“A Tale of Two Tricksters” pairs Alaska Native and Puerto Rican traditions

Performers of A Tale of Two Tricksters (Photo courtesy of Pregones Puerto Rican Traveling Theater)

The cultures of Puerto Ricans living in the Bronx and Alaska Natives may seem worlds apart. But a new production from the Alaska Native Heritage Center will shed light on some surprising similarities. The collaborative performance between a Bronx based theater and the Heritage Center will bridge the geography gulf with technology.

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The Raven is a central character in many Alaska Native stories — a creative trickster who sometimes finds himself in trouble. And it turns out the Raven has a counterpart – in the Bronx:

“And we were just talking about each other’s stories, and we found out that they have this character called the vejigante,” Steve Blanchett said. “And vejigante is this kind of trickster character, which is a lot like our Tulukaruq, or raven.”

Blanchett is V.P. of Development and Community Engagement for the Alaska Native Heritage Center and one of the artistic directors for “A Tale of Two Tricksters.” The program is a collaborative effort between ANHC and the Pregones Puerto Rican Traveling theater. The two groups have been swapping traditional stories for a couple years now, trying to find common themes in their cultures and experiences.

Blanchett says the story that developed involves two tricksters — one from each culture — switching places, and interacting with the various nuances of the other’s land. In their journeys, the two learn about the other culture’s struggles.

“And so the concept is these two ravens seeing each other and having conversations about bears,” Blanchette said. “Bears as the physical thing that we know in Alaska. But, bears is also things like gentrification or climate change, and the bear can take many forms.”

The two characters end up finding similarities between their metaphorical bears, such as climate change driving Alaska Native people out of their homes in a similar way gentrification is moving some Puerto Rican families out of their generational homes.

One thing that sets “A Tale of Two Tricksters” apart from most conventional programs is that performances will be taking place in Anchorage and the Bronx at the same time. By using prerecorded video exchanges and in-person interactions, the two groups are hoping to bridge the geographical distance and bring the collaboration to life. The two groups will send their live feeds to a technical crew in Manhattan, who’ll be mixing and broadcasting the joint performance. Blanchett says it’ll look a bit like using Facetime on your phone.

“So it’s a collaboration of three different places, so it’s kind of like a VJ, video jockey, that’s going to be mixing it up,” Blanchett said.

Blanchett says the organizations will have audiences all over the country for the event. He hopes that audiences will walk away knowing more about the similarities these diverse cultures share.

“What we want to portray and get out there in the message is what these different bears are. What are the things that we’re dealing with in both of our areas?” Blanchett said. “So all these different things that we’re talking about that are just really important to both pour peoples and also to so many people all around the world. So those are the messages that we’re trying to tell and talk about.”

“A Tale of Two Tricksters” will take place at 4 p.m. Alaska time, 8 p.m. in New York, on Saturday, April 14th. It will also be streamed online.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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