PUBLISHED: 11:59 AM on Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Storybox Series brings tales to life
Fifteen years ago, Brett Dillingham and Mark Whitman put on a performance at the Juneau Public Library where they reached into a big box of books, and performed a dramatic reading of whatever selection they had chosen.

Thinking that the event might be even more interesting if storytellers were to memorize the books and then put on a performance using full body movement, Dillingham created the Storybox Series, a family-oriented event.

The series, which often features some of Juneau's best storytellers, has morphed over the years to include many forms of performance. At the next Storybox evening, which will take place Feb. 23 at Resurrection Lutheran Church, the group plans to highlight Tlingit and original stories. These include Ishmael Hope's original one-act play, "Gunakadeit," adapted from the Tlingit story told by John Katishan; "Raven Loses his Nose," adapted by Nora Dauenhauer and performed by Allan Hayton and Austin Tagaban; and the tale of "Tar Baby and Brer Rabbit" as performed by Eve Dillingham.

"Watching the storybook come alive right in front of you is a really neat experience," said Lily Hudson, who will be performing in "Gunakadeit."

"There are so many dramatic elements-there's movement, and music, and the changing voices of all of the characters."

Hudson, who as been telling stories since 2003, says that she enjoys sharing her talent with others as a way to hold on to her culture.

"I find storytelling to be a way to share my enthusiasm for Tlingit culture," she said of her involvement in Storybox as well as her performances for the Juneau School District. "I feel that I am following in the footsteps of my ancestors, not only by telling stories, but by passing on the moral lessons in the stories to as many people as I can."

One of these moral lessons can be found in the tale of "Gunakadeit," a Tlingit story originally told by John Katishan, which was recorded and put into a book that was published in 1909 by John Swanton. This story has been adapted by playwright and artist Ishmael Hope, and will be performed as a one-act musical theater piece at the next Storybox.

"The story is about a man who was looked down upon by many, especially his mother-in-law, who called him lazy and a gambler," Hope said. "Yet one night, he kills the sea monster, Gunakadeit, and puts on its skin. He becomes the monster and brings back food to his starving village. The story is all about transformation and the mysteries of the natural world."

Hope's adaptation will feature music by Stefan Hakenberg, who is providing the score, and will be directed by Jim Simard. The cast includes Hope, Lily Hudson, Allan Hayton and Victoria Johnson.

"All of the actors will be playing instruments, which we're using to replicate the feeling of the sea and the concept of transformation," Hope said. "The emotional content of the piece will be heard in all of these cool, interesting sounds."

Though some people may be familiar with the stories that will be featured in this month's Storybox, Hope says that this will not prevent them from enjoying the performance.

"People sometimes feel that after they've seen or heard a story once, there is no urgency to see it again," he said. "But what we are doing is artistically very new and exciting. They won't be seeing the same old thing-it's not the stories that people think they know."

The series, which takes place about every other month, is held at Resurrection Lutheran Church or the Juneau Public Library. February's performance will be held at the church beginning at 7 p.m., and is open to all ages. The cost is $8.

"In November, we had about 40 people at our performance, and in January we had about 90," said Hudson. "Our audience is all ages-we encourage everyone to attend, from age 1 to 101."