PUBLISHED: 4:21 PM on Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Artistic director finishes tenure with musical
Launching a new musical play is no small feat, especially when it comes at a time of transition. That is just what PJ Paparelli did with "Yeast Nation" as he prepared to leave Juneau for a new job in Chicago.

The former artistic director of Perseverance Theatre, whose last day was Friday, Oct. 26, worked with Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, also co-writers of Tony Award-winning "Urinetown," on the rock-comedy dramatizing the first story of life on the planet.

"'Yeast Nation' has been a whirlwind - the whole thing - but audiences are enjoying it. It's a quirky play. With any new play people don't know what it's about. It's actually trying to tell people it's about family and the first family. It's a crazy, zany evening. It's great for kids. The kids who have seen it have just loved it," Paparelli said.

He said the challenge of putting on a new play is being able to read the audience, which lends itself to changes in the show.

Photo by Cam Byrnes
  From left: David Meyers, Salissa Cooper and Enrique Bravo in "Yeast Nation," which shows at Perseverance Theatre through Sunday, Nov. 3.
"We were laughing at jokes in the rehearsal hall for three or four weeks but then when it gets in front of an audience we see what is funny and not funny. We felt in the second act there was some confusion at the end of the play and how the ending happened. Parts of play are so preposterous that part of what helps the audience understand is the chorus setting it up. We realized the chorus wasn't really setting up the ending in a way that made you appreciate it, enjoy it and not take it too seriously," he said.

"It's very funny and allows us accept the circumstances at the end. I think the ending is really quite interesting now."

He said several actors' workshops helped cultivate the show and actors agreed to changes after the premiere.

"I think our audience is very responsive and will tell you when they like something and when they don't like something. It was a great place to test a show like this out because you're going to get a lot of audience feedback. It's been great. People never in a million years think they can see a musical about the first story of time. It's like sci-fi fantasy in a lot of ways," Paparelli said.

"We're creating our own world that doesn't exist anywhere else. It was scary and risky but also adventurous, and I think we did a good job creating a fun world with its own set of rules to give birth to a brand new play and a new musical at that that's been written by such notable theater people has just been a blessing for the whole community."

Although Paparelli is now gone from Juneau to take on his new role as artistic director of Chicago's American Theatre Company, he will return in the spring to debut his new show "Rockstar," which will feature music by Rory Merritt Stitt and will be directed by David Charles Goyette.

"I will just come back as a guest artist just like any other guest artist. I like that, and I'm excited about that because it continues my relationship with the theater, and I'm not thinking about the administration stuff. Really I'm just being an artist, and it will be a new situation for me here in Juneau because I've always felt half business half artist but this is just being an artist, which is great," Paparelli said.

"I feel like I have a strong support team. It's very much about Rory and I, and our journeys as artists. Although it's fictional, it comes from the heart. It's nice to actually have the last thing here be focused on that statement and what I want to say."

Paparelli said he encourages people to send e-mails to the board telling them what kind of theater they want to have so they have guidance in selecting the new artistic director.

"This has been an incredible three and half years, and I feel so blessed to be part of this community. I'm going to enjoy my new job in Chicago, but I'm sad to leave. I hope that the theater will continue to be supported by everyone in the community. I think there are a lot of opinions out there on what kind of theater should we have in town and what can we support in town," Paparelli said.

"I encourage the audience to respond to that because they are a big part of what we do they are why we do what we do. I hope audiences come see the shows and say this is the programming we want to have and outreach we want to have. The great thing about this town is that it's so responsive and so responsible to its theater. We need to feel like we're always serving them."