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Remembering Lance Petersen, a cornerstone of the Peninsula performing arts community

Lance Petersen ca. 1980.
Pier One Theater
Lance Petersen c. 1980.

A cornerstone of the Kenai Peninsula arts community has passed.

Lance Petersen, founding member and artistic director of Pier One Theatre, career educator at Homer High School and Kenai Peninsula College and founding member of the KBBI Board of Directors died on Thursday, leaving scores of Alaskans who already carry on his work.

KBBI’s Kathleen Gustafson has this remembrance, beginning with Petersen’s acceptance speech from 2017 when he was honored with the Alaska State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Award.


LANCE PETERSEN: I used to tell my son never to ruin a good story with the truth. But the truth is, I didn't expect to be standing here, when my parents moved to Alaska in the '40s, ran a speakeasy and had me take naps on the gambling tables. I didn't expect to be standing here when I started directing and performing in Anchorage, when I chipped in $50 one summer to start Pier One Theatre or even when the Ballad of Kenai was selected to participate in the national One Act Play competition.

KATHLEEN GUSTAFSON: Lance Petersen was born in 1941. He graduated from Kenai Territorial High School around 1958 and earned degrees from Alaska Methodist University and University of Alaska Anchorage, then began his work as a playwright, a director and artist and an educator at Kenai Peninsula College and Homer High School. Lance and wife Barbara Peterson helped found Pier One Theatre in Homer in 1973. Lance served as the company's artistic director until just a few years ago, when Jennifer Norton took the helm. Norton grew up with Pier One. She attended rehearsals with her parents before she could speak. She trained at youth theater summer camps and started assistant directing and then directing her own shows.

JENNIFER NORTON: When I first became artistic director and then executive director, my goals were to figure out what is the heart of Pier One and what is its purpose and how to capture Lance's willingness to keep it open. The biggest takeaway from our annual meeting and award ceremony last year that I heard from participants was not that Lance had been a strict director and whipped them into shape, but that he had just given them the space that they needed to get up there and try things out.

GUSTAFSON: Jeff Siemers of Soldotna is a trustee on the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Siemers says Lance first shows up in the meeting notes in 1983 and that he served his term as a council member from 1995 to 2004.

JEFF SIEMERS: Teaching at KPC for 30 years, I mean, that's a significant amount of time to be invested in the higher education system as well as that he actually designed Homer High School theater. Lance's legacy is that he was always trying to invest in the community and provide opportunities for other people to be involved with the greater ideas of arts and the humanities.

GUSTAFSON: It’s easy to find examples of that legacy. Laura Forbes is the Arts Education Program Director for the Council. She worked with Pier One right out of college. But her connection was forged well before that. She studied dance as a child with Lance’s mother, Jean McMaster. Forbes’ first job as a teenager was working at Jean McMaster’s studio in Kenai.

LAURA FORBES: For me, family came through community performing arts in the central Peninsula. Kenai Performers Peninsula Dancers, Pier One Theater. People like Lance Peterson and Barb and Jean McMaster. There are many people like me that experience the arts as family because of the spaces that Lance created and supported and built community around.

GUSTAFSON: Lance Petersen died at home, with Barbara and son Sascha Petersen and family with him. I think the best way to end this is to let Lance talk. Here he is on stage at Homer High School in 2005 when I was seeking a story on a production of The Mikado. I asked him, “How many students are in this show?

PETERSEN: It's a little hard to tell it's like counting squirrels. They run around a lot. Somewhere around 100 students. Many of them are backstage doing technical things and up in the sound and light booths and there are students in the orchestra, playing along with the adult members of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. Gilbert and Sullivan invented the Japan they wrote about. What they were making great, serious fun about was the government of Great Britain. And the government of Great Britain at that time bears a surprising resemblance to modern governments. The first thing that the Mikado did was declare that he was going to straighten out young people's morals by making legislation.

GUSTAFSON: How many musicals is this for you Lance?

PETERSEN: Oh, gosh, I don't know somewhere around 45 musicals we've done.

GUSTAFSON: And this is the final one for you, isn't it?

PETERSEN: Well, I don't know that I'm going to stop directing. I'll join the ranks of the retired unemployed people.

HOST: Information about any upcoming services or gatherings for Lance and family will be found on Pier One Theatre's website and social media in the coming weeks.

Kathleen Gustafson came to Homer in 1999 and has been involved with KBBI since 2003.
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