Arts al Fresco

Shakespeare, chamber music, puppetry…no matter your preference, there’s a way to soak up the arts and the sun this summer. Danielle Mohlman previews Seattle’s arts al fresco.

Living in Seattle means living for the summer. Between hiking, biking and visits to the city’s incredible beaches and lakes, it’s easy to fill every evening and weekend with glorious outdoor activities. But while you’re solidifying your summer schedule, don’t forget to make room for the arts.

Several intrepid Seattle arts organizations program their summers around the great outdoors, taking advantage of public spaces to bring art to the entire city. The Seattle Art Museum programs a biweekly concert and arts series at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Belltown, aptly named Summer at SAM. GreenStage produces the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival at Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill each summer, a festival that boasts sixteen performances on three stages across the park. And the Seattle Art Fair takes over the CenturyLink Field Event Center every August, attracting local and national art aficionados alike.

I had the opportunity to speak with the artists behind three of our city’s most anticipated outdoor performances: Wooden O’s productions of King Lear and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Chamber Music in the Park and Common Area Maintenance’s inaugural puppetry production. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

George Mount, artistic director of Seattle Shakespeare Company, started Wooden O twenty-five years ago as a way to reconnect with his Pacific Northwest roots. The Mercer Island native noticed that the island’s annual summer festival, Mostly Music in the Park, was entirely music in the park. Eager to bring outdoor performance to his hometown, Mount solicited the Arts Council of Mercer Island for a grant to perform Shakespeare at the Luther Burbank Park Amphitheatre—just three nights of Much Ado About Nothing to justify the “mostly” in the festival’s title. Twenty-five years later, Wooden O has expanded its scope to include parks across the Puget Sound region. But one thing remains the same all these years later: the festival opens and closes at Mercer Island’s Luther Burbank Park Amphitheatre.

David Pichette and Meme Garcia in King Lear
David Pichette and Meme Garcia in ’King Lear.’ Courtesy of Seattle Shakespeare Co.

I had the opportunity to speak with George Mount about the significance of Wooden O’s twenty-five year anniversary and his role as director of this summer’s King Lear.

“We’ve never done it outside,” Mount said of Shakespeare’s tragedy. “It’s a monster of a play and an audacious choice to present in the summer under two hours. But Wooden O was pretty much started as an audacious endeavor.”

Mount pointed out that King Lear’s cynicism makes it the perfect play for 2018.

“So many of the people act out of venal self-interest and casual disregard of others around them,” Mount said. “I worry about that behavior when I look at our politics, our consumerism, digital isolation, tribal isolation and ideological insulation.”

Actor Vanessa Miller’s Wooden O connection is longer than the festival’s history. Miller attended Mercer Island High School with George Mount and when he asked her to return to Washington to play Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, the decision was simple.

“I really think that free theatre is important,” Miller said. “When I was a kid, I remember seeing some park shows produced by Empty Space. Watching those shows changed my life, inspired me to follow a path into theatre.  It only takes one beautiful summer evening in front of a happy crowd of people eating picnic dinners, laughing or listening to the beautiful poetry, to get hooked for life.”

She loves the community aspect of Wooden O and the way the actors truly connect with the audience. And she’s always aware that she could be part of an audience member’s first Shakespeare experience.

“Our job as actors is to be very specific with the language and the relationships,” Miller said. “If we know what we’re saying, and we act with intention, then it clicks for the audience too. If we, as actors, are bluffing it, or generalizing, then it’s really hard for the audience. Plus, Wooden O shows are very physical and lively. It’s not an academic experience.”

Annie Lareau, Charles Leggett, and Eleanor Moseley in The Merry Wives of Windsor
Annie Lareau, Charles Leggett and Eleanor Moseley in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor.’ Courtesy of Seattle Shakespeare Co.

Reginald Andre Jackson made his Wooden O debut eighteen years ago and says that there’s nothing like performing Shakespeare outdoors. He loves seeing audience members reclined on a blanket, enjoying a bottle of wine and a cheese plate or sending their kids off to play as they enjoy the performance.

“Every now and again, nature will come in and lift the play in unexpected ways,” Jackson said. “We took Macbeth to Walla Walla. One night during dusk, bats began to swoop and circle in a feeding frenzy near the trees that surround the stage. Wooden O has hired some pretty great designers. But nature—she is queen.”

George Mount left me with some words of advice for audience members who are hesitant to give Shakespeare a try.

“Wooden O was founded on the conviction that Shakespeare’s plays are popular entertainment,” Mount said. “That’s been a driving force in how we approach the plays. Shakespeare’s plays entertain the whole person. The language challenges the brain. The romance lifts the heart. The pathos hits the gut.”

Mount added that even if a play isn’t to an audience member’s liking, they still spent two hours in a gorgeous Seattle park, with a picnic dinner, surrounded by friends and family. Who could ask for a more perfect evening?

King Lear and The Merry Wives of Windsor run July 12 to August 12 in parks throughout the Puget Sound region.

On a walk through Capitol Hill’s gorgeous Volunteer Park one summer, James Ehnes, director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society (SCMS), and his wife Kate, came across a small stage perfectly sized for a chamber orchestra. She suggested that Ehnes program a summer concert in the space and Chamber Music in the Park was born.

“Bringing this music, for free, into Seattle parks has been a wonderful way to spread this beautiful music to listeners from all over the city who might not have the chance to hear us downtown at Benaroya Hall,” Ehnes said. “It’s tremendously gratifying to see all the families and young people that attend these events in the parks.”

From left: James Ehnes, Stephen Rose, Jordan Anderson, Edward Arron and Jonathan Vinocour.
From left: James Ehnes, Stephen Rose, Jordan Anderson, Edward Arron and Jonathan Vinocour. Photo by Tom Mark Photography

Last summer, SCMS introduced a community play-along component to Chamber Music in the Park, inviting string players from the Puget Sound region to play alongside SCMS musicians.

“Everyone had a really fantastic time,” Ehnes said, “and it was very meaningful and moving to see so many cross-sections of Seattle represented in the group—people of different genders, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds, all sharing in the joy of music.”

Violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti loves performing in any venue, but whenever she performs outdoors she feels a deep connection with the world and the lives around her.

“One of my favorite memories of a Volunteer Park concert was during a performance of the Dvorak Viola Sextet,” she shared. “I had a moment when I wasn’t playing for a few measures where I was so taken by the beauty of the scenery and music-making. I saw an airplane flying over carrying people to their various destinations, heard children laughing and dancing, and just had a general sense of all being right with the world.”

Concertgoers get into the performance.
Concertgoers get into the performance. Photo by Tom Mark Photography

Violinist Erin Keefe also loves performing at Volunteer Park because the setting is more casual than the orchestra’s Benaroya Hall performances.

“The nice thing about it is that parents can bring their children without worrying about upsetting anyone if they get a little restless,” Keefe said. “People can enjoy the weather and maybe a picnic while they listen to us play. It’s very fun for the performers and it’s something I look forward to every summer.”

Chamber Music in the Park is on Saturday, July 28 at Volunteer Park. Visit for more information, including information on how to register for the community play-along.

When Alexander Mostov joined Common Area Maintenance (CAM), a community gallery and generative studio in Belltown, he was looking for an inspiring workspace where he could interact with fellow creatives. In the years since, CAM has provided much more than that community. It’s become a space where Mostov, an artist who works primarily in two-dimensional gouache and computer illustration, can challenge his work and experiment with new forms. Which is how he came up with the idea to produce a puppet show that audience members can view from the sidewalk.

The puppetry performance will be the first of its kind in this space, but one that has the potential to become an annual summer tradition.

“I saw a traditional puppet show while I was studying abroad in Barcelona and was totally inspired,” Mostov shared. “I love magic realism and the idea of injecting fantasy into one’s everyday life. There’s something about puppetry that lends itself to that everyday fantasy.”

When I asked him what he was looking forward to the most about this collaborative art form, Mostov shared that he’s excited about merging his own visual style with the aesthetics of artists who work in other mediums. For example, how will an artist who works primarily in sound enhance the script?

When Mostov and I spoke in the spring, he was in the process of assembling a team and writing the script, in collaboration with two other CAM artists.

“We’re playing with the idea of adapting a whimsical picture book script I wrote last year,” Mostov said. “We’re planning on adding adult-level humor, political references and sarcasm.”

Sounds like we’re in for a treat.

Common Area Maintenance’s puppetry performance will run May through June at their space in Belltown.

So, pack a picnic and a wide-brimmed hat. Because whether you’re a puppetry fan, a Shakespeare fiend or an orchestra aficionado, there’s a performance for everyone this summer in Seattle.

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American TheatreThe Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

Throwing Like a Girl and Writing Like One Too

Danielle Mohlman examines the women laying claim to sports via the theatre, and their inspiration for doing so.

My dad was a star athlete in high school. Letterman jacket, full page in the yearbook, the whole nine yards. He was a water polo goalie and to this day the number he wore on his swim cap – 22 – is significant for both him and my mom. Every “22” they’ve ever seen in the wild has been photographed and framed. It’s the date of their wedding anniversary. And it was etched into the pin cushion my mom used in home economics, silver-headed pins forming the curves of each number. My parents met in high school. She was a cheerleader, full of school spirit and there for every water polo game and swim meet. Pom poms in hand, she watched him pull through the water, breaking records in freestyle and backstroke.  

As a teenager, I lived for the hours between the end of school and the beginning of sunset. I’d flash my completed homework at my mom and then run down the street to my neighbor Gilbert’s house. If we could assemble a team of neighborhood kids, we’d play touch football in the street, yelling “Car!” every time someone’s parent got home from work. We had more timeouts than any regulation game and, it seemed, just as many injuries. If we couldn’t get a team together, I’d strap on my roller blades and speed up and down the sidewalk, jumping off our homemade ramp. If he was patient and I was calm, Gilbert would continue his lifelong quest – teaching me how to ollie on his skateboard. I was never any good, but I was relentless. Still am. I’d fall and get back up again, bloody palms and all. Despite everything, I’m the furthest thing from an athlete. But sports are starting to creep their way into my plays – and I’m not the only one. 

Spend enough time on the field and you’ll come away with blood. But the blood that opens Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves isn’t skinned knees or thousands of burst blood vessels congealing into a purple bruise. It’s menstrual blood – in all its coagulated glory. The Wolves’ thirst for blood isn’t quenched by the jealousy-fueled competition these young soccer players seem to thrive on. Their drug instead, is frantic whispers about a sheltered teammate who chooses pads over tampons. And jokes about pregnancy that quickly become unchecked abortion rumors. These girls are sixteen and it shows. 

Interspersed in this dialogue about uterine lining and inefficient feminine products is a discussion about former Prime Minister of Cambodia, Nuon Chea, who at 90 years old is giving testimony about the Khmer Rouge genocide. The audience is momentarily faced with an odd juxtaposition: the murder of hundreds of thousands of Cambodian citizens and the torture of a particularly heavy period. Offstage, another soccer team warms up – a team just as driven, just as talented, just as vicious. 

Production photo from the Studio Theatre production of ‘The Wolves.’ Photo by Teresa Wood

Sarah DeLappe’s dialogue in The Wolves perfectly intones a teenage and athletic vocabulary. These girls turn around crude language as though they just learned how to form the syllables with their mouths. They litter their sentences with expletives, gossiping about a “sweet old lady” with only one breast, claiming that the winter air is “colder than a witch’s” – well, you can finish the rest. As the Wolves warm up for their games, they name-check each other by jersey number and masculine epithets like “man” and “dude,” as though their feminine first names betray the very nature of their competitive spirit. It’s reminiscent of every male dominated sport out there. They don’t want to be weak, so instead they’re “man” and “dude.” It’s easier that way. It’s armor.

In my own play, Dust, I also dive into the ferocity of teenage girls. My athletes are a high school swim team, condemned to an unfinished life – the entire play lives in the memory of the young man who killed every one of them, but even in his distorted lens they’re magnificent. The swim team’s captain, Wendy, is the queer object of this vicious man’s attention. Everyone else was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even in death, they work together as a team, shifting the perspective memory by memory. 

When I told my parents about this play they were surprised I’d chosen an athletic path. Those football games on the street went on for years and at one point I actually took a chance on organized sports, playing two seasons of softball. But their perception of me has always been divorced from the athletics they know and love. They describe my upbringing as musical – a decade of clarinet and nearly the same amount of dance classes. Today, I lack grace. It’s like my body has forgotten how to move. But as a teenager, I’d show up at my community center on Tuesday nights, poised to learn another thirty seconds of choreography. I wanted so badly to dance to Tchaikovsky. Instead, my teacher brought in the Runaway Bride soundtrack. To this day I can’t hear Shawn Colvin without thinking about those long mirrors, the ballet barre, and the smell of high school girls learning to dance. As I raised my hands high above my head, blood dried on my palms. My mind was on the asphalt road of our makeshift football field. 

All those years of dance make their way into Dust as well. In an effort to communicate with the audience that something is very wrong, the play never stops moving. Dance is an integral part of the play’s vocabulary, conveying everything from an overactive imagination to a mass murder. This play lives in a zone where words are not sufficient on their own. It’s the unsquareable moment of my bloody palms in a ballet class. It may look delicate at first glance, but upon closer inspection it’s everything but. 

Lauren Yee’s father, Larry Yee, blocking a shot.
Lauren Yee’s father, Larry Yee, blocking a shot. Photo from excerpt of ‘The Great Leap’ on New Play Exchange, courtesy of the playwright

While I was finding inspiration for Dust in my dad’s legendary tales about his high school swim records, Lauren Yee was looking to her own father’s obsession with basketball as she started writing The Great Leap. In her author’s note, Yee writes that her father played basketball all day and all night growing up. As a 6’1” Chinatown kid from San Francisco’s projects, he dominated asphalt courts and recreation center floors. He was never going to go pro – he knew that even then. But he was good. He was really good. 

Lauren Yee’s father first visited China in the 1980s, playing a series of exhibition games against China’s best teams. Yee says that The Great Leap isn’t her father’s story – his American team was defeated too many times to count. But it’s a story like her father’s. In The Great Leap, Manford, a rec center-trained teenager from Chinatown, busts into a basketball practice uninvited, barreling at the team’s point guard, twisting his ankle in the process. With a newly injured player and a life changing exhibition game against Beijing University on the horizon, the University of San Francisco coach, Saul, is livid. In the moment before the play begins, Saul tells Manford that he has thirty seconds to explain why he was “sh—ing all over his practice” before he calls security. While other players might leave immediately, running through the door they came in, Manford takes full advantage of the thirty seconds. 

“I will win you games. I will score you points. I will make you layups. I will shoot from half court, full court. I will shoot over whatever, whenever, whoever is getting in my way. I am quick. I am relentless. I am the most relentless person you have ever met, and if you’ve met someone more relentless than me, tell me. Tell me and I will meet them, and I will find a way to become even more relentless than them.”

Despite his short stature and brash introduction, Manford makes his way onto the University of San Francisco team. Because he’s right. He is relentless. But he’s also undeniably talented. 

We live in a city that pulses with Seahawks spirit, even in the off season. But March through May, a new cavalry of athletes is taking over. Manford and the University of San Francisco are commanding the Leo K. Theatre at Seattle Rep. Wendy and the Mermaids are taking over Youth Theatre Northwest, aptly surrounded by water on Mercer Island. And the Wolves are running drills up and down the Allen Theatre at ACT. It’s an athletic embarrassment of riches, helmed by three female playwrights who aren’t afraid to walk away with a scraped knee and a couple of bruises. As every coach we’ve ever encountered has said, “Rub some dirt on it and walk it off.” 

The Great Leap by Lauren Yee runs at Seattle Repertory Theatre from March 23 to April 22. 

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe runs at ACT from April 20 to May 13.

A workshop production of Dust by Danielle Mohlman runs at Youth Theatre Northwest from May 11 to 12.

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American Theatre, The Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

All the World’s a Stage at the Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare Festival

Tell your friends you’re going to a play and chances are their minds will unconsciously jump to William Shakespeare, the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, the pained “Et tu, Brute?” from Julius Caesar, Lady Macbeth scrubbing her hands of blood. Shakespeare is part of our cultural landscape. And soon, permutations of his work will be all over Seattle.

This Spring, nearly twenty-five arts organizations across the city are participating in Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare Festival. I was fortunate enough to speak with artists involved with four of the festival’s productions: Kiss Me, Kate at the 5th Avenue TheatreMac Beth at Seattle Repertory Theatre12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs) at the University of Washington, and Beatrice & Benedict at the Seattle Opera. Each production promises a thought-provoking and imaginative take on Shakespeare’s original text. But these four productions couldn’t be more different. 

Alan Paul recently directed Kiss Me, Kate, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., where he also serves as associate artistic director. The musical, which ran from November 2015 to January 2016, attracted the attention of David Armstrong, 5th Avenue Theatre’s former executive producer and artistic director. Armstrong flew to Washington, D.C. to see the production, and later asked Paul to revive the production in Seattle, for the 5th Avenue Theatre’s contribution to Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare. 

“What I am most excited about is the chance to use many of the great Seattle-based actors in the production,” Paul shared. “I was knocked out by the performers I met at our auditions and I know they will bring something special to the show.”

Ben Davis and Cayman Ilika Cayman in ‘Kiss Me, Kate.’ Photo by Tracy Martin

Because Kiss Me, Kate centers on workplace sexual indiscretion in the entertainment industry, albeit through a 1948 lens, the conversation turned to the recent unmasking of pervasive sexual harassment in the film industry and the wider impacts of the #MeToo movement. 

“It’s an interesting moment to direct a show that centers around gender politics so frankly and openly,” Paul said. “Kiss Me, Kate is really about how women and men relate to each other—and for all its comic moments, it also has some deep insights. I’m ready to take a new look at Kate and Petruchio, and to re-examine their relationship for 2018.”

 Kiss Me, Kate runs April 6 to 29 at the 5th Avenue Theatre.

The Seattle Repertory Theatre will be premiering writer-director Erica Schmidt’s Mac Beth, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth told through the lens of seven young women. The adaptation promises to examine the dangerous effects of ambition as the line between real life and murderous fantasy increasingly becomes more and more blurred. 

Seattle Repertory Theatre’s artistic director, Braden Abraham, was drawn to Erica Schmidt’s adaptation for the Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare Festival. 

“I find her work as a director and playwright boldly imaginative and artistically sensitive,” Abraham said of Schmidt’s work. 

Cast of Mac Beth
Cast of ‘Mac Beth.’ Photo by Navid Baraty

The two of them began discussing Mac Beth three years ago – around the same time Seattle Repertory Theatre was considering their own participation in the festival. Abraham brought Schmidt to Seattle in 2016 for a workshop of the play and a public showing of the work in progress as part of the theatre’s new play program, The Other Season. In Abraham’s mind, it’s a natural fit for the theatre and for Seattle as a whole. 

“There’s something daring about seven young women performing this play,” Abraham said. “It’s one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest works and we’re still conditioned as a culture to associate violence with men. Erica’s adaptation makes the violence feel dangerous and complicates Shakespeare’s rich insight into the creative and destructive forces within us all.”

Mac Beth runs May 18 to June 17 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Amanda Friou first encountered Shakespeare at seven years old. Friou sat in the audience of a production of Comedy of Errors, understanding the language of physical comedy when iambic pentameter eluded. And while those early Shakespeare experiences are enough to scare away even some adult audience members, Friou stuck with the Bard. 

“We spent what felt like months studying Macbeth,” Friou said, remembering her high school English classes. “We did these exhaustive text excavation exercises where we had to find the most used words in a scene and write about the implication of their use—things like that. I really credit that teacher for giving me my first tools for breaking open any dramatic text. Little did I know that she was essentially teaching me to be my own dramaturg.”

Friou is a second year MFA directing student at the University of Washington where she is directing Caridad Svich’s 12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She approaches directing from an intersectionally feminist perspective, tending to gravitate toward new plays by female and transgender playwrights. 

Porscha Shaw and Xavier Bleuel ‘12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs)’ at UW Drama. Photo by Isabel Le

“I love Shakespeare on the page, but for the most part his plays aren’t stories I have a passion to tell,” Friou said. She doesn’t see Shakespeare as a particularly feminist playwright. “With this show, I got to dig into Hamlet and tell a feminist story. I get the poetry and the romance and the drama. But I also get to give a previously one-dimensional female character a voice of her own. The power of that act is incredible, especially when I’m surrounded by an all-female creative team, an all-female band, and a cast that includes nine women.”

Our conversation about feminism naturally turned to the gradual unmasking of toxic masculinity in today’s society. 

“Caridad Svitch has done an excellent job of highlighting the ways in which the traps of misogyny catch everyone—Hamlet, or in our case Rude Boy, included,” Friou said. “I had no idea when I chose this play a year ago that our production would coincide with the beginning of the #MeToo movement, but the essence of the movement really is at the heart of this play.”

12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs) ran February 13 to 25 at the University of Washington.

The Seattle Opera production of Beatrice & Benedict will be a unique experience for even the most diehard opera fan. This production of the Hector Berlioz adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is not only being translated into English from the original French; Seattle Opera general director Aidan Lang has made the bold decision to expand the world of the opera to include scenes from Shakespeare’s original text. 

“The great advantage that Beatrice & Benedict has over other Shakespeare operas is that it uses dialogue, rather than sung musical forms to move the plot on – much like musical theater,” Lang said.

“We felt that given the context of the Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare Festival, Beatrice & Benedict gave us the opportunity to lean into the original Shakespeare—more than any other opera we considered.”

Because of this production’s relationship to Shakespeare’s original dialogue, Lang was adamant about hiring a theatre director to take the helm. 

“As well as being ACT’s artistic director, John Langs is also a wonderful director of Shakespeare,” Lang said. “We don’t want this production to seem like a conventional opera, but more like going to the theatre or to a musical.” 

It’s a bold direction that Lang is looking forward to sharing with the rest of Seattle. 

Daniel Sumegi, Alek Shrader, and Craig Verm in Beatrice & Benedict
Daniel Sumegi, Alek Shrader, and Craig Verm in ‘Beatrice & Benedict.’ Photo by Jacob Lucas

I spoke with Daniela Mack, who is alternating performing the role of Beatrice with fellow mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp. Mack has had her eye on the role of Beatrice since discovering the score over a decade ago during her fellowship at the San Francisco Opera. 

“The premise is timeless, and anyone can identify with the characters that drive the story,” Mack said. “The undeniable attraction between Beatrice and Benedict and the resulting over-the-top rejection of each other is the stuff that romantic comedies are made of. At its heart, it is a story about finding one’s way to love, but its other themes—including deception, infidelity, and the gender roles we play—are just as engaging.”

Mack and I spoke before rehearsals were underway and she shared that she’s most looking forward to rehearsing with so many dear friends. She shared that it feels more like play and less like work when the room is filled with people she knows and that this production is a rare and delightful opportunity to skip the sometimes awkward process of feeling out the energy of the rehearsal room. 

“Dramatically, Beatrice is a wonderfully complex character,” Mack said. “She is strong, spunky, has a razor-sharp wit, but she has moments where she shows immense vulnerability too. As a bonus, the sparring that she gets to do with Benedict will be doubly fun, since I get to perform opposite my real-life husband.”

Beatrice & Benedict runs February 24 to March 10 at the Seattle Opera.

There’s so much to see during Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare. Catch any of the upcoming performances in this piece or any of the other Shakespeare-inspired pieces coming soon, including Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet performed by the Seattle Symphony and an immersive multi-room adaptation of Hamlet by the Horse in Motion at the Stimson-Green Mansion. And while you’re sitting in the audience, take a moment to revel in the fact that even 400 years after his death, William Shakespeare’s words continue to inspire artists worldwide. We’re just lucky enough to have an embarrassment of riches in our own backyard. 

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American Theatre, The Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

The Urgent New Work of Bobbin Ramsey

Bobbin Ramsey has lived and breathed Seattle art her entire life. This 27-year-old theatre and film director has touched almost every arts organization in town: from attending Seattle Children’s Theatre as a child to volunteering at the Vera Project in high school to internships at Intiman and Book-It Repertory Theatre. She even attended the University of Washington, obtaining degrees in Drama and Creative Writing.

Today, Bobbin serves as Lead Producer at The Horse in Motion, a theatre company she founded with members of her University of Washington cohort, as well as Casting Director and Resident Director at Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET). In addition to directing for both The Horse in Motion and WET, Bobbin freelances for a number of theatres around town, including Cornish College of the Arts, Live Girls! Theatre Company, and her alma mater, the University of Washington.

In anticipation of her upcoming production of The Nether at WET, Bobbin spoke with us about directing urgent new work, championing female-identifying playwrights, and the shows that she’s looking forward to seeing.

The Nether feels especially relevant—both because of Seattle’s booming tech sphere and in the conversations we’re having nationwide about consent. In what ways do you think this play will challenge WET’s audiences?

The Nether asks questions about the lawful and ethical responsibility that our society has towards sex and technology, in a very extreme way. As we approach the reality of Jennifer Haley’s imagined world, we are forced to grapple with the responsibility we have to one another. I think that this play challenges all audiences who see it, because it forces the viewer to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time. For WET audiences in particular, I think we are dipping our toe into a subject matter that is even more divisive and difficult to talk about than most of our work. WET often thrives in taking on the plays that other theatre companies shy away from, and our audiences are usually willing to join us for that theatrical ride. Even though the play handles intense subject matter, I think that our audience will be willing to go there with us.

Has this play changed the way you think about directing and working with actors?

I’m not sure, we haven’t started rehearsals yet. But I have been thinking about how to make sure the rehearsal space feels safe and comfortable—and has some levity to it, given the intensity of the piece. One of the actors and I have already been talking about having nightly dance parties so we never leave rehearsal in a dark headspace. But overall, I think the process is going to be about approaching the subject matter carefully and consciously with enough openness to have frank conversations, while still recognizing the emotional labor that goes into the work.

In addition to directing, you’re a co-founder and lead producer at The Horse in Motion. Talk to us about the piece you’re putting together for On the Boards’ Northwest New Works Festival in June. What drew you to this subject matter?

We are so excited to be performing at Northwest New Works this year! It has always been one of my favorite performance festivals in Seattle and I am so excited for The Horse in Motion to be participating. Almost a year ago, we came across an article about the Mallus Maleficarum which was the 15th century German document that became the basis for all western European and American witch hunts in the subsequent centuries. Then, in November, we were all inspired by Lindy West’s article “Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You.’ in the New York Times. We’ve been exploring and creating a piece of theatre that inverses the traditional witch hunt narratives, where witches are real and powerful. We’re also questioning what this new narrative means in context of this major cultural shift we are experiencing.

I think that The Horse in Motion and On the Boards are both always looking for new ways to engage in societal conversations through theatrical lenses, and that is what we would like to do with this piece. Additionally, The Horse in Motion always strives to push the boundaries of how we theatricalize our work, in large part because many of us have been inspired by the work we’ve seen at On the Boards. Now it’s our turn to create a piece of theatre that plays with style, tone and spectacle.

Directing the work of living female playwrights is clearly very important to you. How do you hope to bring more female playwrights to Seattle stages?

I am very lucky to be a part of two theatre companies where I have a major say in what gets produced. With my work with WET and The Horse in Motion, the work that is produced by both companies is decided by each of the ensembles of the companies. When season planning, I am always advocating for producing the work of female-identifying playwrights, especially new plays. As I grow in my career and expand the list of companies that I work with, I will continue to prioritize putting the voices of contemporary female-identifying artists and playwrights from other marginalized groups on stage.

How do you hope to grow and challenge the theatre community here in Seattle?

I want to continue pushing boundaries of what type of work we make and what stories we tell. There is so much excellent work being developed in this city right now, and we need to continue to push towards making that work accessible to all types of audiences, both financially and emotionally. There is so much amazing work being created that include important conversations about equity and social justice, and as a director and producer, I want to push myself to make sure that the people of this city have the ability to engage with that work.

Are there any musicians, dancers, or theatre artists that you’re especially excited about this season? Who are you excited to see?

Oh, there are so many! I mean, Meme Garcia is back in town. I saw her solo show at 18th & Union in November and was completely blown away. Her artistic voice is so powerful and beautiful. I can’t wait to see more of her performances throughout the city this year, especially in The Wolves at ACT and in the original work she creates. I continue to be an avid follower of Alice Gosti’s work, and I am extremely excited to see her piece at On the Boards this March. Alice’s work with durational performance has always been totally captivating to me, and as a big fan of Brecht, I am very excited to see Alice’s investigation of capitalism and object. The other project that I’m eager to see is Frank Boyd and Libby King’s Patti and the Kid. I’ve been a huge fan girl of both Libby and Frank since seeing their work with The TEAM in New York. The fact that they’re doing an exploration of Waiting for Godot mixed with dystopian American myth is so appealing to all of my artistic senses.

Washington Ensemble Theatre’s production of The Nether runs April 27 to May 14. Hamlet, The Horse in Motion’s next production, runs April 12 to 29 at The Stimson-Green Mansion.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

For playwright Danielle Mohlman, pay-what-you will performances are a great way to convince new-to-theatre friends to take a chance on something new.

One by one, my friends hugged me as I handed them their tickets. “I’m so excited,” they exclaimed, a group of giddy Millennials huddled in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s lobby. It was November 2016, and we were seeing King Charles III. 

During the performance, our group was responsive and engaged. We leaned forward, afraid to miss a single word, and as soon as the lights came up for intermission, we burst into conversation: the play reminded someone of the regime in Thailand, someone had a question about the ghost, someone else wondered about accents, and we were all thinking about our own country’s political climate. We chattered through every minute of intermission, and fell silently rapt again at the start of the second act.

For the 20- and 30-somethings I brought to the theatre—a group of tech product managers, marketing professionals, auditors, and MBA students—this performance was an exciting treat. You would never guess that a year ago, many of them were completely unaware of Seattle Repertory Theatre, or theatre in Seattle at all. 

My partner and I moved to Seattle in 2015 because he was starting the MBA program at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Most of the people I met that first year were affiliated with his program in one way or another, and, as a playwright surrounded by MBA students, I felt like the artistic misfit. When it came to seeing theatre, my new friends had no idea where to start. 

I decided to enlist myself as theatrical chaperone, inviting folks to see shows with the promise I’d be there to guide them through the way to see a play. I knew ticket prices would be a barrier—why pay for something unknown and outside your home when Netflix is familiar and as good as free?—so pay-what-you-can performances would be the way to go. 

After marking pay-what-you-can performances in my calendar, I emailed every person who ever said, “You write plays? So how does that work?” and invited them to join me for upcoming performances at Seattle Rep. Two joined me for Come from Away, then three joined me for Luna Gale. Enthusiasm about my theatre chaperoning spread and before I knew it, I was taking seven people to see King Charles III, complete with dinner before and fervent bus ride discussion on the way home. 

Each of the people I have brought to the theatre has a different experience. Over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about how to make new theatre-goers feel comfortable enough to be adventurous.

…I’ve thought a lot about preview performances and how little care we theatre artists put into educating audience members about this essential part of the process, a part of the process in which we need audiences to take part.

Before moving to Seattle for his MBA, Deepanjan Dey was a theatre actor in India, so I was surprised to learn that Seattle theatre felt inaccessible to him before he started seeing plays with our group.

“I think this speaks to a more generic problem I’ve observed in the United States about younger audiences staying away from the theatre,” he explained. “With so many instant and newer forms of entertainment available, theatre is perceived as more niche and ‘reserved for the artsy types.’ It’s different in India. There, young professionals enjoy going to the theatre and popular television and movie actors regularly perform onstage.”

One of our most memorable times at the theatre was seeing a preview performance of Luna Gale together. “There we were—enjoying quite a riveting show—when a set piece jammed as it came on stage. Having been an actor living in the perennial fear that something will go wrong technically, I was absolutely horrified at this situation,” Deepanjan explained. 

It turns out that preview performances are a far less common practice in India than they are here. I remember Deepanjan on my right, worrying on behalf of the cast and crew fixing the technical issue, while our friend Jennifer, bewildered on my left, marveled at the sheer number of people that sprang into action from off-stage to remedy the situation. Both were surprised to learn that bumps in the road are a common and important part of previews.

When you boot up Netflix, you’re expecting a polished product. If you didn’t know any better, why would you expect anything less from your theatre? In the months since that Luna Gale preview, I’ve thought a lot about preview performances and how little care we theatre artists put into educating audience members about this essential part of the process, a part of the process in which we need audiences to take part. How else can we let untrained audiences in on the process of making a play?

I befriended Melissa Herrett when she first moved to Seattle in 2016, and I quickly recruited her to join my quickly-growing circle of play-seeing friends. On one of our first excursions, we took a chance on a pay-what-you-can performance of The Royale at ACT.

“It was so nice to pay a small amount to see a play I wasn’t familiar with, and I ended up really enjoying it,” Melissa said, reflecting on that first outing. “And it was great seeing it with you since we were able to talk about it after the fact. It was nice to have someone there to debrief with, especially someone knowledgeable about plays and theatre.”

I wasn’t an expert on The Royale. Though Marco Ramirez’s play about early 20th century boxing has enjoyed productions all around the country, everything I knew about the show came from ACT’s marketing materials. But simply by having more familiarity with theater-going generally I was able to offer Melissa a space to reflect on the play and digest what we saw together. “It was my first real experience seeing a play that hadn’t gotten a ton of hype or marketing,” said Melissa, “and it ended up being a fun and informative afternoon.”

“I’m probably more likely to go to the theatre when it’s cold,” my friend Greg Socha, a 30-year-old marketing manager, told me. “There’s too much going on in Seattle in the summer and I like the outdoors too much. But once the sun starts going down earlier and it’s raining, spending time inside getting some culture gets more appealing.”

Greg has fond childhood memories of his parents taking him and his brother to see local theatre in Connecticut, but here in Seattle, he’s the latest recruit to new-to-theatre-going group. This September’s Public Works performance of The Odyssey at Seattle Rep was the first time he joined us, but he hasn’t been available to go to another performance with us since. I asked why he doesn’t see theatre on his own. “I would feel super self-conscious seeing a play by myself,” he said. “Most people are there with somebody, and it’s not like you can third wheel a conversation with some strangers.”

Of course, for many people, seeing a play with a group of friends is more appealing than going alone. Talking with Greg made me wonder if there are opportunities for theatres to help create those groups, or to encourage groups of friends to buy tickets together. For new theatre-goers especially, seeing a play alone may be uncomfortable simply because they don’t want to go alone. 

A generation ago, these same young professionals might be well on their way to becoming arts board members and donors. Today, I’m hard pressed to find performing arts organizations that are targeting millennials, grooming them for their board.

Over the last two years, I’ve taken folks to see shows at ACT, Forward Flux, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Rep, the Seattle Fringe Festival, and INTIMAN. We’ve expanded our artistic diet, too, taking in the Burke Museum, the Henry Art Gallery, and the Seattle Art Museum. I’m on a quest to introduce everyone to their favorite art form— it’s The Dating Game featuring every arts organization in Seattle. And I’m rooting for everyone to be a winner.   

A generation ago, these same young professionals might be well on their way to becoming arts board members and donors. Today, I’m hard pressed to find performing arts organizations that are targeting millennials, grooming them for their board. Pacific Northwest Ballet is the only organization in town that has a dedicated track toward Board of Trustees membership. Young Patrons Circle has its own Board of Directors, giving ballet fans an introduction to non-profit boards. 

My group of theatre-goers is just starting to learn about sponsoring artists, non-profit boards, and donations to organizations. But no one is reaching out to these young professionals—many of them recent MBA graduates with lucrative post-grad school jobs—to involve them in the vitality of theatre.  They’re learning about it by flipping through the programs they’re handed as they enter the theatre.

My chaperonage isn’t single-handedly changing the demographics of Seattle audiences, but it’s a step towards a younger, more engaged audience. Halfway through my third season organizing these outings, I wonder what audiences would look like if other regular audience members took it upon themselves to invite their theatre-estranged friends to the great performances Seattle offers. Theatre marketing and engagement departments have pursued all kinds of programs and initiatives to attract new audiences, especially younger new audiences, with varying degrees of success. Increasingly, I’m thinking that those of us who already love the theatre have a role to play in bringing new faces to the audience, too.

Looking to start a theatre-going group of your own? Here are my tips for a smooth transition into group theatre outings. 

1. Choose a pay-what-you-can performance to ease your group into the theatre-going habit. Seattle Repertory Theatre typically schedules one pay-what-you-can performance ($1 minimum) before the show’s official opening. ACT has pay-what-you-can ($5 minimum)
every Sunday. 

2. Start small. Invite two or three friends to go with you on the first outing. As you become more comfortable with organizing group outings, add more friends to your circle. Think of this as a theatrical book club. You don’t want to start too big. There’s always room to grow.

3. Plan for lunch or dinner before the show. Theatre can be a scary new experience for some people. Let your friends ease into the experience over a meal. 

4. Be both a friend and an expert. Do some research on the play before you go. You don’t want to feel like you’re suddenly a professor of theatre, but folks will want to know what they’re getting themselves into. Learn the running time and a little about the play and the playwright. If you’re attending a preview performance, educate your friends on what that means. 

5. Lather, rinse, repeat. You’re not going to love every play you see together. That’s okay! But keep coming back and encourage your friends to do the same. Before you know it, you’ll have a group of friends to process theatre with and isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Danielle Mohlman is a Seattle-based playwright and arts journalist. She’s a frequent contributor to Encore, where she’s written about everything from the intersection of sports and theatre to the landscape of sensory-friendly performances. Danielle’s work can also be found in American Theatre, The Dramatist and on the Quirk Books blog.

A Conversation with SassyBlack

A Conversation with Sassyblack

There’s a deep love for Seattle that pulses through your work. How does Seattle influence you—and how do you influence Seattle?

Seattle is the only true home I’ve ever known outside of Hawaii. They’re similar in many ways, but also extremely different. I love to go on long walks and let myself feel nature—wind, sunshine, rain, falling leaves. It’s such a healing feeling. That energy moves through me and motivates my mindset, which in turn motivates my music. Seattle is a quirky town blossoming into a city that’s constantly moving forward.

It’s hard to put a finger on how I influence Seattle. In terms of musical infrastructure, I sit on many boards trying to figure out how to support artists through work with nonprofits. In terms of live shows, I have attended a large share of shows and venues in Seattle over my twenty years to get a sense of the music scene. In terms of sound, I’ve collaborated with and worked with a lot of local artists and have been on the most well-known local label, Sub Pop.

At your concerts, you encourage your audience to film and take photos of you, as long as they tag you on Twitter and Instagram. Tell me more about that. How do you market yourself in a social media world?

The world we live in today is full of people capturing the moment rather than living in the moment. If you’re concerned with sharing with folks that you were doing or seeing something—which is valid—I see an opportunity there. Let’s engage with one another through this experience. I find it makes people feel even more involved in the show, because now I’m interacting with them in their own personal sphere. There are so many ways to approach social media and I try to use it to my advantage.

You’re a performing powerhouse. What has been your favorite concert so far?

If we are speaking about my favorite show that I have performed, I would say, at this very moment, it would be when I opened for Bilal at Nectar Lounge. That’s at least my most recent favorite gig. The audience was so open and excited and loving and receptive. As for shows outside of myself, it’s very difficult. I have attended a lot of beautiful amazing shows. I’ve seen Erykah Badu countless times, Earth, Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Beyoncé, and so many others. All those shows and my shows exist in their special place and time and choosing favorites depends on my mood.

You write your own beats and lyrics. What is your creative process like? What comes first: music or lyrics?

Everything seems to come at the same time, but it does depend on what I’m feeling. Sometimes I just want to make a beat, so I make a move on a beat. Sometimes I just want to sing a song, so I let it flow free. It’s easy when it comes, but can be hard to complete. That’s when it gets tough.

Tell me about your favorite song—your own or someone else’s. Why do you love it?

Favorite questions hard as heck to answer because I am always changing, so my favorite anything is also always changing. Right now, I really like “Blow” by Beyoncé. That song is killer. Timberlake, Timbaland, J-Roc, Pharrell & Bey—what a dream team! The tune has bounce, soul, groove, disco vibes, just everything. I hope I can write and produce a track like that someday.

Do you have any plugs? How can folks find more about you and your work?

My album New Black Swing came out June 23 on Space Theory Records, which is my label, and it’s available online at Folks can also order physical goods from the website too.

Erin Murray on Women in Theatre

Erin Murray on Women in Theatre

Erin Murray is a “femme forward” theatre maker and educator. A native of Washington, Erin grew up in University Place, just outside of Tacoma and describes herself as a PNW woman through and through. She’s a director with affiliations with seemingly every theatre in the area and recently added podcast host to her resume with her show That’s WOW: That’s Womxn of Washington, where she talks to femme culture makers and leaders in the area about their work. We had a chance to talk to her about her passion for plays from the female perspective, her love for the Pacific Northwest, and her dream project.

You went to Northwestern in Chicago to get your MFA in directing, but decided to move back to Seattle and grow your career here. What excites you about directing in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest? What about the region inspires you?

We are a region of pioneers in a great time of change, so I knew this would be the best place for me to continue to grow. The major theatre houses have had changes in artistic leadership in the past three years: John Langs at ACT Theatre, Braden Abraham at The Rep, even Aidan Lang at Seattle Opera, and with Andrew Russell moving on, there will be more. Mat Wright has brought new folks to ArtsWest, Kelly Kitchens and Annie Lareau are shaking up programming as the new heads of Seattle Public Theatre, and newer companies like Forward Flux are finding strong root systems.

After broadening my skill set at Northwestern, I wanted a city where I could continue to direct a broad range of projects and not be confined to one style—and I’m finding that. I’ve worked and studied all over the northern hemisphere and I can tell you that American theatre is lacking a PNW voice. I would like to see that change, and I want to be that change. We are a weird region surrounded by terrifying beauty. David Lynch understood that when he placed Twin Peaks here. I want to explore our voice in American theatre.

I know work by female and non-binary playwrights is very important to you. How do you hope to bring more female playwrights to Seattle stages?

I was awarded a Spark Grant by the Greater Tacoma Foundation this summer, so myself and Ana Maria Campoy will be bringing a semi-staged reading of Tanya Saracho’s bilingual play Fade on a three-venue tour of Tacoma this fall.

I have also been developing a theatre company dedicated to the work of The Kilroys [an organization that publishes an annual industry-wide list of plays by women and non-binary playwrights] and we hope to have a production in Seattle for summer 2018.

Besides pitching and producing Kilroys’ works on my own, I have also developed curriculum for a Kilroys analysis and scene study class that I piloted this summer at Youth Theatre Northwest. The Kilroys work catalogs the most current voices of American theatre. I would love to educate more students, actors, and theatre goers to maximize their appreciation for this new class of daring playwrights. I’m also being more upfront about calling out material I am offered that does not contain complex roles for womxn.

Who’s your favorite playwright working today? Where can we see their work?

Benjamin Benne writes thrillingly theatrical plays with strong female characters and I’m so proud that he is a Seattle playwright. His newest work, Las Mariposas, was produced by Forward Flux in September. Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins writes crackling, smart dialogue and bold femme characters, so I’m pleased he just opened Charm in New York. Arlitia Jones is an Alaskan playwright who was working with the Seattle Rep playwriting program and I want The Rep to fully produce one of her plays because they are fresh, dark, and ambitious while containing her fabulous sense of humor. Elizabeth Heffron is another Seattle playwright I am proud to know, and I wish the city would support her with more gusto. I’d love to see Mitzi’s Abortion play again in light of our current administration. Finally, Clare Barron is a Kilroy’s playwright from Wenatchee who just won the Susan Smith Blackburn prize for playwriting, so I’d love to see Dance Nation play in Seattle.

What are you most looking forward to seeing in Seattle this season?

Sheila Daniels is directing The Wolves at ACT in the new year and that is going to be fantastic. It’s a deftly written contemporary script with an outstanding director at the helm. I’m also looking forward to Sara Porkalob’s direction of the Kilroys List show Peerless by Jiehae Park in January at ArtsWest. And I’m keeping my ear to the ground for Carol Louise Thompson’s site specific work This Is a Show About Progress, which is expected to be rescheduled after it was thwarted by property developers this summer.

If you could direct any play in the world and stage it in Seattle, which play would you chose? What about the play makes it ripe for Seattle audiences?

If I were given the opportunity to direct any play with full financial support and the city of Seattle as my intended audience, I would find a play that would show off the fantastic range of artists—both emerging and mature—that we have in our city. I have had the privilege of working with many emerging artists since returning to Seattle and I’d love to see them working on the larger stages and becoming familiar faces: Rafael Molina, Jonelle Jordan, and Ayo Tushinde to name a few. Charles Leggett, Amy Thone, Ray Tagavilla, and Kathy Hsieh are just a few established actors I would love to direct.

Seattle is growing, so I would want to bring people both new and native together around our most exciting storytellers. Chicago is a city that warmly supports its playwrights and actors and I’d love for that zeal to flow to Seattle. With this in mind, I would direct Mary Zimmerman’s Arabian Nights. We could do it in big warehouse in Georgetown, and get Amazon to donate 500 pillows for audience members to sit on. And we’d sell Pagliacci by the slice because if you are new to Seattle you should know about Pagliacci and if you’re familiar with Seattle then you should know Pagliacci pizza is the best. However, considering our current political state, I might suggest David Hare’s Stuff Happens, a deftly written seventeen-person play that examines how we entered the Iraq war. We’d take over the Rainier Club. Don’t worry, there would still be Pagliacci. And $2 Rainier tall boys.

Do you have any plugs? How can folks find more about you and your work?

I fly to Chicago soon to direct the midwest premiere of a Kilroy’s-mentioned play, I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn’t Even Smile by Suzanne Heathcote at Redtwist Theatre which plays November 19–December 19. Then I come back and start working the professional premiere of Shakespeare’s Other Women at Island Shakespeare Festival. Everyone should come to Whidbey Island and to enjoy some fantastic female-driven Shakespeare fan fiction. Come grab a whiskey with me before the show! After that, I start working on Seattle Shakespeare Company’s statewide tour including a bilingual production of Twelfth Night that I’m creating with Ana Maria Campoy. And of course, this spring at Youth Theatre Northwest, I’m directing your play, Dust—it’s a movement-infused play boasting a cast of twenty-two that features a dark take on the Peter Pan myth for millennial consumption. There are a few other projects in the works and all information can be found on my website. My podcast That’s WOW is available on iTunes.

Samie Spring Detzer on Washington Ensemble Theatre

Samie Spring Detzer on Washington Ensemble Theatre

Samie Spring Detzer is a true Seattleite. She grew up just north of the city and moved here to attend Cornish College of the Arts where she graduated with a BFA in theatre and original works. She’s the Artistic Director of Washington Ensemble Theatre, but always identifies as an actor first, theatre administrator second. She joined the ensemble of WET six years ago and has performed in at least one show a season ever since. This season, she’ll be directing Monstrosityby Lucy Thurber—a co-production between the University of Washington and WET. We had the pleasure of talking to her about WET’s fourteenth season, being an artist in Seattle, and what makes her “an opinionated, loud-mouthed, head-bitch-in-charge” in everything she does.

You’ve got an incredible season lined up for Washington Ensemble Theatre. What does your season planning process look like?

There’s a saying in the company that “WET is the people in room.” It’s a way to get folks to stay invested and connected to running every aspect of the company. But I also really believe that “WET is the season we produce.” While the dynamic of how the ensemble operates has morphed over the years, the one thing that is always decided as a group is season planning. We read plays all year long and then we go on a winter retreat together to create the season. It’s three days of drinking, reading, and fighting for the plays we want. We aren’t allowed to leave without a season. In the Ensemble, plays must be visually stimulating, thematically complex, and socially conscious. Our season planning weekend is about holding ourselves accountable to that vision and falling in love with the plays we choose.

The season feels uniquely Seattle. What drew you to each of these plays?

These plays have all had successful runs elsewhere, but they also are all very polarizing pieces, and in some ways that can be seen as confrontational. As a company, we have a desire to find plays that wouldn’t be done at any other theater in Seattle. In fact, two of these plays have gone through a few major Seattle theatre companies but never got picked up. One thing I love about WET is that our biggest fans hate about half of what we do. It means we’re making art that is imperfect and complicated, and that’s the goal.

The Nether feels especially relevant in Seattle’s booming tech sphere. What are you hoping this will mean for your audiences?

You’re right that this city is dealing with how to engage with the young, tech savvy demographic that has very quickly moved into our bars, apartments, and taken a bit of our community culture. I wouldn’t say we set out to pull in that audience, but WET has the benefit of being a company of millennials—with all the drive, self-importance, fearlessness, and digital literacy that comes with that. I think what we do implicitly draws a young, visionary crowd.

What excites you most about being an artist in Seattle?

The truth is I’m afraid most of what I love about being a Seattle artist is slowly getting priced out, modified, and gentrified, to the point that much of the city feels different to me. I do love this place and I’d be lying if I didn’t say what excites me most is that I’m holding out until the bubble bursts and we get to be a small-town big-city again. In the meantime, the food is good, the outdoors are beautiful and it’s given me and many other folks a place to be an artist.

How do you hope to grow and challenge the theatre community here in Seattle?

I hope that WET will continue to expand Seattle’s notion of “a well-made play.” I find Aristotelian-centric theater tired. I prefer an epic slow burn or a firecracker. Surprise me, challenge me, indict me, but never bore me, please! I also think WET, like a few other companies here, has begun to really embrace using politics, equity and social justice to strengthen the art. More of that, please.

Are there any musicians, dancers, or theatre artists that you’re especially excited about this season? Who are you excited to see?

There are so many awesome artists working on this season. We have Sara Porkalob, Jennifer Zeyl, and Frank Boyd all working on Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men. Then we’ll end with ensemble member Bobbin Ramsey directing on The Nether, which will blow your mind. There are so many amazing artists joining us, too many to name. Offering artists opportunities is the best part of my job.

How can folks find more about you and your work?

Check out I’d also suggest you look at the Shout Your Abortion website. I’m on there, but also, it’s just a great organization you should know about!

Simone Hamilton on Bringing Public Works to Life

On bringing public works like The Odyssey to life.

Simone Hamilton
Simone Hamilton

Simone Hamilton is the Artistic Engagement Coordinator at Seattle Repertory Theatre. She identifies as a producer and curator of spaces, aiming to bring audiences closer to the art on stage. She’s a Washington native and calls both Seattle and Whidbey Island her home. Encore Stages contributor Danielle Mohlman spoke with her just before tech week for the Public Works production of The Odyssey. In addition to the core cast of professional actors, over 100 performers flooded the stage in this musical adaptation of Homer’s poem—performers from the King County Boys and Girls Club, the Ballard NW Senior Center, the Jubilee Women’s Center, and beyond.

Public Works was an incredible theatrical endeavor that involved the entire community—professional and amateur performers alike. How did Seattle Rep decide to get involved with this nationwide theatrical experiment?

Our initial inspiration for bringing Public Works to Seattle began when our Artistic Director, Braden Abraham, saw Lear deBessonet’s production of A Winter’s Tale at The Public Theatre in 2014. He said it was like seeing the whole city onstage. In 2014, Braden and Marya Sea Kaminski, our Associate Artistic Director, started imagining what an incredible experience it would be for our stage and our audience to produce our own Public Works. Marya hired me in 2016 and together we began building this dream into a reality. Public Works became a way for us to examine and evolve our processes institution-wide and truly collaborate with our community. That process has inspired us forward and motivated us to keep going.

What was the most exciting part of working on the Public Works production of The Odyssey?

It’s so hard to just name one! One thing that has presented itself throughout the entire life of this program—from workshops to the rehearsal process to the final production—is hard earned joy, collective imagination, and true equity. Together we are all learning and have become more than just an ensemble. We are a community that takes care of each other just as a family would. It’s exciting to see how these values permeate people’s lives as we all become more civically engaged with our communities, even outside the walls of the theatre.

If you could pick any play in the world to transform into a Public Works-style production, what would you choose and why?

If I had to choose from an existing play, I’d choose The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The story is a childhood favorite and the themes within the story around collaborative leadership, acceptance, resistance, courage, and community really resonate with me. But realistically, I’d like for us to explore commissioning our own Public Works-style production that reflects the stories of the Pacific Northwest. I envision a story full of epic adventure, momentous bravery, and conscious reflection with characters that are reflective of us all—including those who came before us and those who are here with us today.

What are your hopes for the future of Public Works in Seattle?

I hope the future of Public Works Seattle includes sustainable growth and deepened engagement. I hope that as a theatre, Seattle Rep can continue to show up for our community in ways we haven’t before. In the future, I see the values of the program becoming contagious and continuing to reach beyond the confines of theatre and Seattle. Theatre is a powerful tool for change and we like to think of Public Works as a movement rather than a moment. We are actively making the change we wish to see in our community, our country, and our world by not only identifying, but actualizing our individual and collective truths under these magical and imaginary circumstances.
Are there any musicians, dancers, or theatre artists that you’re especially excited about this season? Who are you excited to see?

I’m really excited about the regional performers that make cameo appearances in The Odyssey and seeing more from all of them this year. We’ve been collaborating with dancers, musicians, vocalists, and visual artists from around the region who offer a wide range of artistic talents—from the high energy Seattle Seahawks Drumline to the incredibly dynamic dance troupe Purple Lemonade and the drop dead gorgeous drag queen Tipsy Rose Lee. The cameo groups are the créme filling of The Odyssey. This show wouldn’t be possible without them.

Do you have any plugs? How can folks find more about you and your work?

No plugs for myself, but check out Public Works Seattle and our community partners: Centerstone, the Jubilee Women’s Center, the Ballard NW Senior Center/Sound Generations, Path with Art, and the King County Boys and Girls Club.