Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. From left: Josiah Burton, Jaron Swanson, Raleigh Van Natta, Spring Sibayan and director Paul Morin. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. From left: Josiah Burton, Jaron Swanson, Raleigh Van Natta, Spring Sibayan and director Paul Morin. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Getting creative

From livestreamed performances to radio, local groups find ways to make art during pandemic

The central peninsula’s art scene took a major hit in 2020. Art galleries, plays and concerts were canceled, and the various arts groups in the area did what they could to adapt to the realities of a world experiencing a pandemic. With the start of 2021, these groups are taking what they’ve learned in the last year and hoping to bring a fresh slate of entertainment to the area.

Performing Arts

Members of local theater group Kenai Performers spent Saturday afternoon in their newly renovated black box theater behind the Subway on Kalifornsky Beach Road, rehearsing scenes from “Murder in the Cathedral,” a play by T.S. Eliot. The actors and crew were all in masks, as they will be for the actual performances, which are set for Feb. 19-21 and Feb. 26-28.

The play takes place in 12th century England and is based on the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the Canterbury Cathedral. Selia Butler, a seasoned performer with the theater troupe, said that the play’s poetic nature presented a unique challenge for the actors. The script has to be followed in a precise manner, with actors paying attention to which syllables to emphasize and whether to say “Thomas, Archbishop” or “Thomas, our Archbishop” in any given scene.

“You have to just dig into your material so much more,” Butler said. “It takes a little more time to get, but it’s more satisfying when you do get it.”

For this and the other two plays in production, Kenai Performers member Rebecca Gilman said that in-person seating will be limited to 30 tickets, but additional tickets can be purchased to view a livestream of each performance. This hybrid format will be a first for the troupe, and Gilman is hoping that the livestream option will draw an audience that might not otherwise be able to see the plays — friends and family members of the cast and crew that live in the Lower 48, for example.

Paul Morin is directing “Murder in the Cathedral,” and Gilman will be directing a one-woman play titled “Grounded” as well as a musical production of “Little Women.”

“Grounded” is scheduled for the end of March. Gilman expects “Little Women” to be on stage by the end of May.

Tickets for “Murder in the Cathedral” are available on the Kenai Performers website as of Saturday.

While the Kenai Performers experiment with livestreamed performances, Triumvirate Theatre has embraced the revival of radio dramas.

Joe Rizzo, director of the Triumvirate Theater, said Thursday that he doesn’t anticipate going back to live stage productions until this fall. In the meantime, Rizzo is planning a radio play to coincide with their annual dinner auction in March. Rizzo said he’s been watching a lot of Tom Cruise movies lately, so the radio production is titled “Fishing Impossible,” and will be a parody of action movies that takes place on the Kenai River. The radio, Rizzo said, makes an action-oriented production easier to pull off than a live stage performance — nobody needs to be suspended from cables, and the sound effects are easy to incorporate into an audio-only format.

Triumvirate’s locally famous political parody show, “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses,” was also broadcast on local radio stations last fall rather than performed live. Over the summer Triumvirate put on a radio drama that focused on kids’ mental health. That particular radio drama was followed by a round-table discussion between youth performers in Triumvirate and a local clinical psychologist. Rizzo has applied for a grant that would fund similar productions in the future.

“I think that production was quite effective and reaching both kids and adults, at a time when everyone was struggling with their mental health,” Rizzo said. “After it aired I remember people would stop me in the grocery store to say that they had heard it, and people had a lot of positive feedback.”

Triumvirate isn’t the only group in the radio theater world these days. Gherkin Radio Theater was formed in the fall of 2020 and aired their first production — a Sherlock Holmes mystery — on local public radio station KDLL at the end of October.

Dr. Stephen White, who runs Gentle Dental in Soldotna when he’s not directing radio dramas, was finishing up a production this weekend based on “The Most Dangerous Game,” a short story about people hunting other people for sport. Gherkin Radio Theater’s production assistant Mary May said Friday that the show should air on KDLL at the end of January. In the meantime, Gherkin Radio Theater is on the search for additional cast members for a production of an episode of “Gunsmoke” and a production based on the death of infamous American gangster John Dillinger. May said that they hope to air the two productions as a Western-themed double feature at the end of February.

Anyone interested in being in Gherkin Radio Theater’s upcoming performances can message the group’s Facebook page for more information, May said.

Visual Arts

The Kenai Fine Art Center, which typically holds a different exhibition each month at their gallery in Old Town Kenai, has not had any shows since March of 2020 and will likely remain closed until the summer, Peninsula Art Guild Vice President Marion Nelson said Thursday. There are major renovations planned for the building, which was built by volunteers in the 1950s.

Nelson said those renovations have not started yet, partially because of increased involvement from the City of Kenai.

Nelson said that the City of Kenai has taken a renewed interest in the building — which the city owns — and subsequent inspections have revealed that there is more work to be done than originally anticipated.

The city’s investment in the building is welcome news, Nelson said, but has delayed the renovations, and opening the building to the public before those renovations take place would be unrealistic.

While the Fine Art Center is closed to the public, those interested in viewing the works of local artists can head to the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center, which began hosting exhibitions at the end of last year.

Currently, the visitor center is hosting a photo gallery themed around the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The gallery can be seen from now through the end of April, and each month will feature a special rotating gallery as well. For January, the rotating gallery is about the winter birds on the refuge.

Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. From left: Nikki Stein, Hannah Burton and Sylvia McGraw. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. From left: Nikki Stein, Hannah Burton and Sylvia McGraw. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. From left: Selia Butler, Jodene McAuliffe, Terri Burdick and Alyeska Krull. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. From left: Selia Butler, Jodene McAuliffe, Terri Burdick and Alyeska Krull. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Performers rehearse a scene from “Murder in the Cathedral” at the Kenai Performers black box theater in Soldotna, Alaska, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

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