Theatre22 is Revolutionizing Theatre and Inviting You to Join

Often in contemporary theatre, plays demonstrate the worst of humanity—in 2019 a tone of nihilism permeates society and by extension, the art that acts as a mirror.

However, Theatre22 is doing something a little different. They are opening their fifth season with a Festival of Revolution, which will include two plays—The Revolutionist and White—performed in rotation. With two these shows and with their larger mission, Theatre22 strives to celebrate hope and healing to the community through theatre.

We talk with the Founder and Producing Artistic Director Corey McDaniel about Theatre22’s vision and what to expect from their upcoming Festival.

Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Theatre22 Corey McDaniel. Photo Courtesy of Theatre22

Ciara Caya: Theatre22 is about to begin its fifth season, which makes it a relatively new theatre company. Did you see something that was missing in Seattle’s existing theatre offerings that you wanted to provide? 

Corey McDaniel: We in Seattle are blessed with an incredibly vibrant theatre scene and so many extremely talented theatre artists. Theatre22 came into being to create innovative ways to bring together many of these exceptional and underutilized artists to work on projects that made us excited and hopeful; that gave us energy to move forward; and that helped us channel our creative energies into making a positive impact on the world around us.

Rather than choosing scripts that wallow in the darkness around us, we want to explore ways to embrace the broken-ness of our humanity, but, ultimately, to move toward the light. As we identify in our mission statement, Theatre22 is committed to producing exceptional live theatre that engages a diverse community of artists and audiences, inspires new ways of interpreting the world around us, and celebrates hope and healing.

In addition to choosing plays that are constructive, Theatre22 focuses on works that discuss diversity and equity. What else, besides play selection, does Theatre22 do to ensure the productions are accessible for a diverse audience?

First and foremost, Theatre22 hopes to be deeply engaged with our community. Of course there is always more to do and there is never enough time or person-power! But we strive to listen and learn from those around us, to challenge ourselves and others to come to new understandings, and to continue to grow with our artists and our audience. We also strive to reach out to new people with every show and to personally connect with each person who comes through the door to let them know how important they are to our process. For us, it is all about connection. That is the joy of doing theatre! What could be more exciting and satisfying? 

Cast of 'White.' Shermona Mitchell, Jennifer Ewing, Tyler Rogers,and Christian Quinto.
Cast of ‘White.’ Shermona Mitchell, Jennifer Ewing, Tyler Rogers,and Christian Quinto. Photo by John Curry Photography

Speaking of the joy of theatre, let’s talk a little about Theatre22’s upcoming productions. Even though they take place over 200 years apart and in two different countries, The Revolutionists and White both examine the oppression of women and people of color. Why do you find it beneficial to pair these two plays together in a festival? What do you hope the audience gains from watching these plays in sequence?

A primary part of our vision is to do thought-provoking and belief-challenging works. Both of the plays in our festival fit this vision, in different ways. Both explore voices that have been undervalued and marginalized. Both ask questions about how we can make changes in our world to face the harsh realities of covert and overt violence. Both explore questions of art and activism, of feminism and intersectionality, of who gets to tell the story, and what does redemption look like. We believe that people will leave the theatre with good questions, and that the questions will inform each other and will ultimately help us be better witnesses to the people in the world who most need to be heard.

In addition to the two productions which will be performed during the Festival of Revolution, there will also be community events. Can you tell us a little more about these?

Because we are so excited about the ways audiences will respond to our productions, we are planning to bring artists and audiences together to engage in several post-play discussions during the run of our shows. We’re also excited to provide several opportunities to see both shows in one day and will have staff around to engage with audiences in between shows. In addition, we have reached out to a number of new communities, providing tickets and post-play gatherings to encourage dialogue both in the theatre and beyond. We’re always exploring new ways to connect and would love to hear from audiences both in person and in online conversation.


To join Theatre22 in the conversation, attend the Festival of Revolution. The Revolutionists and White will be running in rotation October 18–November 9 at 12th Avenue Arts. Single tickets and specially priced festival package tickets are available online.

Steven Dietz Will Never Stop Calling Seattle Home

Playwright Steven Dietz is so personable he doesn’t need an icebreaker. When I called him to talk about the upcoming production of Dracula at ACT Theatre, the first thing he wanted to talk about was my area code, a holdover from my Southern California hometown. I joked that I’d probably carry that area code with me for the rest of my life. And he echoed the same sentiment.

“As good as Austin has been to us, it’s always nice to see that 206 on my area code,” Dietz said. “I’ve had such profound good fortune in Seattle. I’ve been very lucky there. I’m always glad to get back to Seattle through all those changes, through all the hardships.” We talked about everything from his process of re-adapting Dracula to his passion for making room for the next generation of playwrights, but one thing rang through every moment of our conversation: Steven Dietz truly loves Seattle.

Danielle Mohlman: You originally wrote this adaptation of Dracula in 1994, but this production at ACT Theatre is being billed as a re-adaptation of your own play. What did that process look like for you? What does it mean to re-adapt your own play?

Steven Dietz: It’s funny. I have the script of the other adaptation here because I was trying to steal my own previous playwright’s note. (Laughs.) I wrote that adaptation of Dracula 25 years ago. It premiered at the Arizona Theatre Company in 1995 with a lot of Seattle connections—directed by David Goldstein, actors like David Pichette, Suzanne Bouchard and Peter Silbert. Bill Forrester did the set. So, I had all these amazing Seattle connections working on the premiere. And god bless that Dracula play. It’s been very good to me. And it’s not going away. That adaptation will remain in the Dramatists Play Service catalogue and will keep getting produced.

Playwright Steven Dietz. Photo by John Ulman

And what got us to this production at ACT is that John Langs wanted to do a show of mine. He knew I was coming up on the 30th anniversary of me coming to Seattle and the production of God’s Country in 1988. So, he said, “I want to do Dracula.” And John is a fantastic director and he’s also a fantastic showman. So, a piece like Dracula just hits all the sweet spots for him. And what I said to John is, “I think what I’d like to do, is go back to my existing adaptation and make another version.” I wanted to streamline it, tighten it. I’m a better storyteller now and I wanted to see if I could just squeeze it and shape it a little bit more.

The best analogy I can give you is this: when I wrote the original adaptation, I was sitting at my computer and to the left I had Bram Stoker’s book. This time, I was sitting at my desk and to my left I had my own published play.  

One thing that really stood out to me last time we spoke is how much you love Seattle actors. So, I have to know: what excites you about this Dracula cast in particular?

A handful of those actors are folks that I’ve worked with. Arjun Pande is just a unicorn, right? There’s not another Arjun. Like, what the heck? And most of my experience, of course, with Basil Harris is doing these multiple productions of Go, Dog, Go! We’ve done it at the Seattle Children’s Theatre and so many other places. So, they’re actors I really admire.

John seems to find these actors—and Seattle seems to produce these actors—that have emotional power, but with a performative edge. There’s a particular style rooted in just enough psychological realism. But there’s a performative edge that’s not navel-gazing. Seattle actors don’t, you know, have the same reputation as Chicago actors being sort of brawling actors. This is a little too black and white, I know. But Seattle actors—their performances don’t go down inside their character. They go out and they’re elastic and they’re effervescent. I use this phrase when I direct in other cities: “As we say in Seattle, better strong and wrong than slight and right.” Give me strong and wrong. We can work with that. We can settle that up later. There’s a lack of caution among so many Seattle actors and I just adore it.

Steven Dietz’s other plays that have been performed at ACT.

Switching gears off Dracula for a little bit—

Please, please. I need a break! (Laughs)

In addition to all of these long-term collaborations you have with ACT, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Rep and others, you also recently joined the nominating committee for the Emerald Prize at Seattle Public Theater. How does championing emerging playwrights factor into your life and your career?

I’ve been lucky enough to teach playwriting and directing masterclasses for years—even before having the full-time appointment at UT Austin. I was the very fortunate recipient early on in my career of mentorship from writers who were a little bit ahead of me in terms of age. August Wilson, Lee Blessing, Barbara Field. The mentorship I received from them, just by example, was crucial to me becoming a playwright. And I think we may be in a golden age of playwriting. I think we absolutely have a wealth of young and emerging talent.

And I take the responsibility very seriously. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to make our living in this business have to make room for other writers. Our legacy will be: how did we leave the theatre? And who did we leave the theatre to?

And I think it’s our responsibility to foster that and curate that and not just wring it out like a sponge—or pull up the drawbridge behind us. I’m borrowing this art form. I don’t own this. I’m just passing through. With my MFA playwriting students, I loved when they had better ideas than mine—and more vibrant ideas.

So, I think the Emerald Prize is great. All of those awards out there are signals that the field is hungry for new work. But I don’t think it’s enough. It’s my hope that there are six, eight, ten Seattle playwrights who will get to have these ongoing relationships with the same theatres that I have. And how that happens is a much harder conversation. But one way it can happen is for those of us in a more senior position to make some noise about emerging writers. I just hope the next generation blows my generation out of the water.


Steven Dietz’s re-adaptation of Dracula will play at ACT Theatre October 18–November 17. Tickets are available online.


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.

We’re Celebrating 50 Years of Arts, Culture and Community

For the past fifty years, it has been our pleasure to provide audiences with performance programs, festival guides and magazines that reflect and enhance the organizations of our community.

Although you may not know it, Encore has published many of the programs that you’ve read at performances throughout the Greater Seattle Area and the San Francisco Bay Area. Encore has become an established partner to arts organizations throughout these communities, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary, we talk to the president of Encore, Paul Heppner, about Encore’s history, its purpose, and the arts communities Encore serves.  

Ciara Caya: Fifty years is quite the milestone. Can you tell me a bit about how Encore was founded?

Paul Heppner: My dad, Philbrook Heppner, loved music, arts and, most of all, the opera. After having worked as an architect, he made a career change that brought his passion for the arts to fill a need in the Portland performing arts scene by launching Encore Magazine for the Arts. That quickly evolved into the programs for Portland Opera and Encore arts programs.

Partnerships with arts organizations are essential to your business—how did those relationships start?

Librettos and theatre programs were commonplace, especially in Europe where my dad collected many souvenir programs. Creating programs (typesetting, layout and printing) in those days was extremely labor intensive and performing arts organizations were not set up to handle the production necessary, so a mutually beneficial service model was developed.

Publisher and President of Encore Paul Heppner

Having worked with Encore since you were a young man, you’ve seen better than most the changes that have occurred in Seattle’s arts community—the good and the bad. How has Encore adapted amongst these changes?

We were just talking about this the other day—when I arrived in Seattle in 1985, state of the art was an IBM Selectric typewriter! The outstanding thing to note over the years has been the appreciable growth in depth and quality of the performing arts, as well as the breadth and sophistication of the respective audiences.

Interestingly enough, even with the advent of the internet in our data driven world, the theatre program has remained a cherished part of the live performance experience. Unlike the mass media (print, digital or electronic) attending a live performance is enhanced by simply turning the pages and reading a program that gives you compelling and thoughtful content about the people and the performances—it truly can make the event transformative.

As the publisher of arts organizations’ programs, Encore is usually (pardon the pun) behind the scenes. In what other ways are you and Encore involved with the Seattle community and with the arts organizations you partner with?  

We’re extremely proud to have had the privilege to work with, and support through our work, numerous organizations outside the performing arts world. Last year we were an integral part of a team of committed arts leaders to work with Seattle Foundation to transition and insure the future of GiveBIG (the annual day of philanthropy). We’ve been long-time supporters and fans of SIFF and believe in our work with, and support of Seattle Pride. This year we were thrilled to begin working with Seafair and all that it represents to our city and region. Over the years we’ve also provided support to smaller organizations—one of our favorites is Music4Life because of its impact on the lives of young people in our public schools.

So, now that you have the first 50 under your belt, what’s on stage for the next 50?

We’ve learned that the fulcrum for evolving our business centers on providing services that connect the arts, culture and our community. We recognize and are excited to play a leading role in supporting the great works of organizations that are transforming and building this region. We believe that finding smart ways to integrate media in meaningful ways for consumers is key, and we are focused on developing products and programs that expand and enhance opportunities for all of our stakeholders. We’ve recently launched encorespotlight.com to start addressing the distressing lack of arts coverage in major media. Through this website we are also continuing our work with youth, having partnered in part with the amazing Press Corps at TeenTix to provide both a platform (in print and digitally) for these amazing young journalists.

Hosting the Tiny Tots Concert Series at the Seattle Symphony is a Return to Musical Childhood Memories

When John Turman moved to Seattle in 2015, hosting the Tiny Tots concert series was the furthest thing from his mind. He’d just graduated from Rice University and, after deciding to turn down a principal horn position at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, joined the horn section at the Seattle Symphony.

Now entering his fifth season with the Symphony and his second season as the Tiny Tots concert series host, this Austin native is happy to now call Seattle home. “There’s just an action and activism that I feel here in Seattle,” Turman said. “And politically, it’s amazing. I hear more voices here than anywhere else.”

I had the pleasure of speaking with Turman just before the start of the 2019-20 Seattle Symphony season about his role as a host, and how that role has deepened his understanding of early childhood education.

Danielle Mohlman: The Tiny Tots concerts are geared toward children ages zero to five, a demographic typically left out of symphony performances. How did you become involved in this concert series as a host? What drew you into this age group?

John Turman: When Amy Heald, our associate director of collaborative learning, joined the Seattle Symphony a couple of years ago, she said “Let’s bring some of these Symphony musicians onstage for these kids.” It was an age we were kind of missing out on. Because they absolutely can understand and have fun and recognize the musicians. And we really wanted to change things up with our Tiny Tots programming, so we kind of scrapped the entire thing and started from the ground up. And we started writing our own scripts. Our main thing is it’s all based on really great music. We wanted to program some pieces with substantial weight in the classical cannon—because there are so many pieces that not only the kids can enjoy, but the parents as well.

And just knowing that learning classical music early on helps with complex processing later in life. And not pandering and saying that this is “children’s music.” Because all music can be children’s music.

Exactly. It’s this cognitive development cycle that Amy [Heald] educated me about when she brought me on to host. Danielle Kuhlmann was the first host of this structure of Tiny Tots that we’re using right now. We had a woodwind quintet play a show and then Danielle read a book to go along with this composition. And then the next year, Amy approached me and asked if I wanted to host. And I said yes, of course.

John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert.
John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert. Photo by James Holt

I love music education and I come from a background, you know, Texas high school—really solid music educators. I’ve known a lot of great educators throughout my life and I’m very grateful and privileged to have had that. And so I’m really excited to give that back in this way. I’m still performing and people know that I play in the Symphony and that’s part of the fun. I’m like the friend who says, “Here’s what things are really like in the Symphony.” And these kids are all zero to five and I’m like, “You guys belong here just as much as the adults do.”

Yeah!

So Amy and I started brainstorming. It was her idea to do standard chamber music pieces, so we have a woodwind quintet for one show, a brass quintet for another, a percussion trio and a string quartet. And the final concert is a big chamber orchestra.

Bringing it all together.

Yeah, exactly. So now we have this whole program where the kids will see every instrument represented on stage throughout the Tiny Tots series. Which is so much different than what we were doing before. And we’re so excited because people really do enjoy that. They enjoy taking their kids to see a show for thirty minutes and they enjoy the programming. And I hope they enjoy the characters that we get introduced to. I’m usually always wearing some type of sequined garment—something that’s visually appealing. Stimuli is a big thing in their life right now. Sequins are golden. Sequins are the key here.

Switching gears a little bit: when did you first discover your passion for music. Do you remember how old you were?

I do. I remember the exact moment. It was when my Grandpa Tom took me into the music store in Austin, Texas and bought me a three-quarter size classical guitar. I was seven. And I thought, “Oh yeah, I’m Stevie Ray Vaughan over here.” And then he bought me a guitar book. And it was just when I was learning how to read, so I learned how to tune the guitar myself, and I learned how to read the first three lines of the treble clef. That moment of getting that guitar and making sound on my own for the first time was something that really, really drove home that I wanted to do this. I wanted to learn this. And both my parents were in the Longhorn Band [at the University of Texas, Austin] that’s how they met.

John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert.
John Turman hosting Seattle Symphony’s Tiny Tots Concert. Photo by James Holt

Wow.

Yeah. And then band started for me in sixth grade. And at the instrument petting zoo, the shortest line was for the French horn. And I thought it was really cool. And my Aunt Betty Lou said, “You know, John, this is the most challenging instrument in the orchestra.” And I said, “Oh I can’t back down from a challenge.” And I had some incredible music educators. My band director got me a CD of the Canadian Brass and The Planets.

Oh, I love The Planets.

Right? It just kind of triggered my hunger. It really just activated the nerd inside. I loved organizing chamber music ensembles with my friends. And then I was drum major in high school and I loved being that kind of role model for band kids. And, you know, being in band is hard. Being in high school is hard. And I was happy to be a friend and mentor to a lot of people through that.


The Tiny Tots concert series at the Seattle Symphony begins on October 4 and 5 with The Percussion: 5, 6, Pick Up Sticks and continuing on with The Brass: March of the Toys on December 6 and 7. A full schedule and tickets for this season’s Tiny Tots concerts can be found online.


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.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Opens Their Season With Two Musical Powerhouses

Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana choreographed by Kent Stowell is a visual extravaganza where a 2,500-pound golden wheel rotates above more than 100 dancers, musicians and singers. The second work, Agon, marks a high point in the partnership between choreographer George Balanchine and composer Igor Stravinsky. We talked to Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou about the musical challenges and payoffs of this evening at the ballet.

Rosemary Jones: This particular version of Orff’s Carmina Burana was choreographed by Kent Stowell for the opening season of Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. What do you think of it today?

Emil de Cou: People forget that that Carmina Burana was originally done as a piece of theatre. I’ve done it as a symphony concert many times, but when you add dance, lights, costumes and a set, then it is a rare opportunity to see it as Orff meant it to be seen. I love what Kent did. The piece is one of the trickiest and the best that we do at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Music Director and Principal Conductor Emil de Cou. Photo by Griffin Harrington

During rehearsals, what’s your most frequent reminder to the orchestra and the singers?

Use the language! I remind them that even if you don’t understand the words, the audience needs to understand the text as written; that the sound of the word adds excitement. There’s the very loud opening of “O Fortuna” and then it gets very hushed and quiet. The trill of the “r” and the hard “t”, that makes it sound that much more sinister and spooky. The orchestra plays this brilliantly. We have the Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union as the chorus again. We also had them last November for Jupiter Ascending. They are so beautiful to hear and a real joy to work with.

You have spoken about the responsibility of a ballet conductor to support the dancers, to the point of changing up your conducting in response to what’s happening in a live performance. In conducting the choir and the orchestra while musically supporting the dancers on stage, are there any particular moments in Carmina Burana that are especially tricky?

It’s not like we’re doing Swan Lake or Romeo where I can change on a dime. It’s very much in the Balanchine aesthetic where the music comes first. So, what we can do [as an orchestra] is more fine tuning. There’s “In Taberna” where  all the men are on stage, very rhythmic and bawdy. Rhythmically the composer has taken a lot of ideas of Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring, creating neo-primitive music. Orff goes back to this primitive prehistory music idea where everything is based on rhythm. Right after that is the “Cour d’amours,” which feels like very idealized Debussy harmonies. It’s very yin and yang, as we are going from bawdy, boisterous drunkenness to the female soloist on stage. It’s also very fun to perform.

PNB principal dancer Lesley Rausch in 'Agon.'
PNB principal dancer Lesley Rausch in ‘Agon.’ Photo by Angela Sterling

Part of the excitement of Carmina is having the choir visible and suspended over the stage. What are some of the challenges of that staging and having them almost as far away from you as possible?

The chorus is located up against the back wall, about 20 feet above the stage, and wearing hoods. They can’t hear each other well. They do have their music, but it is lit very dimly. The staging is against all the things that choruses are used to doing. It’s really tricky.

When do you know for certain that it is going to work out and be a great night of music and dance?

I feel like that when the “O Fortuna” comes back. Up to that moment there’s umpteen things that could go wrong, and as a conductor, you can’t let your guard down. When the soprano sings this very high “D” that seems to come out of nowhere, you can tell that you’re there.

PNB principal dancers Lindsi Dec and Seth Orza with company dancers in 'Carmina Burana.'
PNB principal dancers Lindsi Dec and Seth Orza with company dancers in ‘Carmina Burana.’ Photo by Angela Sterling

So how do you feel about the pairing of Carmina Burana and Balanchine’s Agon?

They are polar opposites. Carmina is like a Cecil B. DeMille epic on stage. Agon is very distilled. Agon is a masterpiece of Stravinsky’s but it doesn’t work as an abstract concert piece like Carmina. With Agon you need the dancers. The piece doesn’t come to life without that element. There’s this one moment where the audience always bursts into this huge cheering—and I think that’s the only time that a 12-tone composition gets huge ovation. Because it’s in the middle of Agon and because people listen with their eyes at the ballet.


Carmina Burana and Agon are opening Pacific Northwest Ballet’s season as a double-bill performance showing September 27–October 6. Tickets are available online.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.

SF Opera Borrows the Jumbo Screen at Oracle Park

It takes a lot of people to put on a show, and that’s never more true than San Francisco Opera’s annual partnership with the San Francisco Giants for Opera at the Ballpark. Returning on September 21 to Oracle Park, this year’s simulcast will be Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet.

Transmitting in high definition live from the stage of the War Memorial Opera House to the new 71-foot high Mitsubishi Electronic Diamond Vision Board, the Romeo and Juliet simulcast will be 50 feet wider and 20 feet higher than the former board. Since 2006, the partnership between the Giants and San Francisco Opera has brought an incredible free arts experience to over 300,000 people of all ages.

To answer such vital questions as the best place to sit and the best snack to munch, we turned to San Francisco Opera’s Managing Director, Production and Simulcast Executive Producer Jennifer Good; Simulcast Producer and Content Coordinator Jeremy Patfield; and Simulcast Producer and Logistics Coordinator Jodi Gage.

Jodi Gage, Jennifer Good, and Jeremy Patfield. Courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Rosemary Jones: What are some of the technical challenges of doing a live simulcast to the largest movie screen in San Francisco?

Jennifer Good: At the opera house we always get to rehearse in the weeks leading up to the first live performance. So overall, we find that we have to exercise our “wing it” muscles since we have limited time to run through all the technical factors during our single load-in day and the day of the simulcast.  We’re really grateful to the San Francisco Giants for their expertise as we transition into their venue!

Do you change any of the blocking of the opera for the cameras?

Jennifer Good: Once a production opens at San Francisco Opera, we try to keep things as consistent as possible for the singers and other cast members. So though we may make some slight tweaks in the staging if absolutely necessary for the simulcast performance, we have to do that before we record the preceding performance as our back-up. We do make lighting adjustments to optimize the ballpark crowd’s experience, but we’re careful not to compromise the artistic integrity of what the audience at the opera house sees.

Sound is always a concern for opera lovers. How does this sound in the ballpark? Any suggestions on the best place to sit for the maximum effect?

Jeremy Patfield: We have to give a huge shout out to our generous partner, Meyer Sound!  They provide us with the highest quality sound equipment for use at Oracle Park, which we test for hours leading up to the simulcast performance. Also, many of our IATSE Local 16* sound crew have years of experience with live concerts in big venues along with their expertise with opera and the more intimate theatre setting of the War Memorial Opera House. We synchronize the sound and visual elements at Oracle Park so that they are aligned at home plate. We feel like every seat in the stadium is a great seat from which to watch and listen!

Opera at the Ballpark 2017. Photo by Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

For the audience, how close is this to what they would experience in the opera house?

Jeremy Patfield: We’d like to think that the powerful singing, storytelling and production values are as intense and meaningful in the ballpark as they are at the opera house. It’s the live audience in both locations that amplifies the energy that the performers bring to the stage and screen.

So, what’s the best Oracle Park snack for pairing with Romeo and Juliet: garlic French fries or hot dogs?

Jodi Gage: Well, this is a French opera after all.  So one would think that people might lean toward the French fries. But we’ve heard that the Capulets won’t eat the same snack as the Montagues, so we think the hot dogs still have a fighting chance.

How family friendly is this opera and this event?

Jennifer Good: The opera Romeo and Juliet and the simulcast event are both perfect for families!  This is one of the most well-known stories in the world and it touches on many themes that resonate in today’s world. Parents can give their children an introduction to the story of the fated young couple in advance, in so many ways, since there are countless modern accountings of Shakespeare’s play.

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra in Gounod's ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra in Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Photo by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

What’s the best part of this annual event for San Francisco Opera?

Jodi Gage: The audience! It’s really such an amazing chance for us to bring opera to our community in such a fun, casual setting at Oracle Park with our great partner, the San Francisco Giants!

*Editor’s Note: IATSE Local 16 is the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada.


San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Giants present Opera at the Ballpark, a free live simulcast of Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet (Roméo et Juliette), on Saturday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Oracle Park. The event is free and open to the public, but advance online registration is recommended. Register at sfopera.com/simulcast. Entrance to the stadium begins at 5:30 p.m.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.

In Conversation with Kelly Tweeddale

Kelly Tweeddale bec[ame] San Francisco Ballet’s new Executive Director on September 3. She succeeds Glenn McCoy, whose steadfast stewardship over 17 seasons has left the Company with an operating budget of $56 million, the second largest amongst ballet companies in the country, and an endowment that grew from $43 million to $127 million. That’s a tough act to follow, where does one go from there?

As arts organizations across disciplines grapple with the challenges and opportunities to stay visible and pertinent, a new leader at the helm is both exciting and suspenseful. We caught up with Kelly in August to catch up about leadership, organizational culture, our role in the community, and the ever-present pendulum of preserving tradition while fostering innovation.

You You Xia: You have led symphony orchestras and an opera company throughout North America. What is your impression of the ballet world?

Kelly Tweeddale: Even though I’ve spent most of my career in the fields of orchestra and opera, I actually discovered the world of performing arts through dance. I studied ballet in college and worked for an improvisational dance company through a work-study program. The way that ballet seems to defy physics, by being controlled and exuberant at the same time, and how movement connects music with emotion, is something that we all need in an era where our world has become as small as the devices that we hold in our hands. I think dance gives us peripheral vision; it is three-dimensional and almost forces us to look up, take notice, and see what happens beyond our screens and ourselves.

Excellence transcends all art forms, be it music, opera, or ballet. That standard of excellence that is a signature of Helgi’s artistic leadership is what attracted me to SF Ballet.

“You never know where the next set of leaders for our field will come from and I feel a deep responsibility to offer guidance to anyone who shows potential and promise. ”

Kelly Tweeddale

In your opinion, how does leadership set the tone for an organization?

I have been fortunate to have worked with several leaders and mentors early in my career who led by example. I come from the mindset that “paying your dues” in the nonprofit world, especially the performing arts, starts with doing whatever is necessary so that the curtain rises and the show goes on. That means going the extra mile, lending a hand regardless of whether it’s your job, and always remembering to say thank you. 

Today, I think leadership is about giving back and being accessible. You never know where the next set of leaders for our field will come from and I feel a deep responsibility to offer guidance to anyone who shows potential and promise. When I was at Seattle Opera, the Executive Director became terminally ill. Speight Jenkins, the General Director and board president, came to me and asked me to step into the role. They saw something in me before I knew that of myself and gave me a chance. I think that is what leaders do—they know when to step forward, and when to step aside. I guess I’d say mentorship is a dance, one that is so much more rewarding when done with others. I’ve never been a leader who thinks that success can be achieved alone.

Along those lines, what makes an organization great? Is it the internal DNA or having the right leadership?

I think great organizations attract great leaders, and great leaders can create great organizations; but it’s not a given. I had the opportunity to spend time with the author Jim Collins when he was writing the book Good to Great. The difference between a good organization and a great organization comes down to a few things, such as having a laser-like focus, having the right people in the right roles, and taking advantage of momentum. That’s why I’m an avid student of the creative leaders within our organizations. Building a great company takes curation—in opera it is casting the roles with the right type of singer, in symphony it is building the ensemble, and in ballet, it is having a physical aesthetic that becomes the signature of the Company. I believe that the DNA of an organization starts with knowing who you are and why you exist. Once you know that, you build the organization through passion and tenacity. It’s never easy, but if you have alignment around purpose, it’s rewarding and can be life changing. It was for me. I think if you focus on the “why” of what you are doing rather than the “what,” you connect with each other, the art form, and ultimately, the audience.

“…if you focus on the ‘why’ of what you are doing rather than the ‘what,’ you connect with each other, the art form, and ultimately, the audience.”

Kelly Tweeddale

You have said that a thriving arts community is the bellwether of a great city. Can you elaborate on that?

If you look at any thriving city—London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, etc.—it is multi-dimensional. It has transcended past economic markets and built cultural centers and cultural organizations that are unique to each city. The sign that a city has evolved to provide its citizens more than just food, shelter, and economic livelihood can be measured by how it celebrates culture—its own indigenous culture, traditional and classical cultures of the world, and the cultural expression of the future. The cultural community is a measure of creativity, and one sign of a thriving city is how it invests in keeping that community healthy and relevant. What was left behind by the thriving civilizations that came before us is their art—dance depicted in paintings and sculpture, buildings that celebrated performance and drama, literature that highlights the value of the pursuit of creativity and art. Part of what we do today is leaving a lasting record.

And there is value in all of that.

One of the values that a ballet company brings to the ecosystem, which is especially relevant today, is that we are humans, with physical bodies, that exist outside of an electronic device. Ballet reminds us of our physicality and the miraculous things that a human is capable of when creativity is harnessed through our bodies. It tells a story, passes on traditions, and expresses the complexity of emotions that we are faced with in our daily lives. That expression is something that connects all of us, and that connection is what builds community. San Francisco is a diverse and evolving city, and SF Ballet should reflect that on stage and off, as well as act as a mirror to the world at-large.

We have a role to play for our communities now, but what about the future? At Vancouver Symphony Orchestra you oversaw the youth orchestra as part of the organization. It seems that arts organizations have also taken on a duty to enrich future generations.

Often, a music or art class at school or trip to a community center is the first exposure a child has to the arts. I know it was for me. I discovered dance when I was enrolled in a community program where we learned what a choreographer was, and how to make a dance. I still remember performing for peers and family, and how powerful it felt to put your ideas into action. That is the power of what we do, putting ideas into action, and in our case it is physical action, using the body and mind to make a statement. One of the things that I am excited about is the deep and sustaining role that SF Ballet has played in education. With the 40th anniversary of SF Ballet’s Dance in Schools and Communities program, we can extend that reach even further. I believe we have one of the most creative generations ever to have existed before us. They are craving something that allows them to connect, and our DISC program begins that connection in a sustaining and important way.

Tell us about the livestreaming agreement you spearheaded at the VSO.

I have always been an early adopter when it comes to technology; I guess I’m just wired that way. When I was in Vancouver, my orchestra colleagues asked if I would represent all Canadian orchestras and work with the Canadian Federation of Musicians to create a set of rules for livestreaming. Up until then, each project had to be separately negotiated with the local and national unions and by the time the negotiations were concluded, often the opportunity had passed. I assembled a committee with representation both by size of orchestra and geography. It took almost two years, but we got there. Canada now has a livestreaming agreement that is experimental, offers turnkey implementation, and provides incentives for multiple projects. We also recognized that technology is changing at a rapid rate and in order to be relevant and continue to build audiences we needed to do something now. The agreement isn’t perfect, but hopefully over the next three years, it will result in Canadian orchestras becoming visible in the digital space, learning by experimentation, and reaching new audiences.

“A streamed performance will never replace or be able to deliver the impact of a live performance, but it is the exposure and the ability to capture memorable moments [that ballet needs].”

Kelly Tweeddale

Would you say that is the biggest impact of new presentation formats such as livestreaming?

New technologies have only increased attendance to the performing arts. When recording was the new technology, opera and symphony audiences grew; radio and television broadcasting also expanded audiences. A streamed performance will never replace or be able to deliver the impact of a live performance, but it is the exposure and the ability to capture memorable moments. That is what I believe ballet needs–more exposure and the ability for our audience to relive the memorable moments our dancers deliver. Digital capture is also essential for documenting new work and for passing choreography from one generation to another.

Yet much of what we do is preserving the traditions of the classical art form. Why should they matter in our world today?

There is a lot of debate over whether tradition or classic art forms have relevancy in a world that is agile and is constantly reinventing itself. Classical art forms like ballet are just as valid today and may even have more impact than in the past. Why? I often ask people to tell me about a family tradition that they have and then I ask them what would happen if the tradition simply faded away. The response is always emotional and an expression of loss. Traditions have a way of making us feel connected to the past and the people who came before us. Ballet is like that. But traditions also evolve and are kept fresh by succeeding generations through adaptation and invention. Ballet is also about aesthetics. There is a discipline, a predictability, and yet a virtuosity that is just as awe-inspiring. And because we perform live, anything can happen, and no two performances are ever the same. That unpredictability makes for a great experience in the theater. And I think the world is thirsty for great experiences.

“We don’t know who the next Balanchine will be, but we have an obligation to give the composers, the choreographers, and the dancers the chance to put their mark on the art form…”

Kelly Tweeddale

What about new works? Visual artists, composers, choreographers: what is their role in our institutional communities?

I’ve often said if we only perform the works of the past, we are on a mission to become obsolete. Another way to make work new again is to re-stage the classics. It is so important to set existing works in new contexts, and ballet can do that and lend a new perspective to a well-known work by changing the production elements (like sets and costumes). By changing the perspective without changing the choreography, we often reveal something about the work to ourselves and our audiences.

New work is also essential to what we do. We don’t know who the next Balanchine will be, but we have an obligation to give the composers, the choreographers, and the dancers the chance to put their mark on the art form and that tells us what dance looks like today, what ballet has to say in the 21st century, and what we as a Company are thinking about. As a Company, it is our job to create. Audiences will determine what stands the test of time. They always have and I expect they will continue to do so.

Unique to the ballet world is that the goal of pre-professional training programs, such as San Francisco Ballet School, is to prepare young dancers to hopefully join professional companies upon completion. This is different from the orchestra world, for example, where youth orchestra musicians are not necessarily in the program in order to eventually join a professional orchestra.

To me ballet has always been way ahead of other art forms in the commitment to invest in how we train the next generation of artists. Training facilities are an investment in the pipeline both by creating the future dancers, but also choreographers, audience members, and advocates. We also know that the impact of San Francisco Ballet School is seen on not only our stages, but stages around the world as alumni find professional careers at leading companies. It reminds us that we as a Company exist not only to keep the art form alive and evolving, but that ballet is a human endeavor that transcends both the past, and present.

If the future of ballet starts at the School, what does that mean for how we run our training programs today?

One important element about SF Ballet School is the concept of mentorship. Technique can be taught, but mentorship is how the traditions of the company, the aesthetics of the art form, and the safeguarding the well-being of future professional dancers are transferred from the professional to the trainee. I think one of the questions that SF Ballet will have to ask itself as it relates to the School is how we ensure that we reach potential dancers outside of those who already have access to the Chris Hellman Center for Dance. I have some experience with setting up satellite programs in neighborhoods that may not currently be represented with our current schedule. Seeing how we can both expand our reach and our impact as we look to change the face of ballet to represent our diverse community without sacrificing aesthetics will be an exciting challenge, but one which is essential as we strengthen our commitment to making ballet more inclusive and equitable.


This interview was conducted by San Francisco Ballet Director of Communications You You Xia and was originally published on SF Ballet’s blog. Used with the permission of San Francisco Ballet.  

Tamilla Woodard Forges a New Way Forward With ‘Top Girls’

When Tamilla Woodard opens Top Girls at the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) later this month, the production is sure to make some noise. Top Girls, perhaps the best known of Caryl Churchill’s plays, follows an aspiring executive named Marlene and her imagined dinner party with strong, complicated women throughout history—including Pope Joan and explorer Isabella Bird.

It’s a beautiful and savage play about ambition, feminism and the wounds we gain as we shatter that glass ceiling. I had the opportunity to speak with Woodard before rehearsals began. Together, we discussed why Top Girls is the perfect play for 2019.

Danielle Mohlman: What drew you to Top Girls initially?

Tamilla Woodard: The play was written just as Margaret Thatcher was coming into power and it’s a response to this idea of capitalism—and how feminism and capitalism are in conversation. What does it mean for women to have economic freedom and liberty? And how do we operate within this system as leaders? Do we follow the patriarchy because there are no other examples of how to lead—or do we forge a new way? And really what I’m really keen about is this idea of “Do we forge a new way?” We have a lot of examples of how women have had to occupy roles of leadership by mimicking the really destructive—or non-constructive—systems that men have created.

That leads really beautifully into my next question: Why this play now?

Well, very little has changed since the 1980s. It’s really eye-opening that the conversation hasn’t shifted very much. There’s a scene in Top Girls that is so deep, so rich, so intricate that there are things I didn’t see until I saw the actors on their feet in auditions. And I was like, oh my gosh. To watch a woman ask another woman to give up her job to the man because the man’s feelings were hurt. (Laughs.) You know? And it was my casting to make that ask happen between a white woman of privilege and a black woman who had to do all sorts of things to acquire the position that she has.

I think there is a growing awareness that there is no reimagining of systems. Those systems cannot be rehabilitated. What we have to do now is step forward as creators of the world…

Tamilla Woodard

Oh wow. That just makes me think about how the common refrain in political conversations is “Oh, women are too emotional.” But it’s truly the men that are getting their feelings hurt.

Right! And like, my feelings aren’t supposed to hurt, therefore you are doing something wrong. You know? Here’s what’s new about 2019: I’m so excited and deeply terrified by the world, such as it’s becoming known to us right now. I think there is a growing awareness that there is no reimagining of systems. Those systems cannot be rehabilitated. What we have to do now is step forward as creators of the world—in response to the circumstances in which we really live, not in response to old ideals.

Yeah. Wow. To step back from Top Girls and talk a little more broadly about A.C.T., you also directed Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men on Boats last season. What excites you about returning to San Francisco and A.C.T.?

San Francisco is such a surprising city to me. First of all, there are so many theatres per capita, creating so many different kinds of work. But also, the fact that there’s a kind of libertarianism plus liberalism that are so in conversation with each other. Mainly because you’re all the way out west and the get it done on your own, let people do what they want to do, kind of feeling about things. But also, there’s like “We should have some social services that can support them doing what they want to do.” So it’s interesting. There’s no city like it out there. There’s a lot of concentrated wealth. There’s a lot of independence.

Cast of 'Men on Boats' at A.C.T. directed by Tamilla Woodard.
Cast of ‘Men on Boats’ at A.C.T. directed by Tamilla Woodard (2018). Photo by Kevin Berne

I’ve never thought about it that way.

So that’s a challenging audience. I don’t know what people will think of this play. You don’t want to make anything highbrow, but also people are highbrow. So it’s a beautiful challenge as an artist.

Is there something you’re looking forward to exploring in the rehearsal room—something that you’re just itching to get into A.C.T.’s space to explore?

I’m really keen on getting how the opening dinner party devolves and how far we can go with that. I have a really strong idea and instinct about where we go, and the debauchery that happens at the end and what gets revealed and how we evolve into a nightmare. And I’m super keen on the opposite thing that happens in the last moments of the play. We have an Ibsen-like scene that’s a boxing match with words. I want for that to feel as activated, as adventurous, as chaotic as the first scene of the play.


Top Girls runs September 19 to October 13 at American Conservatory Theater at Geary Theater in San Francisco. Tickets are available online.  


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.

Amina Edris Celebrates an Artistic Homecoming With ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the San Francisco Opera

When Amina Edris takes the stage as Juliet in Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, she’ll be returning to a city that she loves and a familiar, welcoming stage. Edris, who was born in Egypt and raised in New Zealand, earned her post-graduate degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before receiving a two-year fellowship appointment at the San Francisco Opera. “I’m so happy to be back because it does feel like my artistic home,” Edris said. “It was almost as if I grew up there, you know what I mean?”

Edris is covering the role of Juliet for fellow opera singer Nadine Sierra, singing the role at the final performance on October 1. She was kind enough to speak with me the day before Romeo and Juliet rehearsals began, sharing her thoughts on the character Juliet, why San Francisco feels like home and what she’s looking forward to about that October 1 performance.

Danielle Mohlman: What drew you to the role of Juliet? What is it about this role that excites or challenges you?

Amina Edris: I think a lot of people of my age group—or even younger—are familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet. They’ve seen movie versions of it or they’ve seen a theatre version. And it’s just relatable. It’s just a grand love story. And for me, I have a particular close affinity with French music. As a French speaker, I’ve always been drawn to the French repertoire. So Juliet for me was just a natural progression really. And I love the idea of being able to play a young woman. She’s young, she’s in love. And you sort of get to see her journey. She falls in love very quickly and then, you know, they go through a series of obstacles. And of course, her death at the end. You’ve got to like a little bit of drama on stage.

Right.

It’s always interesting to play those kinds of roles that have a big arc. A lot of the time I get to play roles like the maid or the ingenue, you know? And there’s not much happening in the progression of the character. Whereas for Juliet specifically, she goes through quite a lot. She has a big journey. And of course it ends with, you know, with their death scene. But it provides a good platform. It provides a good dramatic platform for the singer that is playing that role.

Amina Edris as Countess Ceprano in Verdi's 'Rigoletto.'
Amina Edris as Countess Ceprano in Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto.’ Photo by Cory Weaver

And do you feel like that is pretty specific to roles written for women? In terms of characters not receiving a full arc, I mean. Or is that pretty evenly distributed across male and female roles in opera?

That’s a very good question. I don’t know! Obviously it depends on what your voice type is. Earlier on, I started singing a lot of soubrette roles*. I’m not a soubrette. Roles like Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro—roles where there’s a lot happening in the story of the opera, but there isn’t necessarily a lot happening in terms of the character arc for the character herself. And I feel like that sort of replicates in many other roles—like Susanna [in The Marriage of Figaro], Zerlina [in Don Giovanni], Despina [in Così fan tutte], Norina [in Don Pasquale]. Do you know what I mean? They all have a similar poof. Whereas, Juliet has a big journey. Which is really fun to play and explore.

Your job takes you all over the world. What makes San Francisco special?

I don’t know if this is going to be really corny, but I think it’s the people and the friendships that I’ve made here. I did a postgraduate diploma at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before getting into the Adler program at the San Francisco Opera. And I ended up spending a much longer time period in San Francisco than I initially thought I would. Because when I first moved here I thought, “Oh I’m just studying for a year and then I’m going elsewhere—wherever the world takes me.” And when you get to spend that much time in one place, I tend to get attached to the people and the friendships more than the place.

Amina Edris and Pene Pati in 2018 The Future is Now Adler Fellows Concert.
Amina Edris and Pene Pati in 2018 The Future is Now Adler Fellows Concert. Photo by Kristen Loken

Yeah. And when you spend that much time somewhere, especially early in your career, the city starts to live in your body.

Exactly. And it just kind of feels like home, in a way. 

I saw that you’ll be performing opposite your husband Pene Pati on the October 1 performance of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a ways off, but what do you anticipate that experience will be like?

My husband and I were in the young artist program together at the San Francisco Opera—and we were Adler fellows together as well. And then last year we got to do our first proper opera together: The Elixir of Love. We got to play each other’s love interest and that was a lot of fun—being able to sort of feed off each other’s energies onstage. He was my love interest in the show and I was his love interest in the show. And we had duets together and all sorts of scenes together. But it was a comedy opera. And this time, with Romeo and Juliet, it’s a full-blown romantic opera in itself. So it’s a different tone.

I’m glad that it’s a fun experience for the two of you to perform together.

Oh absolutely.

*A soubrette is a soprano who sings supporting roles in comic opera; generally a coquettish maid or frivolous young woman in comedies.


Romeo and Juliet runs September 6 to October 1 at the San Francisco Opera. On October 1, Amina Edris will perform the title role. Tickets are available online.


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.

Seattle Rep Teams Up With the Community to Put on a Show

We talk to Public Works Director Angie Kamel about how Seattle Rep’s Public Works program centers on the joy of theatre, and how it lives up to their motto: “theatre of, by, and for the people.”

Seattle Rep’s Public Works program is an ambitious attempt to create theatre relevant to communities and those within them. After successfully launching with a citywide production of The Odyssey in 2017, the program has provided workshops, classes and conversations about theatre. This summer, they’re back to rehearsal as more than 100 community members prepare for a musical version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It at the Bagley Wright Theater in early September.

Public Works Director Angie Kamel.
Public Works Director Angie Kamel. Courtesy of Seattle Rep’s Public Works

Rosemary Jones: How did the idea for a series of community classes, dialogues and grand performance come about?

Angie Kamel: Public Works began as a program at New York’s Public Theater for community-based theatre. It’s certainly a lovely way for a regional company to be involved in community. Our Artistic Director Braden Abraham was interested in this type of work for some time. He was so excited about [what New York had done] and wanted to make it happen. He and Marya Sea Kaminski kept talking about the future of Seattle Rep here. Marya was interested in a similar type of work and [began the program at the Rep]. In 2016, we held our first classes.

How does the program work for Seattle Rep and its partners?

We are looking for deep, long-term relationships with members of our community and building relationships with existing organizations. We host classes and special events throughout the year to create an appreciation of theatre-making in general. Our partners vary. We have seven partners at the moment and some have been with us since 2016. Some of our participants, like Path with Art, create arts access for folks who are low or no income. For the acting classes at Seattle Central College, we are embedded in classes. We work with Ballard NW Senior Center, Byrd Barr Place, Jubilee Women’s Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County and, most recently, Compass Housing down in Redmond. At Compass we have a multigenerational group with the youngest participant being six and our oldest in her 70s.

Rehearsal of 'The Odyssey.'
Rehearsal of ‘The Odyssey.’ Photo by Jim Bennett/Seattle Rep’s Public Works

What are some of the ways that you spark conversation around theatre and the community?

We host a meal around every mainstage show, two potlucks a year, and find other ways to support leadership of different organizations. [One] of our goals [is] to build enough relationships so that we can get together in our upcoming season to create cross-cultural communications and intergenerational connection—to have young people from Boys & Girls Club building relationships with Ballard NW Senior Center, for example. We want to emphasize human commonality and build ties across experiences.

How does the performance of As You Like It build those relationships?

It’s deeply rooted in the values and goals of the program. Musical theatre is a great opportunity for joyful expression. This is theatre for anyone who wants to participate and creates a big, dynamic, exciting opportunity for people on the stage and in the audience. They get to exercise various aspects of their creativity. It’s not only members from our workshops and partnerships. Beyond that, we’ve opened auditions to [the] general public in our region who are interested in the values of the work that we are doing. There are five Equity actors in the show, a number of actors who participate in the fringe scene and a number who feel a real connection with spirit.

Rehearsal of 'The Odyssey.'
Rehearsal of ‘The Odyssey.’ Photo by Jim Bennett/Seattle Rep’s Public Works

There’s also a bunch of community groups who will be on stage.

[A] big part of what we are doing is redefining the participation of professional musicians. Regular musicians who work in musical theatre as well as a number of cameo groups or feature artists [are in the show]. We’re working with a number of incredible groups like the Seattle Hand Drummers, Lucha Libre Volcánica and LQ Lion Dance. Local puppeteer Sarah Lovett is loaning one of her rainbow serpents.

So, this is a big show and a lot of work.

It’s fully costumed and with 100 plus people needing costumes, our costume shop was moving full speed ahead this summer. We want everyone in the show to get the same level of respect as any artist who walks through door.

Performance of 'The Odyssey.'
Performance of ‘The Odyssey.’ Photo by Jim Bennett/Seattle Rep’s Public Works

What do the theatre professionals get out of this work?

There are ways that we produce theatre that aren’t particularly friendly or welcoming or comforting. The pros have learned so much during the process of The Odyssey. A lot of folks did not necessarily know what it was going to be [until] once it happened and saw this is how we can do things differently to support the actors, the director and crew in a really beautiful way. That’s so incredibly good and valuable. Our director for As You Like It, Timothy McCuen Piggee, brings joy. His spirit is perfect for this work. He talks about a big part of what makes this show interesting is the bonds between family, chosen and otherwise. How it’s about reconciliation, love and understanding.


Seattle Rep’s Public Works’ As You Like It will play at the Bagley Wright Theater September 6–8.


Rosemary Jones has written about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest for the Cornish MagazineCapitol Hill Times, Encore, Examiner.com and others. Additional work can be seen at rosemaryjones.com.