We had a nanosecond of apprehension as we arrived in the “big city” of Nome (pop. 3,841) after two small villages. What if they forgot us? Then we saw two enthusiastic young ladies, holding up a “Welcome Winter Bear” sign. They didn’t forget us! In fact we couldn’t have had a more gleeful welcome if we were a victorious sports team returning home.
Alice Bioff who came to meet us with her daughter Aries, and friend Andrea Irrigoo orchestrated all this. Alice’s husband John was there too with his big truck. (We love big, wide-bodied trucks for all our odd-shaped stuff.)
As in every location, it takes a whole community to host The Winter Bear. Carol Gales and Alice Bioff, both members of the Nome Arts Council, worked with Perseverance Theatre’s Development Director Erika Stone to bring together a coalition of funders including Sitnasauk Native Corporation, our major Nome funder, Kawerak, the Nome Arts Council, Norton Sound Health Corporation and King Island Native Corporation. Nome City School District provided venues for the potluck and show at Nome Elementary School. The National Park Service provided housing at their Nome Bunkhouse. Couches, kitchens, grocery stores, and beds – oh my!
After setting up the show in the gym at Nome Elementary on Tuesday night and repairing to our sumptuous digs at the NPS Bunkhouse, we celebrated the halfway mark of our tour with sparkling cider and ice cream sandwiches – such decadence.
The cast and crew took the next morning to explore Nome in between workshops at the Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools, and the Science Academy. We must confess many selfies were taken next to the ‘End of the Iditarod” sign. Meanwhile Playwright Anne Hanley and actors Brían Wescott (Sidney Huntington) and Skyler Ray-Benson Davis (Duane) paid a visit to Anvil Mountain Correctional Facility where the two actors did selected scenes from The Winter Bear. Even though time for dialogue with the inmates was short, there was recognition of shared brotherhood between the actors, both Alaska Natives, and the men in yellow, most of whom were also Alaska Native. It was a moving experience for all of us. We hope to come back someday and do the whole show for those responsive young men.
The Bering Sea Lions Club and a number of other community organizations worked together to make that evening’s pre-show potluck a true community feast. A big crowd turned out to enjoy all-you-could-eat salmon and halibut donated by the Norton Sound Health Corporation. But it was the Dessert Table that won The Winter Bear’s heart: Mountains of fry bread, along with a dazzling array of blueberry desserts, all homemade by members of local youth organizations. The potluck also provided an opportunity for people from a number of the social service agencies in Nome to talk about what they were doing to prevent suicides.
Almost 200 people crowded into the gym for the show. After it was over, a number of people came forward to share their stories. One “survivor,” a mother of three, told us how grateful she is to be alive to watch her children grow up. It always gives us a boost to hear such stories since we hear so many sad ones from people grieving loved ones who died by suicide.
After we packed up the set, we packed ourselves a large doggie box of leftover fry bread, perfect for a midnight snack at the bunkhouse.
Fortunately we arrived at the Nome Airport early Tuesday morning because we had to spend a good deal of time with the Alaska Airlines luggage Team, who were both amused and aghast to behold our plastic bins, odd-shaped pieces of Styrofoam ©, ski bags full of rods for our set frames, and costume duffels. When we finally reached a rapprochement between their regulations and our desperate need to get all our stuff to Anchorage, they awarded our Tour Manager Joshua a Junior TSA Officer badge. Unfortunately we had to forfeit our doggie box of fry bread as part of the deal.