PUBLISHED: 6:06 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008
New Art: up close with Perseverance's new artistic director
JUNEAU - Art Rotch draws together a combination of East Coast connections and local Alaska know-how as the new artistic director for Perseverance Theatre. His Harvard and New York University educations are hardly worth scoffing at, but he also highly values his work experience, including the fourteen years he spent at Perseverance before returning to NYU for his Masters degree in design.

Rotch originally came to Alaska from Boston twenty years ago, when he followed a girlfriend to her native Anchorage.

photo courtesy of Perseverance Theatre
  Art Rotch, the new artistic director for Perseverance Theatre, hopes to continue the theatre's reputation for presenting new work while also looking at ways to expand programming.
"I was trying to find my path," Rotch said. "Fourteen years later I was still here."

Though theater had been more a hobby during his time at Harvard, he got in contact with the Alaska Repertory Theatre to pursue a job and eventually heard about a temporary master electrician position at Perseverance. A year later, this became a permanent position.

Over the next fourteen years Rotch filled many positions at the theatre, including technical director, production manager, board of directors member, and finally, in his last season before leaving, resident designer.

At this point Rotch decided to pursue a three-year Masters program in design in New York. After completing the program he worked as a freelance set designer in New York and at regional theaters, including Julliard.

"I worked fast and met a lot of people," Rotch said.

This included his wife, Akiko Nishijima, who also attended the NYU Design School, and who has accompanied Rotch to Juneau to pursue work with the local theaters as well.

Perseverance and Juneau's culture called Rotch back to Alaska in February, when he accepted the position of artistic director. With his new experiences and education, Rotch has returned excited and full of ideas for the future of Perseverance.

"In the short term I want to produce a great season this year and put together a fun, cohesive team that is set up to move forward efficiently," Rotch said.

This year has seen an upset in the Perseverance staff, with six or seven new staff joining a team of about nine. This created some challenges for Rotch as he prepared the new season, but it has also allowed for an infusion of new voices. He's particularly excited about working with the new managing director, Elizabeth Davis, a Juneau native returning from a stint in London, with whom he has worked in the past.

Rotch's long-term goals include looking to more summer scheduling as a means of tapping into the tourist crowd and integration of some family programming.

Rotch plans to maintain the elements of the theater that have made it a local mainstay as well as a nationally recognized institution.

"Perseverance is known as a place that does new work," Rotch said. "When I mentioned Perseverance in New York, people always said, 'They do a lot of new writing.' I want to continue that."

While Rotch wants to maintain Perseverance's reputation as an innovative theater, he also wants to keep it local. He feels his familiarity with both Juneau and the national currents will allow him to bring these concepts together.

"Theater is a local act. It's made where you see it," Rotch said. "Juneau is a great theater audience, discerning but also supportive."

One thing Rotch is not interested in is getting locked into a rigid formula of doing the same kinds of plays each season.

"I want to mix it up for our sake, and the audience's sake," Rotch said.

He noted that there is a formula at the theater of mixing Alaska-based artists with carefully picked visiting artists, and he wants to continue this tradition while mixing up the schedule a bit. Something likely to come up again is comedy, satire and absurdity, as in the recent "Government Inspector," which plays with satire and local comedy. Rotch said he likes this type of approach to more political themes and that it is likely to make its way into the seasons more often.

"I'm interested in ideas, character and humor," Rotch said. "I'm not a stage director, so I bring a different perspective."