A map of Alaska with the Southcentral / Municipality of Anchorage region highlighted.
Organization: Cyrano's Theatre Company
City: Anchorage
Region: Southcentral / Municipality of Anchorage
Program Area: Arts, Culture, Humanities \ Performing Arts \ Theater
Grants Received:
2012: $14,463  2006: $30,000
2011: $15,000  2005: $3,200
2010: $38,820  1998: $3,300
2007: $5,450

Transformations: live small theater in Anchorage

Mission Statement
Eccentric Theater Company

The resident company at Cyrano's Off Center Playhouse is committed to producing professional quality dramatic works utilizing Alaskan talent.
The venue was Cyrano's Off Center Playhouse, the play was "The Bells of Geneva" by Dick Reichman, and my husband and I were wondering if we'd made a mistake by coming. A video would have been cheaper by $50. No wonder we seldom see live theater.

Limited budget aside, we were also concerned about our two children, ages six and ten. We weren't sure they could sit still enough to avoid distracting viewers or the stage actors themselves, just a few feet in front of us. The stage and the front-row seats were all on
the same level, closely packed. When, as the play opened, two characters wheeled a piano onto the stage, we all had to pull in our feet.

Photo of a play in which a womain in a night gown is moving to punch a sharply dressed man. To make room for a latecomer, my daughter moved from her seat to my lap. Would the actors be even more distracted? Could they hear the rustle of my coat every time we shifted? In the play's first few minutes, I worried that I'd be unable to lose myself in that realm of suspended disbelief that drama requires. My daughter squirmed, too – embarrassed, I think, to see the actors on stage pretending to be people they were not, enunciating and gesticulating with such abandon, so close to us.

Until. Until... Until we all start to believe. In Dick Reichman, playing the lead role of the "Old Man," a paranoid piano tuner living in a group home, afraid the staff is trying to kill him. In Bernie Blaine, the "Old Woman," playing the role of a jaded, retired pianist who, by play's end, will warm to the possibilities of both music and love. In them both as a bickering couple, a tender couple, passionate despite their ages, hopeful despite their disappointments. Reichman and Blaine are veteran local actors, skilled beyond expectation, the kinds that prompt us to lean our heads together and whisper, "This is Anchorage?" I hope the audience members directly opposite don't notice my red eyes and lack of Kleenex, the way I have to wipe my nose on my fleece sleeve. Our children, too, are entranced.

Photo of a stressed woman holding a gun with two men; one next to her and another in the distance looking in at the scene. In one scene, traffic lights flash on the pane of glass above the interior door we entered to reach our seats. Our intellects know the door leads only to Cyrano's café. But our hearts believe there is really a highway just beyond that doorway, a car accident, a tragedy involving the main character. My daughter whispers, "Will he be okay?" At intermission, we walk through that door and we are like Dorothy trying to look beyond the Wizard's curtain. What started out seeming so unreal compared to life, so unpolished compared to Hollywood, has become real, important, and true.

I love movies, too, but this is different. Maybe it's the community aspect that makes it so – the act of watching all this alongside other people, instead of at home on a screen. Maybe it's the risk involved. At this production, we are watching live, local actors – people like us, daring to embrace new personas, right in front of our eyes. It's such a perilous undertaking; so much could go wrong, especially on a stage this small. But that's not all. We're taking the risk with them, proving ourselves believers in imagination. In transformation. We have met them halfway, leaning forward to see around the set's crowded edge, leaning forward to hear every word, allowing ourselves to let go, to shed self-restraint, to believe; to be seen in a public place, with red-rimmed eyes.

The play ends and the lights come on. We all blink, trying to find our way to back to reality. I recognize an acquaintance in the audience. We stumble toward each other, voices low with awe, saying, "Wasn't that something? Wasn't that wonderful? What else has he written? What other parts has she played?" And out on the street with my husband and children, walking into a brisk winter wind: "Don't you feel lucky?" And, "It was worth every cent. I'm so glad we came."

Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of several guidebooks to Alaska and Mexico; a travel narrative titled Searching for Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez; and a forthcoming musical novel set in Spain. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and two children.