Five Friday Questions with Keiko Green

Keiko Green is a half-Japanese writer/performer from Georgia who came to Seattle via New York three years ago. Since then, she’s appeared in numerous productions: Annex’s Chaos Theory, WET’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Pony World’s Or, the Whale. This March she makes her debut at the Rep in The Comparables and at Seattle Shakes in next May’s production of Othello. Her original musical Bunnies, inspired by the Woodland Park bunny infestation with music by Jesse Smith, will have its world premiere as part of Annex Theatre’s mainstage season this April.

Green is preparing for a creatively prolific year. I caught up with her for this week’s installment of Five Friday Questions.

What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately? 

That fake field goal in the NFC championship game. I’m obsessed with it. I can’t stop watching loops of it online. It’s everything you want in a performance: a solid set-up and a beautiful twist in the plot. I want all my work to be like that fake field goal.

There’s also been so much good theatre in town so far this year. I saw seven shows last week. The performance that is currently sticking in my mind is Robin Jones as Blanche in Civic Rep’s A Streetcar Named Desire. She was so layered. Her Blanche was so delicate, and yet she would victimize herself in a way that fooled no one. You wanted to shake her and scream, “Stop pretending to be broken! You’re broken already!”

What’s the best meal in Seattle?

I’m a sucker for a good happy hour. I often end up eating dinner really early because of this happy hour obsession.

The grilled sardine tartine at Lecosho is the single most delicious bite in Seattle, and it’s only available at happy hour unless you use your puppy dog eyes, which I have used to varied success.

Add a salad with a perfect egg, some sausages to share, and a glass (or two) of wine for the perfect meal. If I could get the roasted bone marrow from Quinn’s Pub added to that, well… a girl can dream.

What music gets you pumped up? What do you listen to when you’re sad?

I like danceable music to get pumped up—or at least something I can jump up and down to. I really like Metric’s “Black Sheep,” though the intro is way too long, so I usually skip 30 seconds in. I actually like the actress who sang it in Scott Pilgrim’s voice better, so I often listen to the movie version online instead.

Also my classmate from the Experimental Theatre Wing at NYU is the lead singer of this band Avan Lava, and they’re amazing. Their song “Feels Good” gets me pumped not just because I love the song, but also because it reminds me that I’ve worked with tons of people who are way more talented than I am—it taps into my competitive nature.  

“Don’t stop never stop.” It’s my mantra. Don’t get left behind.

When I’m sad, I like to listen to songs from Young Jean Lee’s band Future Wife. Their song “Horrible Things” puts things into perspective. The lyrics are depressing and hilarious: “Who do you think you are to be immune from tragedy? What makes you so special that you should go unscathed?” But it’s set to this really cute music and her voice is so sweet. All the songs are like that. “I’m Gonna Die” is also really great. I like to play cutesy, sad music and just lie there and wallow, if time permits.

Do you “treat yourself” to anything special after a show closes?

Well, I think the Olympus Spa or “naked spa” in Lynnwood will be my new treat. A friend introduced me to it last October, and I’m pretty smitten. They have a Korean restaurant inside the spa! How am I supposed to resist going to that place?

Other than that, I pretty much like to celebrate all night after closing then lock myself in the house the day after, cooking and eating all day. Near the end of a run, I’m eating out more often than I like. So I spend this lazy day filling my body with hot, stinky, healthy Asian foods. I’ll stock up on everything fermented at Uwajimaya a couple days before, preparing for this stinkfest.

What’s the most useful thing anyone’s ever taught you about working in theatre?

In an audition, the people on the other side of the table are always on your side. Auditors want you to walk into the room and blow everyone else out of the water. It makes their job easier. They are rooting for you.

Social Justice Organizers Dustin Washington and Mijo Lee Discuss ‘The Piano Lesson’

In August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, at the Rep through February 8, two siblings in post-Depression Pittsburgh confront the brutal legacy of institutional racism in a quarrel over the ornately carved piano of the title, a family heirloom that spans generations. Haunted—literally—by the specter of slavery and hemmed in by harshly constrained possibilities, Berniece and Boy Willie Charles struggle to forge a path forward with rage, humor and music.    

Wilson’s play masterfully distills decades of the black experience into the events of a single household. I saw it last Friday (the show was stellar—see Gemma Wilson’s review over at City Arts), and in an effort to tease out a deeper understanding of its historical context and contemporary relevance, I brought along two special guests, social justice organizers who grapple daily with the many still-ongoing issues embodied in the play.

Mijo Lee is program director for the Social Justice Fund, an innovative non-profit that funds community organizing through five states in the Northwest to address the root causes of injustice through grant-making programs as well as political education around race, class and social change.

Dustin Washington is the director of the community justice program for the American Friends Service Committee, coordinating anti-oppression trainings and projects in Seattle and across the country for the People’s Institute for Survival and BeyondYouth Undoing Institutional Racism and the Tyree Scott Freedom School. He also organizes with No New Youth Jail, the group opposing construction of a new $210 million youth detention facility in Seattle.

Lee and Washington do bold, skillful work directly confronting racism as it exists in 2015. They were both moved by the play (especially the performance of Stephen Tyrone Williams as Boy Willie) and energized to see the historical roots of their work portrayed onstage so pitch-perfectly. As Washington said, “I gotta see more plays!”  

We sat down at a bar on Queen Anne afterwards to talk about it.

You both work in racial equity and social justice, so I wanted to hear your take on a play like this. What struck you?

Washington: I thought it captured the time period and showed the dynamics that existed in 1937. A lot of what they spoke of then still plays out today, in terms of the conversations about white people and understanding the ways of white people. It reflected that desperate seeking for place within the American society for black people. Boy Willie captured that angst of being a black man in America and having to struggle to carve out a space and all the tension that can bring up within a family. The play also spoke to the internalization of racial oppression.

It was fascinating for me to experience that play in a room that was 90 percent white and wondering about their interpretation of what was being said and how they maybe would’ve seen this as something that happened a long time ago. I wonder if they could see how they’re connected to the story that was told tonight.

As a white person, I was privy to conversations I would not normally be privy to, which is a great thing about theatre. 

Washington: Absolutely. People were let into a secret, sacred conversation, especially in a city like Seattle with the low numbers of African American people. I hope more black people get a chance to catch this play before it closes. The performances were brilliant and it captured a powerful story.

Lee: I identify as Asian, but I am mixed—my mom’s white—so I also have that feeling of hearing a conversation I wouldn’t normally be in and a living room I wouldn’t be in. I’m thinking about how rare it is to see an all-black cast in anything other than a stupid sitcom. I was thinking about Selma and how upset people are that LBJ is not the hero and how disconcerting it is for white people to not have a white person at the center.

I’m always thinking about the potential of art as a tool for social change. It’s more than just creating a conversation and creating awareness. That’s the starting point, but a lot of people stop there. I was imagining what you could do with a play like this if you were organizing around it.

The Rep is actually doing a lot of community engagement events around the play.

Lee: It’d be amazing to see the youth of Youth Undoing Institutional Racism have a conversation about the history of criminalization from slavery until today. What does this little slice tell us about the evolution of police brutality? There are so many threads you could pick out.

Just the matter-of-fact way Boy Willie spoke about being forced to work for a guy—he’s talking about the prison-industrial complex and prison labor.

Washington: They talked about Parchman Farm which is still active and still oppressing people right now. What the play did for me was capture the brutality of racism and the resiliency of black people in the face of it: the sense of humor, the music, the family bonds, the spirituality. Even though they were living in an era of very overt racism in this country they were still able to fully express their humanity.

And the music, those moments of uplift. When things in the play got dicey, music led them out of that—

Lee: The moment where the men are all singing together, that was so beautiful. So much pain and resilience coexisting in that moment. When they all stop and Doaker is the only one singing, it flipped so fast from intensity to humor!

Washington: The show was uncompromisingly black, from the language to the hot comb on the young girl’s hair to the talk of turnip greens and ham hocks and cornbread. The music, the sense of humor; everything was black and uncompromising.

For me again, the question is how is the audience holding that and how did the audience impact the performance? How might the performance be elevated in front of an all-black audience? Not even all-black, even just 40 percent. I wonder. It made me think about growing up on the East Coast—if this was Philly, 50 percent of the audience would’ve been black, guaranteed.

Can you speak to the binary between Boy Willie and Berniece? He said, “You think the world’s better off without you, but I think the world’s better with me.” 

Washington: When you think about internalized oppression and the psychic/spiritual impact of living in a racialized, oppressive society, people responded in many different ways, different modes of survival. He needed to see the glass as half full and she had a sense of “we just gotta survive.”

Fatalism.

Washington: I gotta say though, her needing to hold on to that piano and that memory also really showed a level of hope. I don’t know that it’s a binary. There were a lot of things jumbled into the interaction between Berniece and Boy Willie.

Cast of The Piano Lesson
Cast of The Piano Lesson

Stepping outside of that dynamic, I’m thinking a lot about the talent that was shown on that stage and hoping that talent could be allowed to blossom. I’m thinking about the work we’re doing around juvenile incarceration and racial disparities and the prison-industrial complex. Imagine if more of our young people were exposed to the arts in this way.

And seeing themselves represented onstage.

Washington: Exactly.

Lee: My son is eleven and I would love to take him to see this. He just started writing a fantasy novel—he’s about four pages in—and when he introduces the characters, he immediately talks about their race. There are three friends—one is Asian, one is Asian and black, and one is white—and he talks about the food they eat and how they interact. I was fascinated that he did that! I’ve worked so hard to expose him to books that have protagonists of color and it’s not easy. It was interesting to see how that came out in his own creation.

Washington: For me, there needs to be more funding and more opportunities presented to young people. They’re cutting funding for arts and we don’t have enough stuff based in the community. Instead of spending $210 million on a jail, why don’t we spend some of that money to expose people to the arts? It touches souls and emotions in a different way than a training or workshop. The possibilities are limitless.

Five Friday Questions with Tyler Trerise

Tyler Trerise is a stage and film actor who appeared most recently in The Whipping Man last spring at Taproot and 2013’s Broke-ology at Seattle Public Theater. Tonight he assumes the title role in the world premiere of Mwindo at Seattle Children’s Theatre, summoning his warrior spirit for the epic Central African tale of heroism and fantasy. I caught up with Trerise for this week’s edition of Five Friday Questions.

What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately?

Reggie Jackson in The Mountaintop at ArtsWest. It had a solid script, and Reggie’s thoughtful performance was nuanced and specific. Fantastic show and he nailed it.

What’s your favorite place to go after a show?

Directly home. I know it’s called a “play” but if you’re doing it right, it’s actually a fairly rigorous process. I think most actors might reply with something similar. A show may be only an hour and a half or two hours long, but it’s preceded by months of work and rehearsal. It adds up.

What music gets you pumped up? What do you listen to when you’re sad?

I don’t really listen to music to get pumped up. Do people do that? I usually just jump around, uncontrollably uttering non-sequiturs. It helps. As for what I listen to when I’m sad? The freeway. Not like I’m standing on an overpass, no. I just live by a freeway.

Do you “treat yourself” to anything special after a show closes?

Yes, but I also treat myself to things all the time anyway, so it just feels like regular life. I don’t think, “Closing night, time for a treat,” I think, “I really feel like I should be having a treat right now, so it’s time for a treat.” So technically, yes I might treat myself after a show, but the show and the treat would be isolated incidents.

What’s the most useful thing anyone’s ever taught you about working in theatre?

Do the written work. I was never one for homework—as far as I was concerned, school ended when school ended and I wasn’t about to be bringing it home with me. But when I got to college, I had a student-teacher conference wherein a teacher of mine wound up pounding his fist on his desk yelling, “You. Don’t. Do. Your. Written. Work.” And then he cried. Yes, he actually cried! And it finally sunk in. Since, I’ve come to appropriately focus on the written work: committing choices to paper to see how they can connect and build on each other. I can’t really remember how I got along before.

In Conversation with Desdemona Chiang

Desdemona Chiang is a stage director and University of Washington MFA graduate based in Seattle and San Francisco who puts the spotlight on the marginalized and forgotten. In her work with Azeotrope she’s directed edge-seeking plays like Adam Rapp’s bleak, graphic Red Light Winter. At the more traditional end of her oeuvre, this month she directs Measure for Measure at Seattle Shakespeare, their first restaging of the play in twelve years. It’s been acclaimed as “perhaps the best show Seattle Shakespeare has ever produced.” 

I talked to Chiang about the show, finding contemporary relevance in Shakespeare and the challenges of bi-urban living.

Measure for Measure is a play that many people aren’t very familiar with. Can you tell me about the choice and what it’s like as a direct a play that isn’t in the “canon?”

Measure for Measure has always stood out to me as one of the plays that aren’t about the kings and queens and royalty and nobility. It doesn’t take place in a lady’s boudoir; there are no ladies-in-waiting or garden shenanigans.  

It’s his most populist play. It’s about social justice in a way that I don’t see very often done in Shakespeare. It’s not about love or monarchy or parentage. It’s about the difficulty in balancing morality and economy. It’s about a city that’s destitute and morally corrupt. Sex work is rampant as the way of the town and Angelo, the new deputy, wants to clean it up, so he makes fornication punishable by death.  It’s an Old Testament biblical rule that hasn’t been enforced, just like we don’t really enforce sodomy laws in this country but they exist, technically.

So it’s the question: What right is it of governments to legislate people’s personal lives? And what do you do when a city is so poor and in so need of that economy to survive? How do you balance that?

Is that what you look for, some sort of current relevance?

I think we keep doing Shakespeare because it is constantly relevant, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. It sounds nice and the poetry is lovely, but certain plays continue to persist—why do we do Shakespeare and not Marlowe? Why aren’t we doing more Thomas Middleton? Something about Shakespeare still rings true.

How does a director “bake that into” a script?

I always have my own personal in. I think it varies from director to director, but for me it comes down to being able to answer: why do we do this play today and why do we do it here?

Lately all the conversations about who’s in power and the legislation on sex and women’s bodies—these aren’t all things Shakespeare wrote about, but they’re in the zeitgeist. I’m a woman who is very pro-feminist; it’s a streak in me that is conveniently amplified by the script.

This play presents a very patriarchal world. Women are either prostitutes or nuns. Women have very limited options, and when you live in a world that gives you limited options, what do you have to do to make ends meet?

Is there a thru-line between your Shakespearean choices and some of the more boundary-pushing work you’ve done with Azeotrope? How do you square those sides of your directorial career?

With Azeotrope, our mission has always been to tell stories that people don’t want to talk about—sides of humanity and community that typically go unrecognized and unacknowledged. We think that Shakespeare writes about fancy people and the wealthy and the middle class—and he does—but I’m always interested in the part that no one sees.

In this case it was the difficulties of sex workers. I totally understand the play is not about sex work—it’s actually more about the eternal struggle between the moral right and the human right—but my way in is always to look for: Who’s the person that’s not being talked about? What is the side of society we’re not getting to see?

You’re still toggling between here and the Bay Area. Does that give you any insight into each city’s theatre scene? Does it inform how you operate within those different scenes?

Going from city to city, you find that most theatre communities are constructed very similarly. If you were to take a cross section of Seattle and the Bay Area you’d find the same layers. You’d find your top layers of equity houses, your middle-sized houses, your fringe houses, your kooky avant garde house, your Shakespeare house. I think there’s just  indifferent proportions—we’re all looking at the same slice of pizza but it’s just different toppings, I guess. That’s a really bad analogy! [Laughs]

It’s cool to be able to work in both cities. They’re both progressive, more or less liberal communities that have very pro-art cultural omnivores who are interested in arts education and a future for our children. Those are values I see across the board in both communities.

We’re having discussions in Seattle about displacement and gentrification and artists being able to live in the cities where they work. Do you see that as part of the theatre dialogue, the role of the artist in the life of the city?

It’s a tricky conversation. I work in both cities because I can’t afford to not do that without compromising what I do for a living. There’s just not enough plays being produced in Seattle and too many directors who are directing, so I have to go where the water is. It’s challenging because the Bay Area has greater demand financially as a resident, so I can afford to live in Seattle more than San Francisco, but I’m loyal to both cities and I love them both. They’re both artistic homes for me. But I’d love to be able to stay in one city and work if I could without having to be a barista or wait tables on the side.

Five Friday Questions with Opal Peachey

Opal Peachey is a native Washingtonian, Cornish graduate and company member of Café Nordo, that beguiling hybrid of conscious cuisine and theatre that’s set to open a permanent location in Pioneer Square in March. As a cabaret artist she’s co-created two musicals with Encore fave Mark SianoModern Luv and Seattle Vice. As an actor, she performed most recently as Rosa Saks in the last summer’s Gregory Award-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay at Book-It. She’s a multi-talented entertainer and she’s got style. Peachey joins me for this week’s Five Friday Questions.

What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately? 

Do not get me started on Seattle actors—we have talent and technique in this town that would rival any of the big, bad cities of America. I’ll be honest, the performance that comes to mind was very raw, a shoestring show produced by two up-and-coming young women called Four Story House. Antoinette Bianco conceived the production and Erin Bednarz produced it. It was an immersive theatrical experience leading small groups through a house on MLK. Four short plays with various topics. The performance in question was by Carol Thompson. She played an addict. It moved me, and that is no short feat.

What’s the best meal in Seattle? 

I was born and raised in Washington State and I will pay a pretty penny for some amazing sushi. In my neighborhood, that means Momiji on 12th and Pine. Get their albacore belly and transcend to the next level of yummy. When someone else is paying, I go for the Omakase—the Chef’s choice of the day. Daring! They also have an actor friendly 10pm–1am happy hour during the weekday.

What music gets you pumped up? What do you listen to when you’re sad? 

Oh my gosh, it’s a little embarrassing but when I am on my head phones and I need a boost I totally blast T-Pain’s “Take Your Shirt Off.” If I’m down and out and want to revel in it, Lana Del Rey or Joanna Newsome. Damien Rice’s new album has been really doing it for me as well.

What is your most indispensable fashion accessory? 

Elbow length satin gloves. Black, white, red and rhinestone, they turn a cute outfit into a Fancy Lady.

What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned about working in theatre? 

How to self-promote and self-produce. That and loyalty will get you further than any god-given talent.

Going to the Opera with Grandma: ‘Tosca’

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca premiered in Rome on January 14, 1900. People back then probably thought it was “bully” or “capital” (buono in Italian). Shortly thereafter, airplanes were invented, there were a couple of World Wars, and Ronald Reagan was born and died. Now you can go see that very same show at the Seattle Opera at McCaw Hall through January 24. The sleek, modern words I’d used to describe it today are “awesome” and “gorgeous.” Particularly awesome was once more having the privilege of attending the show with Evelyn Troughton, AKA Opera Superfan #1, AKA my beloved grandmother.

The Experience

Opening night! It was an event. There were spotlights out front; Seattle Opera is not messing around. I was not the youngest person in attendance this time, but I was the most poorly dressed, so that’s gotta count for something. Grams and I dined at the Prelude Restaurant in McCaw Hall, hung out in the press room sipping wine (well, I sipped wine) and we had pretty great seats among Seattle’s cultural elite. This experience opens up entirely new ways for me to feel insecure!

The Show

This show is spectacular. I had enjoyed Don Giovanni, but the opera was so old and pontifical that it was somewhat difficult to form a genuine connection with the material, lovely as it was. Not so with Tosca. This show worked on every level for me. The music was consistently pleasurable, the performances and the characters were intimate and relatable, even the storyline—not usually the biggest priority for opera—was absorbing. Hell, I even choked up a few times, and from the chorus of sniffles I heard all around me, it would seem I wasn’t the only one.

Tosca is an opera in three acts, so this time Grandma and I chatted during the intermissions and right after the show. She had seen it many times previously. I didn’t even know what it was about. “Tosca” could’ve been the name of a donkey for all I knew. Floria Tosca, it turns out, is a beautiful singer, whose life takes a tragic turn when her boyfriend Mario protects a political dissident from the evil chief of police, Baron Scarpia. Oh, and again—if it’s even possible for a 115-year-old story—there are spoilers ahead!

Act I

Okay, one thing you were talking about during dinner was the five things in Opera that you’re looking for, so fire that off for me.

Five things. One: the music, of course. The singers. Not so much the voices–well, part of the singer’s job is the voice and part of it is acting. 
Two: the sets. 
Three: the costumes. 
Four: the lighting. Notice how, in Don Giovanni, how striking the lighting was? Well, this one was very traditional. 
Five: the music. Did you notice the difference in music when Tosca was singing and when she and Mario are romancing, how passionate the music was, and when Scarpia walked in?

Yeah, then it sounds like the Imperial Death March from Star Wars.

Exactly! [Laughs] [Note: she is probaby humoring me here]

That actor was great as Scarpia. He looks the part.

Yeah. Mean. Well, Scarpia was a mean, mean man. But you know, this is much more naturalistic [than Don Giovanni]. You get the feeling that this could really happen. Don’t you think?

Well, I don’t know what’s gonna happen yet! But it seems like, you’ve got a jealous lady, we can all relate to that.

You noticed that. [Laughs]

Yeah, Tosca’s a handful.

She turns it off and on. And it doesn’t take much to inflame the jealousy! It makes me wonder, I’ve always had one idea that a person who is a jealous person is insecure. And maybe she is, too, even though she’s a famous diva.

She’s a diva in the modern and the original sense of the term.

What do you mean?

Well, when people say “diva” these days, it’s like a personality you can have. It means that you’re flamboyant and emotional and needy.

Oh, they’re using the term as describing a person who is that way. Temperamental. 

Exactly. And she happens to be that way, and then she literally—

—IS a diva!

Okay, what do I have to look forward to in Act Two?

Let me see. Well, there’s torture.

Act II

Well. Torture indeed.

Torture and a lot of blood.

Scarpia starts the act saying “Violent conquest has more flavor than easy consent.”

Yes, he’s more easily aroused by that than the moon and cooing and wooing—those things don’t match his personality. He’s an evil man!

The guy who plays him, do you happen to know the actor’s name, off-hand?

[Audibly gasps] Greer Grimsley, yes! Of course!

Oh, so you know him?

No, I don’t know him personally.

Man, he is REALLY good. He just revels in it.

Yes, he’s good! That’s his role! There is no one who does Scarpia as well as he does it.

This is a good one. This is my favorite opera so far.

How many operas have you seen?

Well, three.

[Laughs] You’re getting worldly and wise! Well, you’ll have to keep coming.

I can’t wait for act three. That second act seems about as dark as can be, and just when it doesn’t seem like it can get any darker, there’s that twist ending where Tosca defeats Scarpia. It was a weirdly happy ending for an opera.

Well, there’s still one act left to go.

Act III 

So in this third act, everything really falls apart. 

Anybody of any consequence dies. Unexpectedly! Scarpia never thought he was gonna be killed. Mario was ready to die, but at the end he thought he was not going to die, so that came unexpectedly. Tosca thought she was going to live happily ever after and when she found out she wasn’t, she jumped. And I also think it was at the last minute that she killed Scarpia [in the second act] because until she saw the knife on the table it didn’t occur to her. Murder was the last thing she would ever do. Because she was not that kind of a person.

“These hands were made for loving and caressing children, and not stabbing evil guys” or words to that effect.

The thing that I always wondered about her character: she’s portrayed as so religious, devout, but she had affair with a man!

She wasn’t married or anything. 

No, they weren’t married, but they were intimate!

But they weren’t married to other people.

No, but in that day and age, women didn’t do that like they do nowadays. Today, nobody even thinks anything about a man and a woman living together. Or having an affair. Or they don’t even call it an affair anymore, they call it whatchamacallit, “significant other” or “living together.” In that day and age, single people didn’t do that.

I don’t know. I think people probably did it all the time, but maybe they didn’t do it publicly. 

Right. They didn’t live together. They’d meet in a barn, or they’d go to the next town where people didn’t know them. But Tosca and Mario were openly having an affair!

And the opera doesn’t make much of it. In the libretto, they’re just star-crossed lovers and things go terribly awry. 

That’s one way to put it! [Laughs] “Things went terribly awry!” Well, yeah!

Tosca runs through January 24 at the Seattle Opera.

Five Friday Questions with Frank Boyd

In his solo show The Holler Sessions this month at On the Boards, Frank Boyd plays a radio DJ ranting and grooving live on the air to great jazz. Have you heard a more intriguing and appealing show concept lately? Boyd played Joe Kavalier in last summer’s Book-It world premiere of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. He’s a member of New York’s Elevator Repair Service, where he performed on their critically regaled GatzHe’s also a member of NYC’s the TEAM, with whom he partnered to produce The Holler Sessions. He keeps busy. (Check out Gemma Wilson’s excellent feature on him over at City Arts.) Boyd is voluble and passionate about music and performance. He joined me for the year’s first Five Friday Questions.

What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately?

Industrial Revelation. That’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It was so good that after the show I didn’t even want to talk about it, especially not in terms of genre or style or any of that stuff we say after a show. For me it floated above all that and it still does. Even calling it a concert feels weird. I was watching D’Vonne, Aham, Evan and Josh just be up there as much as I was listening to the music.

It seemed to me like they were not trying to be cool or be successful or even be good up there. I think it ran much deeper than that. I don’t really enjoy watching performers hit their marks, so to speak. I’d much rather watch somebody who’s really involved with something, really in the middle of something. And a part of that means the performer is not always totally conscious of exactly where they are going. For me, that’s what it means for a performance to be alive. And those guys are of course highly skilled in technical terms too. In that combination is where the good stuff lives. 

And Lisa Kudrow on The Comeback. That is some thunder time right there. Kudrow is also credited as a creator, writer and producer of the show. She has so much game. Valerie Cherish should go down as one of the iconic characters of our time. I think she says a lot more about our world right now than Don Draper or Walter White.  

What’s the best restaurant in Seattle?

“Best” is tough. The only thing more subjective than theater might be food. I’ve been to Brimmer & Heeltap a few times recently and that place is tasty. Although I don’t care for the name. There are a lot of “&” names going around right now. 

Oh! That taco truck on 15th Ave NW and Market St in Ballard in the parking lot of the Shell station is very, very good! I think it’s better than El Camion and it’s definitely cheaper. And you can watch Telemundo in a heated shanty-like structure. 

What music gets you pumped up? What do you listen to when you’re sad?

Freddie Hubbard’s “Blue Frenzy” has been getting me real pumped up. So has Cannonball Adderley’s “This Here.” Those recordings are infectious, pulsating, bluesy and wide awake. I don’t know what I would do without them.

That Cannonball record, the live recording in San Francisco, is an all-timer for me. Cannonball was incredible. He’s got just as much game as any of the great sax players of that time in my opinion, but for whatever reason he never quite obtained the stature of Bird or Coltrane. Cannonball really had his shit together. He always played sober. Maybe this has something to do with it; he didn’t have the tragedy cred that those other guys had—and that people have since foolishly romanticized.  

When I’m sad it depends. Sometimes you wanna keep going down you know? Esther Phillips’s “No Headstone On My Grave” comes to mind. Watch out. Use with caution.

Also Magnolia Electric Co. That is some beautifully sad and lonely stuff. Jason Molina was a gifted songwriter. He passed away in 2013. “Hammer Down” is pretty much a perfect 3 minutes. And “The Dark Don’t Hide It” is also a favorite of mine. Anything from that album really (What Comes After the Blues).  

What’s your strategy for coping with the long Seattle winter?

Oh man I’m still experimenting with that. Winter sucks. The short days are the hardest part. Although drinking coffee in the dark feels pretty cool to me. I’d like to start doing a week in Cuba to break up the gray, but it doesn’t sound like Marco Rubio is gonna let that happen.  

What’s the most useful thing anyone’s ever taught you about working in theatre?

The central importance of listening. That’s the ballgame. If I don’t listen, truly take in, nothing else really matters. I wish theater was more like the NFL in that way. You know: if we don’t have a real awareness of what’s happening around us at any given moment we run the risk of being obliterated by a 300 pound human sledgehammer. That would encourage listening. And at the end of the day it’s easier that way. It’s a lot less work to let the people I’m up there with affect me than it is to drum all that up by myself. This sounds simple but it’s very difficult. I think it can take like 20 years to get really good at this.

Five Friday Questions with Allison Strickland

Allison Strickland’s been prolific lately, from last spring’s lead role in Taproot Theater’s In the Book Of to Clea in last summer’s Black Comedy at Strawberry Theatre workshop. Last month she finished a run of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson at Syracuse Stage and she’ll revisit it next month at the Rep. Recent Questions subject Caitlin Sullivan described Strickland as “a total badass.” I’ll add that she has utterly fierce and funky taste in music. She joined me for this week’s installment.

 What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately?

I haven’t seen it live, but Lauryn Hill put out a song called “Black Rage” in response to the events in Ferguson. Putting out something as brutal and beautiful and relevant as that song is, I think, working on the highest level as an artist. My generation is seriously lacking in mainstream political music. Party escapist music certainly has its place, but where are our Nina Simones, Public Enemys, John Lennons, Marvin Gayes? This is the closest we’ve gotten in too long.  

I just saw Cabaret on Broadway—cliche, I know—but the performance that actually struck me was Alan Cummings’s understudy. I was kind of bummed that Alan wasn’t going on, but then as I sat watching I just kept thinking what an amazing opportunity this guy has, how terrified or excited he must be to go on and what a thankless, unwinnable job it is to replace the guy you know everyone bought the tickets for.

After the show this teeny old woman goes up to the usher and says, “Fantastic show, but where was Alan?” Firstly, I thought that was hilarious, and secondly, this guy just sang and danced his heart out, but that was that. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what success means for me, and to see a guy who isn’t a name get up there, just do the work and kick ass because that’s his job—I thought, Alright, that’s a real actor right there.

What music gets you pumped up? What do you listen to when you’re sad?

You know, I’m one of those people who listens to “pump you up” music when I’m sad. If I sat around sad, listening to sad people singing about being sad I’d jump off a cliff. So I either go super funky with it—I love old soul, Otis Redding, Betty Davis, The Temptations, The Impressions (yes, I’m secretly a little granny)—or lately I’ve been listening to more and more hip hop, pre-Kardashian Kanye, Jay-Z, music that really hypes you up and makes you feel unstoppable.  

And of course, what seems to be the running theme with Five Friday Questions: Beyoncé. She makes you feel sexy and empowered. It’s that divine feminine energy that society seems to desire and fear in equal parts. She gives you the permission to sing along with the lyrics “there’s nothing not to love about me” and totally mean it. 

If I’m feeling like keeping it mellow I’ll put on jazz or old timey reefer music. And if I must, and it’s the odd night I want to hide under the covers and get down on some chocolate peanut butter ice cream until I cry myself to sleep, I’ll throw in some Adele and call it good. 

What’s your best method for coping with the long Seattle winter?

I’m the worst person to ask. I don’t mind the grey, but I absolutely hate being cold. I even have a song I sing that used to drive my friend crazy, it’s to the tune of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone,” called, “I’m So Tired of Being Cold.”

My way of coping this year is to just really appreciate it. I’ll be moving to NYC next year (where it’s nice and warm in the winter) so I’m just trying to soak in all the time I can with my mom and my amazing friends and eat at all of my favorite spots. That’s generally the best way to cope with anything, surround yourself with people you love and who make you laugh. And a hot toddy never hurts.

Do you have any opening night rituals?

I don’t know that I have any opening night rituals per se.

A weird sense of calm usually comes over me until about 30 minutes before places. Luckily, that’s not really enough time to have a full-on freak-out, so I just say a little prayer, try to keep my body as relaxed as possible and give thanks to the people who came before me. 

I’m gonna get really hippy woo-woo on you—and it’s not necessarily on opening nights—but about this time last year I realized that at some point in every run since my very first play I have a moment standing backstage, listening to my fellow actors or the murmur of the audience, and it hits me just how many people worked hard to open doors for me to do what I do. As a person of color and as a woman, it’s not lost on me that my voice and body is still somewhat of a rarity on stage. I love telling stories and playing make-believe, and my biggest hope is that I’ll do enough in my career to continue opening doors so that in 50 years, when a woman is standing backstage listening for her cue, she’ll think of me.

What’s the most indispensable thing you own?

I go through these cycles of hoard and purge, hoard and purge. It’s hard for me to let go, but when I do I really REALLY let go, to the point that my Mom has to convince me to keep certain things or at least to give them to her so she can keep them for when I inevitably want them back. She’s saved me from a lot of forgotten memories, but there’s still some excellent clothes that I still mourn, like the most perfect peacoat that I bought in London and donated instead of just getting relined like a normal person. Right now I’m in purge mode, but I do love my lap top.

Midweek Moment of LBJ: Dog Ears

One of the most striking features of the LBJ plays currently running at the Rep is the sheer depth of authentic detail infused in the scripts. Nearly every word uttered onstage corresponds directly to an event well-documented in the annals of the Presidency. Even a seemingly cast-off line can lead one down an archival rabbit hole–hence this ongoing weekly segment.

As the shows’ dramaturg Tom Bryant said in our interview, much of Schenkkan’s early writing process focused on scouring the ample historical record for these illuminating moments: “It’s kind of like panning for gold. You’re looking through history and coming up with these nuggets and going, ‘Oh boy, that’s a wonderful anecdote, that’s an important event, this is an amazing possibility for a scene between two people that would really be dramatically exciting.’”

The subject of this week’s Midweek Moment occurs late in Act One of All the Way, in a meeting between Johnson and Senator Everett Dirksen, the bloviating Republican Minority Leader who’s threatening to block passage of the Civil Rights bill with 40 proposed amendments. LBJ opens the contentious exchange with this random quibble:

LBJ: Everett, what’s this bullshit about how I treat my dog?

Dirksen: I’m sorry?

LBJ: My dog! Little Beagle Johnson. Why are you being such a shit-heel with the press about me pulling his ears? The little sumbitch loves to have his ears pulled! Hell, I thought you were running the Senate Republicans, not the ASPCA!

Dirksen: Mr. President, I was just kidding with the press about that.

This exchange deftly illustrates several things about LBJ: his domineering and often crude conversational style, his willingness to hold a grudge no matter how trivial and his shrewd technique of backfooting adversaries by confronting them forcefully and directly about perceived personal slights. 

Naturally, the moment is drawn from real life: LBJ lifted his pet beagle, Him, by his ears on the White House lawn to pose for an AP photographer and it sparked nationwide outrage among animal lovers. 

Here’s LBJ in a phone call from April 29, 1964 with Senator Mike Mansfield discussing the Civil Rights bill and griping about Senator Everett’s harping on The Dog Ear Incident.

http://player.history.com/pservice/embed-player/?siteId=hist&tPid=21167675

This might have been the first “scandal” involving presidential pets, but it wasn’t the last. Witness George W. Bush dropping his beloved Scottish Terrier, Barney, in front of a group of mortified schoolgirls:

George W. Bush and Barney

Five Friday Questions with Emily Chisholm

Emily Chisholm is a Seattle actor, Cornish grad and company member of New Century Theatre Company (who recently moved into their shiny new space at 12th Ave Arts.) Chisholm received a Gregory Award nomination for Outstanding Actress for last spring’s production of Bethany at ACT, and this March she’ll play Rose in NCTC’s West Coast premiere of The Flick. She’s also learning to play the ukulele. Chisholm joins me for this week’s installment of Five Friday Questions.

What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately?

It’s from last year, but it is still buzzing in my head: Cherry Jones in The Glass Menagerie. She reinvented Amanda Wingfield. That production is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen. Memory is the driving dynamic of the play, and the production captured that so thoroughly and creatively. I’ve never seen a play so successful in artistry, creativity, risk and storytelling.

And I’m a little obsessed with Robin Wright in House of Cards. It is such a subtle, complex, vicious, and elegant performance.

What’s your favorite place to go after a show?

If I performed in the show, my favorite place to go is home! I like to walk home and go to sleep! Isn’t that boring? But walking is the best. It releases left over performance energy and it gives me time process the show: what worked, what didn’t, what to try next time. And then I sleep. What could be better? Otherwise, if I have friends in the audience or if I attended the show, I go to Cafe Presse for basically everything. It’s like The Max in Saved By The Bell, perfect for every occasion.

What music gets you pumped up? What do you listen to when you’re sad?

Right now I love HaimRhyeWashed OutGrimes, and Black Mountain. If I’m “pumped” I’m probably dancing. Robyn will get me dancing, Beyonce too. Prince and Michael Jackson will always work. Three of my favorite songs for dancing: “Crown On The Ground” by Sleigh Bells “Losing You” by Solange, and “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe.

For quieter times, “Bright, Bright, Bright” by Dark Dark Dark is gorgeous. “Proserpina” by Martha Wainwright is devastating. I love Echo & The Bunnymen for rainy days, especially “The Killing Moon.” But the saddest thing I have ever listened to is Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. It can wreck a person.

Do you “treat yourself” to anything special after a show closes? 

Occasionally. I think I could get myself into trouble if I really made it a tradition. It depends on the show and whether I think I’ve earned it. But if something strikes me, I might buy myself a little gift. My only rule is that it can’t be theme-related. 

What’s the most useful thing anyone’s ever taught you about working in theatre?

An actor has to be an advocate for their character. Everyone I have ever worked with has taught me this directly and indirectly.

And my favorite: the speed of fun is faster than worry and slower than panic. I learned that in a clown workshop.