Alaska men have a reputation that precedes them: The odds are good, but the goods are odd.
But how "good" are the goods?
That's the sort of question John Eller explores throughout his dark play "Even the Midnight Sun Goes Down." The play, a series of monologues all from the perspective of men in Alaska, was chosen to be presented at the annual Last Frontier Theater Conference's Play Lab in Valdez next week.
Eller is a burgeoning playwright who grew up on the intentional community of Ionia in Kasilof and now lives in Austin, Texas.
"It's a universal experience that men and women come together and love conquers all -- I think especially in Alaska because it is a hard life there's a lot of single men up here," Eller said.
Eller said the monologues came out of a theater writing class he was taking at Austin Community College, some through different prompts from the teacher and some through different thoughts he was marinating at the time.
"Even the Midnight Sun Goes Down" is a collection of six different monologues from men of varying ages and backgrounds. There's the sexist cowboy saddled up to the bar trying to find a wife. Another, a twisted Hansel and Gretel story, Eller said, deals with family abuse and the question of capital punishment. There's a homeless man grieving over the loss of his lover as well as a tender piece about two brothers reliving high school glory days.
Throughout the play, Eller utilizes Alaskan references (like glowing plankton in Seldovia), pop culture allusions (like a mention of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are"), and certain manners of speech.
"It's fun to play with language," he said. "Idioms and sayings are recognizable to most people. It's a way to use them and change them so they can recognize the piece better."
As far as the facts of Eller's life go, he said, these pieces really do not portray him personally. But it's easy to see that his experience growing up in Alaska with a communal lifestyle has shaped his writing.
"I love Alaska. I've always loved Alaska. The people up here are special," he said. "It's hard to live up here so it fosters community."
In a way, he said, growing up on Ionia was a surprising foundation for his passion for theater.
"We watched so many movies," he said, adding that he and the other children would act out and re-create their favorite ones.
Currently, Eller is working on a few other plays dealing with love and relationships and age differences. And that is on top of running his own vegan protein business in Austin and getting hyped up for the theater conference.
"I'm ecstatic. It's so flattering. The first theater thing I've ever written is being praised like that," he said.
The Last Frontier Theater Conference, in its 18th year, has earned quite a reputation for itself, enticing theater professionals from across the nation to come to Valdez for a week of plays and theater workshops.
According to Dawson Moore, the conference's coordinator, some 285 plays were entered to be considered for the Play Lab this year. Only 57 were chosen, 27 from Alaska, and one from the Kenai Peninsula -- "Even the Midnight Sun Goes Down." The Play Lab gives playwrights the opportunity to see their work performed and critiqued by other writers and is part of the educational experience the conference provides.
"There's not a lot of plays like that in the Lab," Moore said. "It's a very specific kind of theater. There's no traditional structure in a series of interrelated monologues. In the Lab we like to present all different kinds of plays."
Plus, he said, the conference organizers do have a small bias for playwrights from Alaska.
"One of the longterm goals we have is get the work that's done in our Play Lab to go on to further life," he said, "having the relationships formed here go on to further collaborations."
"I'm excited to see other people, strangers playing my words," Eller said. "It'll be a huge learning experience for me seeing and reading other playwrights' work."
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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