We Heart Aniak

April 17, 2016

The second stop on our Kusko tour was another hub, Aniak, a village of about 500 people that rests at the confluence of the Kuskokwim and the Aniak Slough.  In fact, it’s technically an island!

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 7.57.38 AM

There’s a simply stunning view of the Kuskokwim from a dyke at the center of town — we enjoyed several visits there during our stay.


Holy Alaska, Batman.

A walk around the village is always our big adventure, and Aniak had tons of interesting buildings like this “Stop N Shop,” which became “Stop and Hop” for our purposes.

stop n shop

Instead of their usual Math class, Aniak students got a big dose of Theatre Games on Friday. The activities utilize eye contact, using your voice & body, imagination, and improvisation. One of my favorite games to play with students from rural areas is “Expert,” where you pretend to be an expert on a topic given by the audience.  It tricks them into talking, which can be a big ask!  One young lady gave a hilarious speech about Road Paving.


And don’t get me started on the POTLUCK!  It was the first of tour, and the community brought some amazing dishes to share.  I think the musk ox stew was the highlight. We had over 100 people turn out for the performance – such an engaged and appreciative audience!


A local resident shared stories about Sidney Huntington before the show.


Front row is the best! Pardon the blurry photo.


Curtain Call

Some of the most memorable moments of tour happen right after the show!  We had a few young ladies who were just dazzled by the actors and posed for tons of pictures.


The little ladies love Lynx!


Those are some good-looking animals!

If you’ve never heard of Aniak, you may be asking yourself, “Home of the Halfbreeds?  Seriously?” As it turns out, this community is proud of its mascot and many are protective of it. Students selected the Halfbreeds moniker in the 1970s. These Alaska Dispatch News  and Juneau Empire articles go into more detail.

It was a true pleasure meeting the fine folks in Aniak.  We miss it already!


Go Halfbreeds!

~Sarah Mitchell, Associate Producer

Bethel, Home of the Warriors

The Winter Bear Project’s 2016 Kusko tour is well underway!  We just enjoyed three days in Bethel, Alaska, a major hub of about 6,000 people on the Lower Kuskokwim River.  We’ll be working our way upriver throughout this tour.


The Kuskokwim on our Bethel to Aniak flight.

Bethel Regional High School has an enrollment of about 500, so there is LOTS going on at the school!  Wrestling, Running practice, Student Council, and even a Health class program where kids have to take care of fake infants for a few days (that made us do some double-takes…)!


Mornings are HARD.

Photo by Brían Wescott.

Photo by Brían Wescott.


Packed matinee for the high schoolers.

We performed on Tuesday and Wednesday for high school and middle school respectively.  The young audiences were right there with us, laughing along and feeling the heavier parts of the play as well. Following each performance, we had a talkback with the cast.

Questions included:

  • “Do the animals get sweaty in their costumes?”
  • “Does the villain ever get attacked in real life?”
  • “Why doesn’t Lynx speak?”
Actors giggling during the question and answer session.

Actors giggling during the question and answer session.

With the high school group, the conversation went a bit deeper.  A student asked if we had ever encountered suicide, and we shared that almost everyone on stage has lost a loved one in this tragic way. Actor Brían Wescott mentioned how in Sidney Huntington’s early days, suicide was practically unheard of.  The cast agreed that talking openly about our struggles can help the healing process.

Actors led student workshops in theater games.  Following these laughter-filled sessions, a teacher remarked, “I haven’t seen that many smiles and that much participation in months.” The power of the arts at work!

Photo by Ryan Fuhrig

Pick me! Pick me!  Photo by Ryan Fuhrig


Getting our drama freak on.

After a few days of hard work and lots of fun, it’s onward to Aniak!


~Sarah Mitchell, Associate Producer


Introducing our 2016 Kusko Cast & Crew


lynxKadey Ambrose (Stage Manager) began in theater and dance as a child. Since then, she’s been continuously involved in the arts in her hometown of Fairbanks. Kadey is most proud of her work with the Angry, Young & Poor Fest, a free local music festival dedicated to building community through the arts.



James-2 (1)James Bartlett (Technical Director) is a lifelong Alaskan and has been participating in music and theatre since age four. He currently owns and operates Sunnyside Productions, a project-recording studio in Fairbanks.



Kaleb_headshotKaleb Daugherty (Production Technician) This is Kaleb’s first time working with The Winter Bear Project, but is excited and honored to be able to lend his technical expertise to the show! He has worked on multiple other shows, with Almost, Maine, Kung Fu Hamlet and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Fairbanks Drama Association) being his proudest plays.


Skyler Ray-Benson Davis_headshotSkyler Davis (Wolf) is from Anchorage, Alaska. He has never been this far off the road system before! He likes to do a lot of things on the arts side, and feels grounded and balanced, emotionally and physically, when able to be carried away by it. He hopes that he can take his own personal overcomings and faults with mental distress and suicide into the play to bring hope and understanding into your communities with the power of Sidney Huntington’s legacy, and former Alaska writer laureate Anne Hanley’s The Winter                                                Bear.

anneAnne Hanley (Playwright & Producer) is a former Alaska Writer Laureate whose plays have been produced in Alaska and Outside. She is grateful to the late Sidney Huntington for giving her permission to spread his message of education, self-reliance and humility and recommends his book to anyone who hasn’t read it. (Shadows on the Koyukuk by Sidney Huntington and Jim Rearden, Alaska Northwest Books, 1993.)

izzy_headshotIzzy Juneby
(Duane), Han Gwich’in from Eagle Village and Lakota Sioux, is a freshman at West Valley High School. He enjoys hunting, running, working out, skateboarding, hockey and spending time with his family.  Izzy feels very grounded in his culture and values, which gives him strength.  Izzy is really excited about returning to the role of Duane and says the topic is really important for the people.


David Leslie HeadshotDavid Leslie (Wolverine) is an Inupiaq Eskimo and started theater with the Lathrop High School Ballroom Dance Team. He is now an adjunct professor teaching swing dance at UAF CTC, while also working in film and TV production for national shows. David’s recent works were directing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and choreographing Shrek The Musical. He has toured with The Winter Bear Project previously as a videographer and Wolf.

Aurora Lewis_headshotAurora Lewis (Lynx) (Aleut) Lifelong Alaskan and dancer, Aurora is thrilled to be involved with the Winter Bear Project. After spending the last 10 years shoe-stringing around the globe, she’s excited to be home, enrolled in school, and settling down a bit.


yukonSarah Mitchell (Associate Producer) is delighted to be on her fourth tour with The Winter Bear Project, after playing Raven in previous productions. Born and raised in Fairbanks, Sarah worked in arts education for Portland Center Stage in Oregon and locally on Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre’s educational tour of an Alaska Native-inspired A Midsummer Night’s Dream.



Misty_headshotMisty Nickoli (Miranda) was raised culturally Koyukon Athabascan in the villages of Kaltag and Galena. She now lives in Fairbanks with her three teenaged sons. Indigenous social advocacy has been an important part of her life since her teens. Lately she has been a tireless advocate for justice for the Fairbanks Four. Misty served eight years in the Army Reserves as an LPN. She is excited to be working on suicide awareness as an actress in The Winter Bear.


Tom Robenolt PhotoTom Robenolt (Director) first toured with The Winter Bear in the fall of 2013 where he served as Technical Director. Currently, he is transitioning into Artistic Associate and the Education Director at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau Alaska. Tom has directed and acted for Perseverance Theatre, Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, Opera Fairbanks and other companies in Alaska since 2000.



Jasmine_headshotJasmine Stokes (Raven) is excited to reprise the role of Raven with the Winter Bear Project. Jasmine has also stage managed and costume consulted for previous productions. You can find her working technical theater gigs around Fairbanks, designing costumes for local productions and helping with the Angry, Young & Poor fest.  Jasmine is most proud of co-founding and performing with Fairbanks Fire & Flow, a fire spinning troupe.

Jake Waid_headshotJacob Waid (Victor) is happy to be back in Alaska where he has worked extensively with Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre and Perseverance Theatre. Past roles include the title roles in Hamlet andHenry V. He played Autolycus in The Winters Tale and Brutus in Julius Caesar. He has also played the Title role in Perseverance Theatre’s touring production of Macbeth, which culminated with a two-week run at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.  The play was translated into the language of his Tlingit tribe, a                                                    language only spoken now by about 300 Tlingit elders.

Brian_WescottBrían Pagaq Wescott (Sidney Huntington)  (Koyukon/Yup’ik), grew up in Fairbanks. He just performed They Don’t Talk Back in L.A. Other credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre (2015) and Karyn Traut’s The Realm of Love or Folding Laundry at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.