A cast member holds up a cue card in Soldotna High School’s production of "Annie" on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

A cast member holds up a cue card in Soldotna High School’s production of "Annie" on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Voices of the Peninsula: Is theater dead?

“It will not be an easy task, performing CPR on this theater, but imagine the joy that you could bring to the students.”

By Susanna Litwiniak

As President of Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, I was recently tasked with finding a place to offer a training for members in the Seward area.

I immediately thought of the theater at Seward High School — one of my favorite spaces in all of the Seward schools — and got to work securing the venue. I got permission from the principal to use the space, and I talked to the person in charge of theaters for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. He decided to send a theater tech from Soldotna to Seward, as there was no theater tech in Seward, to help me set up for the training and show me how to work some of the equipment that I would need for audio and PowerPoint presentation.

I met with Paul Wright, head theater tech for Kenai Central and Soldotna high schools, at the Seward High School Theater on Tuesday afternoon. We went upstairs and he showed me some of the equipment that I would need to use, and how to turn things off and on, then we went down to the stage to check out light switches there.

That is when I noticed the air of lifelessness in this theater. The stage was vacant, of course, but it was more than that. When Paul and I went backstage, it was evident that this theater had not been loved for a long time. There was broken furniture strewn about, full bottles of hand sanitizer piled on cases of facial tissue; a floor-scrubbing machine sat unused, and the beautiful piano was parked back there gathering dust.

I looked up to the rafters and I saw the costumes hanging like so many ghosts from a bygone era when this theater had been alive with the excitement of budding performers and expectant audiences. I remembered taking my daughter to see a play in this theater when she was just a little girl and being amazed at what a professional production we had seen in this little high school theater! I remembered looking at all of the framed photos from shows past, and how evident it had been that this theater was loved and a part of the community.

Paul explained to me that the position of Theater Tech at Seward High School had been open since last year and nobody had applied for it. “It looks like this place is becoming a storage space,” he sadly stated. “And once that happens, it takes an act of Congress to change it.”

“This place needs somebody here who cares about it,” Paul lamented. “Before it becomes nothing more than storage.”

Paul told me about the production of “Annie” that he had worked on at Soldotna High this school year. His eyes lit up as he described the way that a freshman student had taken to lighting design. This student got books on the subject, researched, came up with a lighting design, and helped the grown theater techs run the show. “We all had headsets,” Paul remembered with delight. “And here was this freshman telling us where to go and what to do!”

“I’ve never seen anything like it!” Paul said with a smile.

Every young person should be given the opportunity to shine. Theater gives students that opportunity in so many ways. There are students who love to sing and perform, and there are students who may find that their passion is set design or set building or lighting or sound. Within the theater, there are so many opportunities for a young person to find the thing that brings them to life!

Paul and I shut off the lights on the stage and Paul decided to stick around for a while to see if he could fix some technical issues that he had noticed. I left the theater feeling sad for the loss to the community and the loss to the students at Seward High School, grieving the death of the theater.

I thought, ‘Something has to be done’. So, I am doing what I can. I am writing this article with the hope that it will reach some people who agree that the theater at Seward High School is worth saving. I am hoping that there is somebody out there who is looking for a part-time job with a purpose.

It will not be an easy task, performing CPR on this theater, but imagine the joy that you could bring to the students, present and future, at Seward High if you took on this task! Imagine the service you would be doing for the community of Seward, if you were to breathe some life back in to this once vital, vibrant heart of the community.

Please answer my question, “Is Theater dead?” with a resounding, “No! I will revive it!”

The theater tech position at Seward High School is a four-hour-a-day position. It is advertised on the KPBSD website. Just click the “Apply Now” button to start the very heroic task of rescuing theater in the community of Seward!

Susanna Litwiniak is Moose Pass School secretary and president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association.

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