Anchorage opera ‘Missing’ triggers emotional celebration of Ashley Johnson-Barr Day

‘The story we need to tell; the women we must remember’
Anchorage opera ‘Missing’ triggers emotional celebration of Ashley Johnson-Barr Day
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 9:50 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Closing night fell Sunday on “Missing,” an opera by Marie Clements and Brian Current, leaving emotions high in Alaska.

The performance was made to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women, but also coincided with Ashley Johnson-Barr Day.

Johnson-Barr, who would have turned 15 on Sunday, was an Alaska Native girl in Kotzebue who was abducted and found dead in 2018. Kotzebue resident Peter Wilson was later arrested and pleaded guilty to kidnapping, sexual assault and murder charges. Wilson was sentenced to 99 years in prison in Sept. 2021.

Ashley’s family was able to come to Sunday’s performance, which was dedicated specifically to their late daughter.

“Our daughter’s birthday today, which is her 15th birthday this year,” Scotty Barr, the father of Ashley, said.

Emotions ran high as Scotty spoke to the “Missing” audience, tears in his eyes as he remembered his daughter and the last five years without her.

“I’m happy to be the voice for our daughter,” Barr said.

Anchorage Opera’s production of “Missing” is just one way to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous people in Alaska, said Music Director and Conductor Timothy Long.

“Anchorage Opera decided to do ‘Missing’ because it is an endemic in this country that hasn’t been dealt with much,” Long said.

Those involved say it was important to the Anchorage Opera for this production of the American premiere of “Missing” to be Indigenous-led and cast. The conductor, stage director, and all of the Indigenous characters are Indigenous people.

Due to the hard subject matter, it’s been difficult for some of the cast to perform, Long said, so before every performance, they will do a smudging ceremony, which is meant to cast off the evil so that they go into the performance cleansed.

“I want people to know that we’re as human as they are,” Long said. “I want people to see their daughters, their nieces, their mothers, every female in their families, and to associate this with them. We so often go ignored and authorities don’t help all the time, but we need allies, and when you hear this music and you see these actors on stage, it’s impossible to not feel for them.”

Along with recognizing the MMIP tragedy, “Missing” is also meant to help the community heal. Scotty Barr says he hopes that he’s able to help slow the epidemic in this country that he says has been going on for centuries.

“Continue to be a voice for our daughter to bring more action and more awareness to anything else that we can to help families around the state, around the lower 48, as well as around the world,” Barr said.

Many chose to wear purple to the opera because it was Ashley Johnson-Barr’s favorite color.

The play is meant to give a voice to the stories of Indigenous women and girls, and Long hopes it creates change as well.

“Until people like Ashley are recognized and saved, we’ve got to keep bringing attention to this, and Alaska is the perfect place for this,” Long said.