Anchorage Community Theatre remembers "Our Town" in 1964 with a new production 60 years later

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Since fall of 2023, Anchorage Community Theatre (ACT) has been making quite a big deal about its 70th year of creating community theatre in Anchorage, Alaska.

Born out of The Anchorage Little Theatre in the 1940s and a significant Alaskan Armed Forces production of Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific in 1952, ACT has gone through much to still remain-leadership changes, economic ups and downs, a worldwide pandemic, and the second largest recorded earthquake in the world.

The premise behind the choosing of the plays that would run during the 70th season were all based on shows that were pivotal to ACT's founding. These plays that defined ACT's legacy as Alaska's longest running theatre company were Arsenic & Old Lace, A Christmas Carol, and Our Town.

Arsenic, which played last September, commemorated ACT's 1957 production with none-other-than Boris Karloff himself. A Christmas Carol commemorated the 1953 production from ACT's very first season.

ACT is currently in the process of remounting Our Town. It's not just rehearsing that's part of the process, but also getting the word out to the community on the significance of this show to ACT, and even more, Alaska's history.

One of the most iconic photographs in the aftermath of that 9.2 magnitude quake, known as the Great Alaska Earthquake, is one that has ACT all over it. It is the one that depicts 4th avenue in shambles, with a banner remaining, slung across the street that simply and ironically states, "Our Town."

For some this symbol has come to represent the endurance of Alaskans in the aftermath of that catastrophic event. More than that, is the real story behind that production as told by Jim Polsky. Jim had started his theatre career at the age of 15 in the 1952 production of South Pacific, which toured to Anchorage from Kodiak.

In an interview with ACT's executive director Matt Fernandez last August, Jim stated that he was the lighting designer of the show on that fateful day.

"It was Good Friday, of course, you know when the earthquake hit, and we were going to open that night. Well, needless to say, of course, that wasn't going (to happen). But, by God, we opened the next Friday night and the joint was packed! I mean, we couldn't squeeze another one in.

The banner on 4th and F was famous because of photos taken by the press that came in from the Lower-48 to cover the earthquake, Fernandez continued. "They saw this banner from Our Town, and all the rubble."

He said the city volunteer fire department had hung the banner as a promotion for the play, charging a small fee. "They would come with the ladder-truck and stretch a banner across for whatever, a few bucks' what they charged, wasn't much. But that's why the banner was up there on the earthquake. And it...it survived!"

Today, director Fernandez is attempting to talk the city into raising another "Our Town" banner across 4th and F in remembrance of that day in Anchorage history to promote the 60th anniversary production of Our Town. Let's hope we see it again; a symbol of that spirit of survival all of us holds as Alaskans.

The 60th anniversary production of Thorton Wilder's Our Town will run at the ACT Studio Theatre from March 15 to March 31. Showtimes are 7 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays. Matinees at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets can be reserved and purchased at actalaska.org, or by calling Matt or Jasmine directly at 907-344-4713.

 
 
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