For 50 years, Pier One Theatre has been creating, promoting and sharing the performing arts, producing more than 350 different plays to date, with community members engaged as cast, crew and in a variety of volunteer support roles.
Anniversary celebrations kick off this week, beginning Friday, July 7, 4-6 p.m. at the Pratt Museum & Park with an exhibit of props, costumes and photographs from several past productions on display.
On Tuesday, July 11 at Alice’s Champagne Palace, 9-11 p.m., a collection of musical artists who have performed with Pier One productions will come together to make music. On Friday, July 14, 6-8 p.m., a Celebration of Life for Lance Petersen will take place at the Spit theater, and on Saturday, July 15, 7-9 p.m., all are invited to a reunion party in the gardens at Bear Creek Winery.
Brought to life with initial financial backing from visionary community members Lance and Barbara Petersen and Richard and Donna Dixon in 1973, Pier One is named after its original location on the Homer Spit, an old City of Homer warehouse situated on a pier between the Salty Dawg Saloon and Land’s End Resort. From the very first production, “The Drunkard,” which included a cast of 16, to last year’s “Beauty and the Beast,” with 80 people working on the show, the theater has provided opportunities on stage and behind the scenes for thousands of individuals of all ages and theatrical experience.
For 44 seasons, Lance Petersen served as artistic director, dividing his time in the early years between Homer and Kenai, teaching at the college and nurturing collaboration between the Peninsula Dancers, Kenai Performers and the then-fledgling Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. He served on the Alaska State Council for the Arts, taught theater to high school and college students across the peninsula, wrote, directed and acted, and helped those new to the theater find their place in the theater family.
“Pier One grew under Lance’s direction to establish a regular summer season, offer youth instruction, produce big community musicals and encourage theatrical arts in all aspects of the community,” said Jennifer Norton, who grew up in the theater and today serves as executive director. “He was integral to the growth and support of the performing arts around the state and beyond.”
Barb Petersen moved to Anchorage in the early 1960s and discovered theater when she joined a production of “Lion in Winter,” exploring and pushing herself to grow and evolve in acting, directing, designing programs, managing volunteers, securing sponsors, working concessions and hosting youth theater instructors, an integral part of every production.
“Without Lance and Barb, there would be no Pier One Theatre,” said board president Cathy Stingley. “Pier One is a family and their legacy continues.”
Honoring the Petersens along with several other individuals, Pier One hosted a Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony last November.
“These folks have been the hardworking inspiration of talent, energy and creativity that forged the foundation of our theater,” Stingley said.
Recognized were Mark Robinson, who since 2012 has worked on Pier One productions after retiring as choral director for Homer High School and Homer Middle School and artistic director for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.
Peter Norton has been performing on stage for the past 54 years, 42 of those with Pier One and in more than 100 productions. Actor, assistant director, stage manager, set construction, tech crew, graphic design and trombonist, he has done it all, in the spotlight and in the wings.
Laura Norton joined Pier One in 1981 as a clarinet player in the pit orchestra for the production of “Scrooge.” With her daughters Jennifer and Carolyn by her side, she has served as musician, book holder, props mistress, set builder, poster distributor, stage crew, sound and lighting technician, stage and house manager, singer, producer, director, production manager, and bookkeeper. A trustee for Pier One since 2005, she began serving as acting president when the Petersens retired from the theater in 2016.
Lynne Roff moved to Homer in 1982 where her now-husband Dick Sanders introduced her to the theater community. Working as technical director for the Mariner Theatre, providing lighting direction for Pier One productions and co-teaching the high school Stage Craft class, she has also acted in a number of roles.
Dick Sanders came to Homer in 1978, attended Pier One’s “Fiddler on the Roof” and moved to Homer the following year. His first stint with the theater was volunteering to photograph a production of “West Side Story.” Since then, he has been acting and directing, as well as selling ads for programs, writing grants, taking pictures, ushering, manning the concession stands, building sets, teaching youth theater and previously served as office manager.
Ken Landfield auditioned for a role in a Pier One production in 1983, was cast in three parts and has been with the theater ever since. In 1989, he directed “My Three Angels,” and has directed and acted for the past 40 years.
This past January, Lance Petersen died, leaving behind a legacy of community theater.
“Lance’s passing leaves us to contemplate the depths of his influence and inspiration,” Jennifer Norton said. “He created a world of exploration and play and invited us all to come along for the ride. And he taught us that we are each an essential part of the whole, that theater is community and that telling our stories binds us together.”
Today, Pier One is committed to continuing to provide strong community theater performances and opportunities for individuals to perform and participate as they are inclined to.
Supported by community members, the performing arts community and numerous funding sources, the theater moves forward. Norton shared that donations through the theater’s Raven Club and ticket sales are the strongest source of income for the organization, with other recent funding coming from the Pier One Theatre Gary Thomas “Live Large” Fund provided by his family and managed by the Homer Foundation.
They have also received grants from Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Community Foundation and Rasmuson Foundation, as well as increased funding from the Homer Foundation’s Willow Fund that supports youth theater programs, helping the theater nurture Homer’s youth to carry the torch of creativity.
Performances continue all summer long, with “Maud of the Island,” a family-friendly comedy currently running in Pier One’s theater in the woods behind the Pratt Museum, followed by “Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical.”
Of the 50-year celebrations that offer a time for fellowship, sharing memories and connecting the past to the present, Norton said she hopes these moments of retrospection will also serve as moments of introspection.
“As we reminisce about the last 50 years and share our collective experience, there is great opportunity to envision the next 50 years,” Norton said. “Who were we? Who are we? Who will we become? What will our next stage look like?”
For more information on upcoming performances, tickets, auditions, volunteering, donating and the 50th Anniversary celebrations, visit pieronetheatre.org, call 907-226-2287 or stop by the office downtown, 332 E Pioneer Ave., Suite 3.