36th Annual Protecting Our Children Conference – Anchorage 2018

We were excited that The Winter Bear & the Power of Story was accepted for a panel discussion at the 36th Annual American Indian Child Welfare Association meeting at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage in April 2018.

We were honored that Sidney Huntington’s daughter, Anna Huntington-Kriska, who is also the Grant Advisor for Behavioral Health at Southcentral Foundation, was one of our panel members, along with Winter Bear Lead Actor Brían Wescott, Director Tom Robenolt and Playwright Anne Hanley.

Ms. Huntington-Kriska told her own powerful story of how suicide has impacted her life and why she has chosen time and again to cycle back into suicide prevention work.

Annie Huntington-Kriska, one of Sidney’s daughters.

Audience members told us about their own arts-related suicide prevention projects. Two that stood out: A California project about suicide that wove personal stories of suicide survivors into compelling dramas; and an arts collective in Manitoba that explored the root causes of suicide through poetry, music and art.

Thank you NICWA for allowing us to connect with people from all over the U.S. and Canada who are harnessing the power of story to break the hold of suicide.

~Anne Hanley, Playwright


Grand Finale in McGrath

Our 2016 tour ended in the friendly community of McGrath.


We instantly felt comfortable at the school, thanks to the welcoming hospitality of Principal Matt Shelbourne and our Southcentral Foundation contact, Katie Stam. We were immediately encouraged to visit the local museum, where we learned all about McGrath’s history as a trading post, gold rush town, and recently as an archaeological site.

The cast was delighted to spot a traditional Athabascan bear spear at the museum. In The Winter Bear, a traditional hunting spear plays a major role in the climax of the play.



We played theatre games with the kids on the day of the show, drumming up excitement for that evening’s performance.

Actors Brían and Aurora giggle with the kids during a theater game focused on eye contact.

Actors Brían and Aurora giggle with the kids during a theater game focused on eye contact.

We had heard in advance that McGrath folks can cook, and the prophecy was true!  The potluck was definitely one to remember.


The frybread in the foreground was GONE in a few minutes.

It was bittersweet performing for the last time, so of course we took one last round of photos with the kiddies afterwards.


A little boy named Skyler was excited to meet our Skyler, who played Wolf.


Lynx (played by Aurora Lewis) customarily gets mobbed by the young ladies after each show.

We finally got the whole group together for a photo.  An amazing feat in and of itself!


After flying in separate groups to many of the smaller locations, we all headed out of McGrath together with Pen Air.


We miss the road already!  Thank you to everyone in McGrath who made our closing performance so memorable.

mcgrath river

Nikolai, Top of the Kuskokwim

Nikolai was so beautiful, I don’t even know where to begin!



Denali on the left and Sultana on the right. Hard to capture with an iPhone, but you get the idea.




The flight in was beyond gorgeous –a clear day with Denali in full view, as well as Mt. Foraker.  Foraker is traditionally called “Sultana” in Tanaina Athabascan, translating to “Denali’s Wife.” It was amazing to see these two peaks from the West, since usually we cityfolk view the Great One from the other side on the Parks Highway.




The population of Nikolai was 96 at the 2013 Census, and we were told that about 80 people were currently in town. It’s a wonderfully friendly community — everyone we met was excited about the performance.  We had almost 50 people turn up for it!

The Top of the Kuskokwim School gym was one of our most intimate spaces yet, which made for a powerful experience for both actors and audience.  You could hear a pin drop throughout the show, and the kids laying on mats in the front were particularly rapt. Not to mention scared by some of the bear roar sound cues!


Our talented tech team rose to the creative challenge of setting up in this half-gym.

Izzy (Duane) and Brían (Sidney) in Act 2.

Izzy Potts (Duane) and Brían Wescott (Sidney) in Act 2.

After the show, we were treated to pancakes flipped by one of Nikolai’s teachers.
Matt, you are officially our hero!


Adeline and Anne helping Matt out with pancakes.

It was wonderful to meet so many kind folks in Nikolai.  We even got to attend a hot dog roast at someone’s house the night before the show, which sure beats being cooped up in the school all night.


Lovely sunny evening chatting with the locals.

Thank you for having us, Nikolai!


~Sarah Mitchell, Associate Producer