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Pressing People: Lainie Dreas

The Rasmuson Foundation’s Sabbatical Program provides tribal executives and nonprofit executive directors with time away from the office for rest and personal renewal. For awardees the 3 – 6 months is a chance to see the world, visit family and maybe even spend some time on an exotic beach. But if your Alaska Junior Theater Executive Director Lainie Dreas, taking a respite seems like a far more insurmountable task than a 60-hour work week.

“When I first started planning my sabbatical, I tried pitching the idea of going to a theater workshop in New York and the administrator gave me a firm ‘no’. He told me I should be thinking beaches not workshops,” chuckled Dreas.

After some coaxing, Dreas has decided to spend a portion of her sabbatical on an Italian cruise ship but it’s mostly so she can get geographically closer to the Fringe Theatre Festival in Scotland.

“I went to the festival when I was in college and it’s just the coolest thing ever! I once saw a one-man production of Henry V underneath a bowling alley and it was so good. Of course, I thought I was going to be sold into slavery when I followed the dark hallways to the bowels of the alley, but it was so worth it,” Dreas said with a smile.

Her enthusiasm for theater is contagious as she talks about her long career working with the Anchorage Symphony, Anchorage Concert Association, Cyrano’s Theatre and the Alaska Junior Theater. But there was a time when the arts didn’t play a role in her life.

“I originally went to UAA with the intention of studying business but when I read the course titles, they just sounded awful—like ‘Introduction to Business Accounting,’ yuck! I figured I would start by getting my humanities classes out of the way, so I signed up for an introductory theater class and that’s when things changed,” said Dreas.

While taking a 26-credit course load, she learned how to rig lights, build sets, write plays and act. Her passion was fostered by what she calls “the tight-knit 80s theater group” and it was what inspired her to start her own youth outreach program upon graduation.

“I would take college actors into schools with a cutdown version of a Shakespearean play and we would teach the smaller roles to the kids who would then perform alongside the college actors. It was a great chance to get kids excited and involved in theater. I definitely saw it as a way to keep the theater scene in Alaska going,” explained Dreas.

After a few years of working two jobs and running her outreach program, Dreas left Alaska to pursue a master’s degree in Wichita, Kansas. While she was studying, the youth-centric Alaskan theatre scene was growing exponentially with the development of the Alaska Junior Theater, Alaska Theatre of Youth and TBA Theater, Inc. The interest in promoting theater programs to school-aged children is something Dreas likes to think she had a hand in.

“I’d like to think I played a role in inspiring youth theater because I just feel like theater is such an important thing for communities. Theater has a way of making life better even if it’s just for a short time—you can forget your problems and identify with the characters on stage. Movies are not the same as a live theater performance and it’s not the same as watching a video game. It's a totally different experience when you go to the theater and sit there and have that immediate sharing between the performers and yourself! It’s a really important experience which why I'm still here after 12 years,” said an impassioned Dreas.

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