Arts and Entertainment

Anchorage theater legend Bob Pond dies at age 80

According to Teresa Pond, before her father Bob Pond married Roberta Evatt in 1969, a friend of Bob's pulled Evatt aside and warned her about her groom's mistress: the theater.

In Anchorage, Pond courted that mistress for more than 50 years until his death at the age of 80 on Saturday, July 29, at his Jewel Lake home.

He is survived by Teresa Pond, the producing artistic director of Cyrano's Theatre Company, and his son Sean-Michael Pond, who lives in Seattle.

Pond, who was instrumental in shaping Anchorage's community theater scene, received the Lorene Harrison Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award in 2003.

"Bob was an icon of theater here in Anchorage. He encouraged countless actors. Anybody who is in theater in Anchorage has probably been directed by Bob Pond," said Audrey Kelly, who was part of RKP Productions with Pond. "He didn't just direct a play, he would choreograph it. Every movement on that stage was so carefully planned and placed. There was a balance and a counter-balance. It was beautiful."

Pond acted in, directed and produced shows with Anchorage Little Theatre, Anchorage Community Theatre and RKP Productions. He helmed everything from kid-packed musical spectaculars like "Oliver!" to more intimate psychological fare, like "'Night, Mother."

And he never stopped.

"At the end of his life he was directing shows, living at home on his own, driving himself, working on reviews," Teresa Pond said. "He lived out loud and fully."

Pond's passion for theater accidentally spurred his leap to Alaska from the hardscrabble Massachusetts neighborhood where he was raised.

Pond moved to New York following high school to become an actor. He also needed steady employment, so he joined the Air Force and was stationed right outside of the city. Teresa said he would switch shifts with other servicemen so he could sneak into the city to pursue his acting career.

In his unpublished autobiography, Pond explained how his sergeant reacted when he found out about his extracurricular antics:

"The first sergeant, whose name escapes me, was the stereotypical military sergeant. He had a buzz haircut and an oversize cigar at the corner of his smirk. 'I hear you're an actor,'" Pond wrote. "I was wishing that he would get onto the punishment and be done with it. Then he said, almost choking with laughter,  'I've got a two-year booking for you, kid. It's in Alaska.' I was stunned. I thought shooting me would be better than sending me to some place with just ice and snow."

Pond quickly discovered Alaska had more to offer.

"He said it was like the Wild West up here when he got here," Teresa Pond said. "People say when he got here he was incomprehensible because he had such a thick Boston street kid accent. He taught himself out of the accent and got into theater here."

Pond's first foray into theater in his new state was a role in "Witness for the Prosecution" at the Anchorage Little Theatre.

Pond also worked with community theater veteran Frank Brink, managing artistic director of Anchorage Community Theatre. Brink became Pond's mentor and taught him the finer points of blocking and directing.

Pond, who also worked for years as a surveyor for the Bureau of Land Management, moved on to assisting with and acting in Anchorage Community Theatre shows. In the late '70s, he became artistic director of ACT, and held that position until 2000.

"Anchorage has always been hungry for community theater and he just provided more of it than anybody," said Dick Reichman, a longtime friend of Pond's and a founder and member of RKP Productions. "He worked with inexperienced actors and I always was amazed how in his productions they could get to the heart of the play. I've always admired his intuitive, unpredictable way of bringing actors into the script."

Pond productions at ACT included "West Side Story," "Camelot," "Brigadoon," "Peter Pan," "The King and I" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

His colleagues and friends said he was committed to giving community members a chance to participate in theater without sacrificing their livelihoods, and that he strove to include all who yearned for a turn on the stage.

"He created opportunities for all ages and taught countless individuals," Kelly said, adding that he stuffed as many kids as possible into his musicals to the point where he would lose count of them.

Pond retired from ACT in 2000. But that wasn't the end of his life in the theater.

He did freelance directing for a while, and about three years ago, Pond, Dick Reichman and Bruce and Audrey Kelly formed RKP Productions, a group that allowed Pond and friends to produce and direct more offbeat and adult fare that wouldn't have fit in to the ACT mission.

With RKP, Pond directed shows including Marsha Norman's haunting "'Night, Mother," "The Women of Lockerbie," a play by Alaska writer Deborah Brevoort about the aftermath of the 1988 Pan Am crash and "The Phone," a play about Alzheimer's written by Reichman.

Pond had artistic interests extending beyond putting on plays.

Opera was one of his great loves. During his time in New York, he participated in Metropolitan Opera productions as a "supernumerary," aka an extra, and learned more about the art of stagecraft.

Education was also very important to Pond, Teresa said. When he was in his 30s he started his academic career and eventually earned degrees in theater and education.

The public is invited to a memorial celebration for Pond at 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 20, at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska Anchorage.