for "They Don't Talk Back," Juneauite Frank Henry Kaash Katasse's debut play. Photo by Inua Blevins


Skyler Davis and Kholan Studi rehearse for "They Don't Talk Back." Photo by Inua Blevins.


Diane Benson and Kholan Studi rehearse "They Don't Talk Back." Photo by Inua Blevins


Jake Waid and Skyler Davis rehearse "They Don't Talk Back," opening at Perseverance Theatre Jan. 27. Photo by Inua Blevins

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Story last updated at 1/26/2017 - 8:16 pm

'They Don't Talk Back' comes home

Juneauite Frank Henry Kaash Katasse’s debut play has had quite a journey already.
“They Don’t Talk Back” is the first play Katasse ever wrote. It won Native Voices at the Autry’s 17th annual Festival of New Plays in 2015. The company debuted the play at The Pasadena Playhouse and La Jolla Playhouse in California, with an all American Indian or Alaska Native cast and crew, from the director, to the producer, stage manager, and, of course, the writer. (Katasse is of the Tsaagweidí Tlingit clan.)
Now it’s coming home, opening at Perseverance Theatre Jan. 27.
“They Don’t Talk Back” focuses on the story of a young Tlingit man who one summer must go live with his extended family in a small Southeast Alaskan village.
“You find out more about where his parents are as the play progresses,” Katasse said. “While he’s there, he learns about who he is as a young Tlingit man, and about his family history, as well.”
All the actors in the Perseverance production are Alaska Native or American Indian.
The play evolved from things Katasse wrote when he was able — the thirty minutes, for example, after he finished working at his then-job at KTOO.
“The structure of it is unconventional,” he said. “To me, it’s just about the relationship and the dynamic (of) this family.”
Katasse has years of experience as an actor and has performed in a number of plays over the years, including Vera Starbard’s “Our Voices Will Be Heard,” produced by Perseverance in 2016. Being a playwright, he said, is “definitely a new experience.”
“As a playwright, you finish the same rehearsal everyone else has been doing, and then the real work begins,” he said.
His experience as an actor has informed his work, he said, adding that he wrote the play “from an actor’s perspective.”
“Every single part in the play, I wrote it like ‘I would want to play this,’” he said. Even small things, for example, were informed by his experience. In one scene, for example, a character is soaking wet. Katasse wrote time into the script for the actor to get changed.
Just the same, the play feels like it “came out of nowhere,” Katasse said. “I told that to an elder, and he goes ‘Well, it’s not your story…These are stories that your ancestors are using you to tell.”
That helped put him at ease, Katasse said.
Another was a “zen moment” at La Jolla playhouse. Katasse was sitting in the audience, and the actors were on stage, running lines and discussing character motivations. At another table, people were talking about logistics.
“It’s kind of like this cacophony of sound and images,” he said. “This orchestra of people talking about these words that you wrote, and it came to you in the middle of the night. And I’ve been on the other side of that (as an actor) and never even thought about it.”
He’s reached out to colleagues like Ed Littlefield, who helped compose the songs in the play. Mike Dangeli, who recently returned to Juneau, is carving two masks for the play. Randy Reinholz (Choctaw) who directed the play in California, has traveled to Alaska to direct it here, as well.
“I literally wrote in the script ‘Ed will figure this out,’” Katasse said. “To me, he’s always been a musical genius.”
Some of the songs are based on open-source Tlingit lullabies. Another is a “unique take” on a Salvation Army song.
Though it’s nerve-wracking, it was his biggest goal to bring the play home to Juneau, Katasse said.
“I never anticipated where it would go,” Katasse said. “It’s been quite the ride…. I love how it’s coming together.”
The play opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, with pay-as-you-can previews the Wednesday and Thursday before. It runs through Feb. 19.
See a 2015 story about Katasse’s award here:
http://juneauempire.com/art/2015-05-27/juneau-actor-playwrights-script-wins-prestigious-reading-workshop
For more information and tickets to “They Don’t Talk Back,” go here: http://www.ptalaska.org/juneau/they-dont-talk-back/.