In the study of history, experiences often are reduced to names, dates and objects.
Two short plays within the Gold exhibit at the Anchorage Museum provide immediate access to experiences and emotions from the past. Wheelman and The Gilded Tusk are historically accurate plays about what the outside world brought to Alaska during the gold rush era, and how Alaska changed as a result. These world premieres were commissioned by the Anchorage Museum.
Fairbanks playwright Tom Moran, an avid biker, wrote Wheelman about a would-be miner who rides a bicycle to Nome. Moran based the play on true accounts. The bicycle in this play illustrates a clash in values between the miner, who believes Western civilization is infallible, and an Alaska Native handyman, who believes the bicycle is inferior to the dogsled.
Native and Western culture meet again in The Gilded Tusk by Inupiaq Eskimo playwright Joan Kane of Anchorage. One of Kane’s characters is real-life ivory carver Angokwazhuk “Happy Jack.”
Kane is grateful for the opportunity to tell a gold rush story from an Alaska Native perspective. “The drum of my grandfather, John Kokuluk, is housed in the museum’s collections,” she said. “Although he never spoke a word of English, I hope he would be proud to see my play. This play has given me an opportunity to feel a stronger connection to his legacy as an Inupiaq artist, and to the city in which I was raised.”
Wheelman and The Gilded Tusk are directed by Ron Holmstrom and acted by Phillip “Ossie” Kairaiuak, Jeffrey T. Davis, Richard Atuk and Anna Henton. Performances are at 11 a.m., noon, 1 and 2 p.m. daily through Aug. 2. Plays are included with Gold admission.