Summer Nights, Stage Lights: Top Performances to Enjoy This Season

Summer in the Puget Sound region means when the mountain is out, we are, too. But several indoor entertainment options are worth checking out over the next few months. Here are six performances you shouldn’t miss this summer.


Book-It Repertory Theatre

Stanisław Lem’s novel Solaris has fascinated readers since its publication over 60 years ago. The story of a sentient, oceanic planet’s haunting and mystifying effects on a group of astronaut scientists has been adapted for television, radio, film, and even the opera.

Scottish playwright David Greig’s stage adaptation was well received when it premiered in 2019—first in Melbourne, with subsequent productions in Edinburgh and London. Now Greig’s sci-fi vehicle touches down in Seattle under the direction of Gus Menary, a science-fiction fan who was introduced to the novel at age 15.

Solaris was the first book I read that seemed to warn against unchecked interstellar human expansion and scientific exploration,” said Menary, who recently stepped down as Book-It’s artistic director after more than three years in the role. “It explores the limits of knowledge and the dangers of scientific experimentation. [It] questions the motives of the team of scientists and raises concerns about the potential consequences of their actions. It cautions us against that peculiar brand of ‘manifest destiny’ contained within space exploration and advocates that we, as a people, look inward. That the true unexplored galaxy exists within us.”

Various adaptations have departed from the novel, and Greig’s play is no different. The novel’s male protagonist, Dr. Kris Kelvin, is recast as a woman of color in this adaptation, portrayed by actor Jay Woods in the Book-It production. The play also takes a deeper dive into each character’s backstory. Greig’s ability to grasp the novel’s humanity initially drew Menary to the script. “I’ve wanted to direct this show ever since I first heard about it,” he said. “It’s thrilling and a real wallop to the heartstrings.”

It’s also timely, considering the growing interest in visiting Mars, returning to the Moon, private-passenger space travel, and advances in Artificial Intelligence.

“The theme of unbridled technological advancement and unchecked exploration into realms and areas unknown to us, without thought as to the possible implications of that exploration, is incredibly relevant today,” said Menary. “With Artificial Intelligence, for example, we seem to be on the cusp of machines that may possess or exhibit consciousness. We have no way of knowing whether this first encounter will be positive or hostile or whether we will be able to find a common understanding with beings of our own making. This hubris and the possible negative ramifications of that hubris tie into Solaris in a big way.”

June 17–July 9, 2023

SIX: The Musical

The Paramount Theatre

The queens in this modern interpretation of King Henry VIII, his half-dozen wives, and the infamous Tudor Era tale of gossip, adultery, divorce, and beheadings have more in common with Adele, Beyoncé, and Rihanna than any 16th Century royal court. Costumes adorned with sequins, holographic foils, and PVC replace traditional kirtles, bodices, and ruffs. Drums, guitars, and keyboards replace flutes, lutes, and violins. And a diverse cast replaces white historical figures. 

“When you hear about Henry VIII and his wives, you might think, ‘OK, I’m going to see a lot of puffy sleeves,’” said Storm Lever, who portrays Anne Boleyn in this Tony Award-winning show that premiered in the United Kingdom in 2017, on Broadway in 2021, and arrives in Seattle this summer as part of a North American touring production. “This is totally different. Because of the dialogue and the modern-day vernacular, you can instantly connect with these girls. We humanize them and make them relatable. The script is so good, and the lyrics are so fun.”

Although she’s been on tour with SIX: The Musical for over a year, Lever, who studied musical theatre at the University of Michigan and made her Broadway debut in 2018 in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, says her energy and enthusiasm have stayed strong. “The show is so dependent on audience interaction and participation,” she explained. “It’s called SIX, but the gag is that there’s a seventh character—the audience. I am very in tune with the audience, which has kept it fresh—especially because we’re going from city to city where different audiences connect to different lines, which keeps this script alive.”

The result is a spirited and empowered musical that delights audiences while taking liberties with the historical record.

“Anne Boleyn might not recognize herself in SIX,” added Lever. “I know she wasn’t a five-foot Black girl like me. But if she listened to the lyrics and saw how she’s portrayed, what we have to say about who she was, I think she would love this version and depiction.”

July 12–23, 2023

Silent Movie Mondays

The Paramount Theatre

You could probably stream these silent movies at home, but things would get complicated if you tried to haul a nearly 100-year-old Mighty Wurlitzer Organ and all its pipes into your living room, then find someone to play it. That’s the magic of this wildly popular—and unapologetically analog—film series that continuously draws huge crowds on Monday evenings. This lineup includes four comedy shorts starring Mabel Normand (A Little Hero, 1913), Charlie Chaplin (A Dog’s Life, 1918), Buster Keaton (The Scarecrow, 1920), and Baby Peggy (Circus Clowns, 1922). Bonus: Tyler Pattison performs each movie’s score live on the Paramount’s Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.

July 31, 2023

Buddy Guy

The Paramount Theatre

Less than two weeks after celebrating his 87th birthday, Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy arrives as part of a tireless two-year world tour entitled Damn Right Farewell. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and eight-time Grammy Award-winner recorded songs with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf more than 60 years ago and is revered by his peers today. Eric Clapton calls him “the best guitar player alive.” Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page describes his music as “something of a primeval force.” Rolling Stone ranked him one of the top 25 guitarists of all time. Don’t miss opener Eric Gales, a former blues prodigy who signed to Elektra Records in 1985 at age 16.

August 10, 2023

A actress dressed as Tina Turner sings on stage in a black leather minidress and leather jacket with her arm outstretched.
The Broadway touring production of “Tina.” PHOTO BY MURPHY MADE
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

The Paramount Theatre

This 12-time Tony Award-nominated jukebox musical is a sweeping, biographical account of the Queen of Rock & Roll, Tina Turner, starting with her childhood in rural Tennessee in the 1940s (when she was known as little Anna Mae Bullock, who sang in a local church), continuing with her volatile marriage to Ike Turner during the 1960s and 1970s, and finishing with her triumphant emergence as a solo rock icon in the 1980s. The show packs nearly two dozen classic songs“Private Dancer,” “The Best,” “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Better Be Good to Me,” and so many others—into two hours and 40 minutes. Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villanueva share the title role, and Grammy Award-winning R&B, Soul, and Gospel singer-songwriter Ann Nesby portrays Turner’s protective Gran Georgeanna.

Sept. 12–17, 2023

Last Drive to Dodge

Taproot Theatre Company

“I’ve always wanted Last Drive to Dodge to breathe romance,” said Seattle playwright Andrew Lee Creech while describing his 1880s Western that follows domestic worker Ro and cowboy Prophet, two Black protagonists who fall in love and dream of owning land and building a life together.

Audiences primed for traditional Western tropes might be surprised by the layers Creech adds to this familiar genre. “Because the Western has historically been whitewashed, the play flips and reclaims the genre a bit by centering Black people who haven’t had freedom that long and are still discovering what it looks like to have it. Also, the Western genre is a very male-dominated space, at times seemingly like it’s exclusively for men. In Last Drive to Dodge, half the cast are women with their own arcs, who drive many of the major events in the play. The markers of the western are there—cowboys, guns, dramatic and simmering dialogue—but not necessarily in the ways you’d expect.”

Last Drive to Dodge is part of Creech’s The Legacy Plays Project, an ambitious, nine-play cycle that explores American history and the Black experience. ACT Theatre workshopped Last Drive to Dodge in 2020, and it was read at the Ashland New Plays Festival in 2021. It now receives a fully staged production at Taproot.

“I hope audiences will be charmed by—and fall in love with—Ro and Prophet,” added Creech. “I hope they root for the couple’s future as they would their own.”

September 20–October 21, 2023

Take a Look Behind-the-Scenes of Book-It’s “Solaris”

Book-It Repertory Theatre will stage Solaris June 17 through July 9. The new play by David Greig is adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s novel of the same name. Solaris is a haunting story of love and loneliness on the edge of space that asks the big question: What happens when humans encounter, for the first time, a truly alien intelligence?

Check out some behind-the-scenes photos and get your tickets now to be transported to a space station right in Center Theatre.

Set Design by Jessica and Ben Radin

Scenic Designers (and newlyweds!) Jessica & Ben Radin have worked together to design a space that can, at times, feel wide open and therefore enhancing the characters’ feelings of loneliness; yet at other times can feel confined and oppressive to reflect the characters when they are in that emotional state.

Working with props designer Robin Macartney, this space station will feel very “lived in” — with  used food containers left out, photos and letters from home crookedly thumbtacked to the walls, half-finished projects accompanied by tools and scraps of metal and wire strewn about, and stained coffee-mugs and used vape cartridges scattered on surfaces.

The world of Solaris is, oxymoranically, a world that can be described as both high-tech and analogue. This is a retro vision of the future, reflecting the technology that was once common to us: scuffed CDs on the floor, intercoms with knobs and dials, and messages filmed on VHS tapes.

The in-progress set build and painting. PHOTO BY JOHN BRADSHAW
Costume Design by Taya Pyne

Costume designer Taya Pyne has provided scientific “jumpsuit” uniforms for each character aboard the space station, yet each one will be individualized with personal touches, such as patches and other alterations. Costumes will also have various levels of distressing, depending on how long each character has been on the space station, as well how careless a character might be while eating, drinking and working.

Costume design board. PHOTO BY TAYA PINE
Lighting, Projections and Video

Lighting designer Dani Norberg has been exploring different “feels” for the lighting aboard the space station, including the sterile feel of functional and industrial lighting, but augmented by the glow from the planet below, which alternates between deep red and deep blue (possibly, and inexplicably, depending on how the planet is feeling).

Projections Designer Ahren Buhmann will be contributing to these moods-made-out-of-light by providing an extra dimension of projecting images and textures onto the set, and video content creator Josh Aaseng has filmed personal video diaries as recorded by the characters in the story.

Sound and Music

Sound designer Kyle Thompson will be creating ambient sounds, such as the hum of the machinery that keeps the space station operating, that will permeate the space on an almost subconscious level. In conjunction with non-rhythmic music reflecting the alien nature of the environment below, he has imbued our theatrical space with these haunting tones, enhancing the loneliness (and sometimes oppressiveness) of the space station. This show is employing 22 speakers for this atmospheric element of the show’s overall design, which is 14 more speakers than a typical Book-It show!

The Artists

The cast includes Jay Woods* (fresh off directing Sweeney Todd at the 5th Avenue Theatre) as Kelvin; Brandon Ryan as Snow; Alexandra Tavares** as Sartorius; Ian Bond** as Ray; Jim Gall** as Gibrarian; and Zoey Matthews and CC Dula alternating as The Child.

The show is directed by Book-It’s former Artistic Director Gus Menary. The creative team also includes Jessica & Ben Radin (Scenic Designers), Dani Norberg*** (Lighting Designer), Kyle Thompson (Sound Designer), Josh Aaseng (Video Content Creator); Ahren Buhmann (Projections Designer), Taya Pyne (Costume Designer): Robin Macartney (Props Designer); Harry Todd Jamieson (Fight Director), Shay Trusty** (Stage Manager), Nicola Krause (Assistant Stage Manager), Selina Senn (PA & Covid Safety Officer) and Lillia Nelson (Youth Cast Coordinator).

Every Single Body

The magic of theatre is a privilege. It has the power to provide a sense of unity, whether between audience members and performers, musicians and directors, or prop hands and sound techs. For one show, everyone plays a part in creating a piece of art. Historically, theatre has been exclusionary, but when the climate in the theatres expanded to more people of color, genders, and bodies, shows touched more people and told more stories. 

Several local theatres are working to expand the type of accessibility they offer. Elevators, ramps, audio descriptions, and ASL are crucial to an inclusive environment, but Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT), and the Seattle Theatre Group (STG) are going beyond that to include those with invisible disabilities. These organizations thrive by acknowledging that simply because a disability is well masked and invisible, does not make it less real. 

There are various unwritten rules audience members are expected to follow when attending a play: clap at appropriate times, laugh on cue, and remain still and silent for hours at a time, for example. Though this is difficult for most children to do, it’s also not comfortable for all adults. Seattle Rep and SCT understand those expectations should be viewed as boundaries that need to be dismantled so an accessible environment can be cultivated. Shifts towards accessibility have the potential to be inconvenient and expensive, but it is a responsibility artists and organizations have to their audience to allow their work to be showcased to anyone who wants to see it. 

The heart of it for me is helping invisible people feel recognized and accepted—people who usually shy away and don’t go to the theatre and don’t feel welcome.

Tiffany Sparks-Keeney

One of the people leading the charge at Seattle Children’s Theatre is Tiffany Sparks-Keeney, a consultant to their Sensory Friendly Program. Her work creates a judgment-free environment where everyone is allowed their authentic reactions. “The heart of it for me is helping invisible people feel recognized and accepted—people who usually shy away and don’t go to the theatre and don’t feel welcome,” she stated. She does this by creating a sensory guide that includes a scene by scene breakdown of the performance with insight to its possible disturbing aspects. Each scene breakdown includes things that may be emotionally stressful, visually off putting, and/or audibly alarming. This allows audience members to feel they have control over their theatre going experience. Sparks-Keeney has also helped SCT designate seating in the theatre to allow space for people to move around in the middle-back rows and use their devices in the final row, to avoid disturbing others in the audience. Sparks-Keeny believes allowing people the space to have their needs met, along with her sensory guides, may truly be the next obtainable step towards making all shows more sensory friendly. 

A woman with brown hair smiles in front of a foliage background.
Tiffany Sparks-Keeney, consultant to SCT’s Sensory Friendly Program. COURTESY OF KEENEY

Having a guide available for audiences is a reasonable, inexpensive tactic to diversify who feels comfortable attending shows. Though Sparks-Keeney primarily works with Seattle Children’s Theatre, ideally she would like to expand to larger theatres. After all, neurodivergent children grow up to be neurodivergent adults. Hopefully when children see they are welcomed in the theatre space, they are inspired to not only attend in the future but play a larger role in the creation. 

The work being done at Seattle Rep is just as groundbreaking. Nabra Nelson is Seattle Rep’s point person for increasing accessibility for the neurodivergent. She said, “At Seattle Rep, you can ask for what you need.” It feels simple enough, but to know an individual’s necessities will be accommodated without judgment is uncommon, especially for those who are expected to mask for societal acceptance. It is clear that Seattle Rep thoughtfully prioritizes people’s needs and knows that is a crucial aspect of accessibility. The organization also anticipates audience members’ needs through providing mentions of intense possible triggers, displayed on Seattle Rep’s website alongside a list of resources for the triggers. This is an optional guide to ensure unwanted spoilers are not given. Additionally,  Seattle Rep has a wellness room available to those during the performance and a “tune out” space for those who need complete isolation. They also provide the option to watch the show from the lobby. Having the show projected in the lobby is an easy solution if someone feels the need to move around yet doesn’t want to miss things. 

The lower half of a person is shown holding headphones.
A Hearing Loop headset provided by Seattle Rep. Hearing Loops transmit sound directly to t-coil enabled hearing devices. COURTESY SEATTLE REP

Seattle Theatre Group has many lateral accommodation options. According to Adriana Wright​, STG’s Education Partnership Manager, through their partnership with Sensory Access, STG offers Sensory Guides after each opening night of all Broadway performances, and sensory areas are provided at all student and community matinees. STG also offers sensory-friendly shows where the house lights are kept dim and there’s a lower sound decibel output. While STG remains aware that accessibility for touring productions “is a continuous education point [where it] can be trickier to pre-build accommodations for, we always find a way upon request.” Seattle theatres’ commitment to increasing accessibility is seminal to a larger movement that requires the entire arts community’s support. Everybody who participates in any part of theatre should be asking if each show is accessible. If larger companies see that accessibility is highly valued by the arts community, they will prioritize accessibility to avoid being antiquated. 

Nelson also mentioned that all of Seattle Rep’s ushers are trained with sensory access, meaning they know where best to point someone in distress. All of these resources make a world of a difference for those who may not uphold theatre’s onerous etiquette standards and potentially benefit those who might just need to stretch their legs or have a moment alone. 

A sign sits on a desk with a blue symbol of an ear with a line through it.
A Hearing Loop sign at Seattle Rep. COURTESY SEATTLE REP

Everybody deserves to feel welcome in the theatre—every single body. It is crucial to ensure all audience members have access to attending shows and feel it is a safe space for them. The next step is encouraging people to move from the audience to the stage (or backstage). When people with disabilities feel comfortable enough to create theatre, the art is not only enriched but educated. There are many renowned performances that are known to use able-bodied actors to play roles meant for disabled bodies, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Richard III, Miracle Worker, Wicked, to name a few. This is referred to as “crip-face.” This pattern has continued when roles are written for the neurodivergent. This trend is harmful because it disregards any attempt to include people with disabilities in productions. It also gives the inevitable chance for them to be misrepresented. 

Society is exclusionary, why should theatre be too?

Nabra Nelson

Accessibility opens the gate for people to have their needs met, even when they feel reluctant to make the request. Additionally, a crucial part of accessible theatre is making audiences aware of the resources available to them during performances. This shows people that they will be entering a safe space where their needs matter. Nelson said, “Society is exclusionary, why should theatre be too?” If there is the chance to make things even a little bit better for a lot of people, it is worth it. As Wright said, art “brings joy, it creates opportunity for dialogue, it opens up your creativity and imagination. Everyone deserves a piece of the magic.”  And everyone who has felt that magic agrees. This is why I have no doubt that theatre will only change for the better. 

Elle Vonada is an artist aspiring to get a Journalism degree. The TeenTix Newsroom allows those two worlds to collide. Local theatre will continue to thrive with the assistance of Seattle’s arts community and they’re lucky to witness its journey.

This article was written on special assignment for Encore Stages through the TeenTix Press Corps, a teen arts journalism program sponsored by TeenTix, a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit organization.

Building a Stronger Community Through the Arts

We are in a pivotal moment. We are emerging from three years of pandemic-related impacts, many of the major employers of the region have announced layoffs, and everybody is feeling the impact of inflation on their wallets. At the same time, art persists.

Audiences are returning to theatres and gallery spaces, artists continue to explore topical themes and challenging narratives, and the cultural sector works to understand what it looks like to move our craft forward in 2023. More than ever before, ArtsFund believes that art and cultural practice must play a major role in how our cities and communities recover. The arts are a tool for building a better quality of life and a strong arts sector is a sign of a healthy community. As we strategize around how to shape healthy communities, support young people, and neighborhood recovery, we believe that the arts can help frame these conversations in ways that center the most impacted individuals and boost overall outcomes.   

At the core of ArtsFund’s mission is the belief that arts strengthen community. With this in mind, we are revisiting the findings of ArtsFund’s last Cultural Impact Study*, and the three focus areas of Youth Development and Education, Health and Wellness, and Neighborhood Vitality. For specific study citations, please visit the complete report at

Youth Development and Education

Involvement in arts can improve academic and social outcomes for youth across socioeconomic status. Research shows that through arts education, youth learn critical thinking skills and build technical capacity to express themselves and engage with the world around them. Students with arts backgrounds are also more likely to access economic mobility via employment in high-demand creative class fields. This suggests that to cultivate a creative workforce and supply a knowledge economy, business leaders and elected officials should support and promote arts education and access to the arts, especially in the K-12 years.

Additionally, arts education may play a key role in the development of local talent and a 21st century workforce. Arts education can help supply local talent to fill the workforce pipeline and serves as a ‘field-leveling’ intervention. While research suggests all students benefit from arts education, studies show that its effect on academic achievement is strongest for lowest-income students. Integrating art especially benefits low-income students, demonstrating out-size gains in English and math scores, behavioral challenges, college attendance, voting, and volunteering in their community. For example, 43% of eighth graders of low socio-economic status and low arts engagement plan to earn a bachelor’s degree. This number is thirty points higher (73%) for students with similar backgrounds who also have arts engagement. This evidence suggests art is a useful tool to advance equity goals.

A group of adults stand in a dance studio in a circle with their hands raised above their heads, joining in the middle.
Path with Art dance class. COURTESY OF ARTIST
Health and Wellness

Studies show that the arts impact health and wellness, particularly in aging adults and people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other disorders that cause dementia and recovering patients. The presence of arts and opportunities for arts engagement also contribute to community-level health and wellness.

In both primary care and behavioral health, music and art therapy are widely recognized strategies to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as cope with symptoms of disease. Nationwide, 45% of medical institutions offer some sort of arts program. Of those 80% stated a main reason for having arts in healthcare is to benefit patient recovery, and locally, many hospitals and health providers integrate arts into their resources. In King County, more than 600 patients participate in the Swedish Cancer Institute Art Therapy program every year, with many more patients requesting access to the program. Kaiser Permanente Washington collaborates with Seattle Children’s Theatre to promote community health through plays and workshops that address health topics from HIV to healthy eating to bullying.

Medical schools and hospitals, including Virginia Mason Medical Center, integrate art in curricula and partner with local museums like Seattle Art Museum to help physicians build skills in empathy and observation.

Older adults with high and sustained levels of involvement with participatory art forms like music and dance experience positive cognitive and quality of life outcomes including self-motivation, mental stimulation, and productivity, along with the intrinsic pleasure of participation. In addition, older adults involved in the arts have fewer visits to the doctor, require less medication, and experience less depression than older adults not involved in participatory arts programming.

Neighborhood Vitality

The presence of arts in a community is linked to increased neighborhood livability, community identity, and social wellbeing. Research ties the benefits of arts and cultural participation to a sense of pride and community ownership. While many aspects of wellbeing are linked most closely to economic status and racial identity, in neighborhoods with limited economic resources, engagement with arts and culture can create social capital (the value and resources inherent in social relationships and networks) that exerts a strong, positive effect on wellbeing.

This evidence suggests arts and cultural assets can play an important role in equitable outcomes. There are many examples of “creative placemaking,”—the process by which arts-based interventions animate under-used, vacant, or utilitarian parts of neighborhoods, increasing the appeal of a place and catalyzing community revitalization and economic development. It is worth noting that in some cases, creative placemaking can have unintended consequences such as gentrification, when the growing appeal of a place increases rents and costs for housing and small businesses.

In addition to creating new places, art may be utilized for “place-keeping” or the ongoing upkeep of existing cultures or populations within a geographic boundary. Artistic and cultural resources, such as public art, can increase the appeal of existing public spaces and support place-keeping. In addition to the maintenance of the physical environment, arts can foster community partnerships, and connections between residents. Place-keeping can be especially valuable in neighborhoods that have been historically underinvested in, thereby addressing historic and structural inequities.

People intrinsically value the arts in their lives—arts entertain, inspire, inform, and provoke us. If Washington is to meet our most pressing challenges, we will need to find a way to leverage and expand the powerful impacts of the arts so more people and communities can benefit. Arts are not the only strategy to affect positive social outcomes, but they are a viable and proven—yet often underutilized and unacknowledged—strategy.

What can you do?

Research demonstrates that the arts are a powerful partner for positively influencing the social determinants of health and well-being at both the individual and community level. And the time is ripe for cross-disciplinary approaches to addressing some of our most pressing challenges. In order to continue to support a strong quality of life for Washingtonians, the state’s arts organizations need all of us.

How can you be part of this movement? You are doing it right now. By showing up for arts programming and bringing your friends and family to experience what our artists and cultural organizations are offering, you are investing in their ability to continue to offer these benefits and strengthen our community fabric.

Invest in arts organizations that matter to you through direct funding. In addition to direct funding, investments can be in the form of time, space, professional services, board leadership, and marketing support.

The arts have always been a reflection of the world around us. We rely on the arts to tell stories that unlock unfamiliar narratives to help us understand one another; to bring people together in shared experiences for a sense of belonging; and to act as a healer and agent of joy. Join us in supporting the creative workers, artists and cultural organizations that help support a healthy and vibrant Washington state.

* The Social Impact Study was first published in 2018 under the leadership of Mari Horita and Sarah Sidman. The report, with primary focus on youth development and education, health and wellness, and neighborhood vitality, analyses the potential for arts to influence more equitable outcomes via a county-wide public poll; a landscape scan of King County arts, cultural, and heritage nonprofits; a substantive review of 150+ national research resources; and case studies of ten regional arts organizations. To read the report in full, please visit  

Talking About It Plainly With Debra Ann Byrd

Debra Ann Byrd deserves your attention—don’t worry, she’ll get it. A prolific writer, performer, and artistic director, Byrd is a theatre artist with a wardrobe of many hats and stories to share.

Seattle Shakespeare Company is kicking off 2023 with Byrd’s solo show The World’s a Stage: Becoming Othello, A Black Girl’s Journey, directed by Shakespeare & Company founder Tina Packer. The play follows Byrd’s life as she performs as the titular character of Othello, a play by William Shakespeare known for its underlying racism. “As I was discovering Othello, the character, I started discovering things about myself as well,” Byrd said. “I kept telling myself, ‘I have to write about this.’ I always wanted to perform a solo show, so I thought this was a good opportunity to create one.”

Since this is Byrd’s first solo show, her first step was seeking education. “I went about the process of finding a coach to help me understand what it means to write a solo show,” Byrd said. “Then, I got another coach to help me make what I wrote into a more serious production for theatre audiences.”

After working with the coaches, she was unsure how to continue developing the play. “I’m a praying girl, so I thought about it, I prayed about it,” Byrd said. “Who is supposed to help me with this thing? What came to mind was a colleague and friend of mine, [Dr.] Paul Edmondson, the [Head] of Research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.”

Edmondson and his team at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust loved Byrd’s concept and wanted to support the play. “They said, ‘Maybe we could bring her out to Stratford-upon-Avon to become the writer-in-residence here for a month and we can help develop the play,’” Byrd said. “We recorded like nine sessions of interviews, 45 minutes to an hour and 15 [minutes] each, to go over what I was thinking, why it was so personal, and why it was also so public. Why would audiences care? Why would it matter to the world?”

Performer Debra Ann Byrd stands on stage in a black dress with her arms raised above her head with a dagger in one hand.
Debra Ann Byrd in “The World’s a Stage: Becoming Othello, A Black Girl’s Journey.” PHOTO BY LIA CHANG

Byrd continued to attain opportunities to develop the play through residencies at esteemed institutions such as Columbia University and the Folger Library in Washington D.C. “Then, I wrote a proposal so I could put some dramaturgical elements into the show, the history of Othello,” Byrd said. Eventually, Byrd brought in Tina Packer to mold and direct the production. “I reached out to Tina Packer, who was one of my teachers and mentors, and I thought she would be a great fit for the play,” Byrd said.

Packer’s prior experience gave Byrd a stronger understanding of the needs of solo work. “Tina Packer has worked on other solo shows, including ones that she wrote for herself, so she had a lot of knowledge,” Byrd said. “I went up and worked with her for weeks on end until it was time to go into rehearsal.”

Packer helped Byrd shape the play for regional theatre audiences, which are frequently not diverse in age or race. “I know that a lot of audiences are old and white and as the years go by, the young ones are getting old too,” Byrd said. Packer focused on what the audience takes away from the production. “Tina Packer would help me fine-tune those areas that needed to reach a little bit further to get an audience member to understand,” Byrd said.

“Even before we got to Shakespeare & Company, we knew that this show would first be seen by audiences in Stratford-upon-Avon, so we knew that they would be not only old and white, but old, white, and British. We thought about how we could break it down a little more so that audiences could understand from a cultural point of view what it is I’m trying to say.”

However, Byrd and Packer were confident that audiences would appreciate the production for its Shakespearean references if nothing else. “Because there are over 200 Shakespearean lines in it, we knew that people who like Shakespeare would love it,” Byrd said. “We took into consideration all of the audiences who might come and tried to make sure we had something in there for everyone.”

Performer Debra Ann Byrd sits on the ground with a woman's head in her lap wearing a red and gold robe.
Debra Ann Byrd as Othello and Natalie Andrews as Desdemona in “The World’s a Stage: Becoming Othello, A Black Girl’s Journey.” PHOTO BY YASMIN LAWLER

Throughout the process, Byrd learned the importance of balancing authenticity with tools for audience engagement. “At first, I was telling the story to get it out of my body and into the world,” Byrd said. “How do we take all of these things, mix it in with Shakespeare, and tell the stories? What is it that we can do together to create something that is meaningful in the world?”

The play analyzes Othello from a fresh perspective “to encourage, to challenge, [and] to inspire. Is he a mad man or is he a hurt man?” Byrd said. “When I broke it down, I saw that Othello was hurt. I say it in the play: if we tell ourselves the truth, we have a better chance of making the world a better place. We need to talk about it plainly.”

The World’s a Stage: Becoming Othello, A Black Girl’s Journey, presented by Seattle Shakespeare Company, is playing January 3–29, 2023. Tickets are available online.

Kyle Gerstel is a 15-year-old musical theatre geek who couldn’t be happier to have found TeenTix in 2020. In addition to writing for the TeenTix Newsroom and his school newspaper The Islander, Kyle frequently performs with Youth Theatre Northwest and works with Penguin Productions to foster an equitable theatre community. When not in rehearsal, you can probably find him writing poetry, rewatching Promising Young Woman or obsessing over Bo Burnham.

This article was written on special assignment for Encore Stages through the TeenTix Press Corps, a teen arts journalism program sponsored by TeenTix, a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit organization.

Finding New Delight in Familiar Holiday Performances

If it is fair to say that audiences return to the performing arts for meaningful connection, perhaps there is no richer time of year for doing just that than during the holiday season. As days grow shorter, darker, and colder as the end of each year approaches, Seattle stages and performance halls are warm, well-lit, and busy, offering top-tier productions to replenish one’s inner sanctum through the arts of music, dance, and drama.

Particular to every holiday season are the returning shows; those performances and stories that audiences come back to year after year. These are often part of a tradition that began in earliest childhood, and after so many years are still rekindling the holiday spirit. Holiday shows are often family affairs as the tradition is passed on to children and grandchildren.

How do arts organizations in the Seattle area keep their holiday shows fresh and relevant for audiences year after year?

“It’s all in the mindset of the creative team and the artists who approach the show,” said John Langs, Artistic Director at ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) and director of this year’s production of A Christmas Carol. “The theatre is different every night and we as humans are different with each new event we experience. I think the key is to not deny who we are or the events in the world outside as you speak the words of the play but let whatever is moving in you be part of the story you are telling. Use it.” Langs said that the business of bringing the real world and circumstances to bear in serving story in fresh and relevant ways required something of a “spiritual rigor.”

On a stage, two actors stand together talking. One is dressed all in white as the ghost of Christmas Past and the other in a dressing gown as Scrooge.
Chip Sherman and Amy Thone in “A Christmas Carol” at ACT Theatre. PHOTO BY HOWARD SHACK

He pointed out that A Christmas Carol, a 47-year tradition at the ACT Theatre in downtown Seattle, is a story of redemption and renewal that takes place at the very end of the calendar year—already a built-in time of reflection. “The power of tradition is strong,” he added. “Many audience members come to A Christmas Carol as their first professional theatre experience. Many of them were brought as children and they are now bringing their grandkids to ‘share the magic.’”

“No two shows are alike, and every cast is different,” said Peter Boal, Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB), the company responsible for bringing George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to audiences every holiday season. “Even the orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s score slightly differently under the baton of different conductors, or with a new violin soloist. This is the beauty of seeing (and hearing) art in person.” Boal confirmed that PNB, in fact, restages Nutcracker each and every year, teaching each step and interaction from scratch to company dancers and PNB School students. Many dancers and most student dancers are in roles for the very first time, some even experiencing live performance for the first time.

A ballerina dressed as the sugar plum fairy leaps across the stage with her arms outstretched in "The Nutcracker."
Leta Biasucci in “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” at PNB. PHOTO BY ANGELA STERLING

Boal also referenced the role of tradition, and the fact that for many in the audience, this is their first experience seeing a live ballet performance, something he called a “perfect portal for discovery of the world of classical ballet.”

PNB’s isn’t the only long-running Nutcracker in town. Former professional dancers John and Helen Wilkins founded Olympic Ballet Theatre in Edmonds in 1981, and The Nutcracker has been an annual mainstay at Edmonds Centre for the Arts ever since. In 2011, Oleg Gorboulev and Mara Vinson took over the show, teaming up as artistic directors.

The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition,” said Gorboulev. “We occasionally make choreography changes, or adjust technical aspects, or update the costumes, but [otherwise] not much changes. But on the artistic side we have new dancers each year, and with new dancers, you get fresh energy. I don’t know if the audience notices, but we notice.” He pointed to the working relationship between himself and Vinson as a necessary component of bringing the show back each year. “We work very well together,” he said. “We found our responsibilities, we found us. We found our stride and it has become natural.”

A stage production of "The Nutcracker." Toy soldiers fight the rat king.
Olympic Ballet Theatre presents “The Nutcracker.” PHOTO BY INTO DUST PHOTOGRAPHY

The celebrated Seattle Symphony has proved to be another natural local fixture each season. The Symphony offers a range of returning holiday shows. This year’s Holiday Pops is being led by conductor Stuart Chafetz. “Handel’s Messiah,” features the Seattle Symphony, Chorale and a cast of soloists to honor Handel’s most famous work.

“When it comes to keeping a returning show fresh and relevant,” said Taproot Communications Manager Daytona Danielsen, “part of it comes down to the audience’s delight and a sense of nostalgia.” Taproot Theatre Company, founded in 1976 is Seattle’s largest mid-size theatre company, serving the Pacific Northwest with two performance venues, regular touring programs and Acting Studio. They have regularly returned A Charlie Brown Christmas to the stage at holiday time. “A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of those plays that the audience likes to see repeatedly; children, who make up a significant part of the audience, delight in experiencing a familiar story again and again. And then, children grow up, and new audiences come, experiencing the production for the first time.”

But just as no two pieces of performance art are ever exactly the same twice, no two seasonal calendars in Seattle are exactly the same. Taproot is not presenting A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, but is planning to remount the production in 2023. Instead, the company’s holiday offering this year includes both tradition and newness all at once. The theatre company is staging the Jane Austen-inspired The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, which is a new production, but also a sequel to the play they presented to success in 2018, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The sequel takes place on the same day in a different part of the very same house, promising familiarity, but also freshness, and as the production is recommended for ages 10-plus, plenty of opportunity for shared family experience. Danielsen described Taproot’s fingerprint, whether at Christmas or any other time of the year, as “theatre of hope.”

Four actors stand on stage in regency era clothing in a drawing room talking. Stage image of Christmas at Pemberley at Taproot Theatre.
Cast of “Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley. PHOTO BY ERIK STUHAUG

Whether it is childhood discovery, shared family experiences, or reconnecting to aspects of faith and hope, certainly the holiday season seems to offer what audiences are looking for, and producers and performers in the Seattle area seem to be doing something right.

“There are so many debuts in different roles during the run of The Nutcracker,” said PNB’s Boal, “and the wings are packed with peers who are pulling for their friends as they dance the Soldier, Candy Cane, or Sugar Plum for the first time. Students often dance the company roles, unseen offstage. Honestly, the dancers love Balanchine’s choreography and see each performance as a fresh inspiration. Audiences too feel this sense of excitement and discovery.”

“We understand there are traditions baked into the way we stage A Christmas Carol that are very important to people,” said ACT’s Langs. “There is a beautiful story I was told about a family who lost a family member during the Christmas season. One of their fondest memories was watching their loved one experience a very specific moment of the show when the Ghost of Christmas Present sprinkles the Christmas spirit into the audience via glitter from their golden cup. It was related to me that the joy of this moment was one of the fondest and last memories of being together as a family they shared, and that this family now comes each year to A Christmas Carol to commemorate the loved one who is no longer with them. Whenever I approach that moment in the rehearsal room, I think of them. I often tell this story to the cast. It brings home the power of tradition. There are dozens of different ways to perfume that moment that allows for creativity and breath, but it’s moments like these that make it clear that we are a part of a bigger story that has connected the community for 47 years.”

Where company’s and producers are committed to nurturing the art and performances they shape and re-gift each holiday season, it seems that the “bigger story” will be bringing audiences back for years to come.

A Christmas Carol will play at ACT Theatre November 25–December 24, 2022. The Nutcracker will play at Pacific Northwest Ballet November 25–December 27, 2022. Olympic Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker will be presented December 9–20, 2022. Taproot Theatre will show The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley November 23–December 30, 2022. Seattle Symphony will present Holiday Pops December 9–11, 2022 and “Handel’s Messiah” December 16–18, 2022.

David Drury is a Seattle-based writer, journalist, and Best American fiction author whose creative work can be found at

The Journey of Courage to “Choir Boy”

This fall, The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre are collaborating on their 10th co-production, Choir Boy, a play with music about sexuality, intersectional identities, and acceptance. The co-production process allows each theatre to access the other’s unique resources and provide Seattle with a more diverse range of musical theatre experiences.

“We have some really delicious, intimate theatres at ACT and The 5th Avenue is a very big space,” ACT Theatre Artistic Director John Langs said. “As Broadway and the rest of the world started to explore smaller, more intimate musicals, there was a feeling that they were getting lost in the big space.”

Bill Berry, the artistic director of The 5th Avenue Theatre, added that co-productions have longer runs than shows produced by The 5th and ACT independently, so they benefit artists as well. “We also talked about the value [of] producing shows with longer runs to the arts ecosystem and the folks working in our community, particularly the performers,” Berry said.

Thus, a partnership began. Since the co-production program’s inception in 2011, the theatres have produced a variety of small-scale contemporary musicals including the two-hander whodunnit comedy Murder for Two and Sondheim’s acclaimed concept musical Assassins.

Rather than dividing responsibilities evenly, each theatre contributes what they have the capacity to offer. “We are a theatre that is smaller than The 5th Avenue, so they have a much larger annual budget,” Langs noted. “We find a mutual understanding about percentages that makes sense to each theatre, and it’s roughly 70/30 split cost, but the productions are made for the most part at ACT.” 

Then, the theatres collaborate on curating the material, selecting directors, and casting. “The decisions sometimes take longer to make,” Berry admitted, but he stressed that the organizations “work together on all aspects” of the productions.

a gorup of five singers stand onstage in cosutme with their hands raised crouched down singing
The cast of “Ride the Cyclone,” a co-production of The 5th and ACT. PHOTO OF TRACY MARTIN

When Langs and Berry accepted their positions, they felt that the curation model in place did not serve the greater community of artists and audience members. “We needed to flatten the hierarchy about decision-making, about whose voices were represented onstage,” Langs said. They started having conversations “both internally and externally with a lot more stakeholders about what shows go on the mainstage.”

Recently, someone who has helped cultivate these conversations is Jay Woods, The 5th’s associate artistic director of artist engagement. “I always say that a leader at best is a master weaver of the skills and choices in the room,” Woods said. “From an organizational perspective, that means the artistic leadership [team] must be vigilant in avoiding homogeneity in its staff, in its season, [and] in how it communicates with the world.”

The theatres did not initially realize the impacts of increasing the length of a run. “Each theatre really did not have a lot of experience running shows upwards of 10 weeks of performances, so our first few co-productions involved a lot of learning about taking care of the company,” Berry confessed. “Mistakes were made, and we have integrated better and more mindful practices over the years.”

three singers stand in the background on stage while a man dances with one hand and one leg in the air in the foreground
Rich Gray as Charles Guiteau in “Assassins.” PHOTO OF TRACY MARTIN

Choir Boy is a coming-of-age story about Pharus Young, a talented, queer gospel singer at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. Before ACT and The 5th chose to co-produce the show as a part of their 2022-2023 seasons, ACT had planned to produce it in association with Denver Center Theatre Company in 2020. After that fell through because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACT considered presenting the play on their own, but the theatre is delighted to be collaborating with The 5th in order to deliver as strong of a production as possible. “The production that we could have done would have been a little more modest, but we loved the play,” Langs stated.

This production of Choir Boy is particularly exciting since it will feature a completely unique version of the text. “The director Jamil Jude has been on a long journey with this play; he was a part of it before it went to Broadway and the script got sort of locked, so he has seen many iterations of it,” Langs said. Jude wanted to include some of the moments that were cut on the show’s road to Broadway, so he received “permission from the playwright to take the pieces that he felt were really powerful and told the story that he wants to tell.”

As the partnership continues, the theatres hope to focus on cultivating new works. “Our real dream is to commission and develop musicals from the ground up as we move forward with the co-production slot in our season,” Berry stated. However, their mission is not exclusively based on producing premieres. “We also want to be sure that we are bringing pieces like Choir Boy to have new productions in Seattle.”

a large group of actors stand on stage surrounding one actor who is on a higher platform singing
The company of “Urinetown,” a co-production of The 5th and ACT. PHOTO BY JEFF CARPENTER

Pharus’ arc in Choir Boy represents the values both theatres wish to emphasize this season. “This season [at ACT] is really about journeys of courage,” Langs said. “The characters in the season really stand up for who they are.” In order to cultivate an environment in which artists and audience members can fully appreciate shows with sensitive subjects like Choir Boy, Langs and the teams at ACT and The 5th make sure all of the theatres’ programs are as inclusive and equitable as possible.

“Remaining open and vulnerable to new ways of thinking is crucial to structurally changing a system that never wanted to invite the ‘skills and choices’ outside of the white-approved tool box,” Woods said. “We need to be brave for one another or we might as well hang it up.”

“I think about equity in terms of making sure that everybody who comes into our space feels like their personhood was thought about before they got here,” Langs explained. “We want to create a safe space to do dangerous work, and that takes a lot of diligence.”

Choir Boy, presented by ACT Theatre and The 5th Avenue Theatre, is playing at ACT’s Allen Theatre from September 9–October 23, 2022. Tickets are available online.

Kyle Gerstel is a 15-year-old musical theatre geek who couldn’t be happier to have found TeenTix in 2020. In addition to writing for the TeenTix Newsroom and his school newspaper The Islander, Kyle frequently performs with Youth Theatre Northwest and works with Penguin Productions to foster an equitable theatre community. When not in rehearsal, you can probably find him writing poetry, rewatching Promising Young Woman or obsessing over Bo Burnham.

This article was written on special assignment for Encore Stages through the TeenTix Press Corps, a teen arts journalism program sponsored by TeenTix, a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit organization.

Untold Stories Told: Matt Kizer and Native Writers’ Theater

Matt Kizer was just a normal kid growing up in Carson City, Nevada. It was the 1980s and he was a high schooler with an interest in the arts. His school had a good music program. He participated in it as much as he could. He joined the school choir. He was good at it. The choir was good, too. The choir traveled overseas. They got to tour Europe on several occasions. “No one really seemed interested in my heritage,” Kizer said of those teenage years in Nevada. “But, in Europe, I found that people were quite interested in my background. It felt great.” Kizer is a member of the Washoe Tribe. “That was a transformational experience for me.”

Kizer is now 50 years old and living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s also the artistic director at Native Writers’ Theater (NWT), a new 501(c)3 nonprofit under the umbrella of PlayGround, a playwright incubator. “After many years as a performer, working as an actor, dancer, and singer in multiple genres, I decided I wanted to focus specifically on stories, songs, myths, and legends from my tribe, as well as relate my own personal experiences.” Kizer wants that for himself. He wants that for others, too. That’s why he started the Native Writers’ Theater. It debuted last November as part of PlayGround’s third annual Innovators Showcase. “An Evening of New Native Plays” included one of Kizer’s own works, Starlings. The play centered on an Urban Indian having a crisis after hours at a museum. The evening also included works done by Beth Piatote (Nez Perce), Shannon R. Davis (Sami, Potawatomi, Ojibwe), Steven Flores (Comanche, Azteca, Mexica), and others. As Kizer said, “Seen many Native American plays lately? Neither have we. But we know that can change.”

And things are changing thanks, in part, to Kizer. Voices of Indigenous creatives are now being heard and amplified. Kizer has taken note of a plethora of playwrights making those voices heard including Linda Amayo-Hassan (Spirit Lake Dakota, Chicana), Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (Iñupiaq, Tlingit), and Moses Goods (Native Hawaiian), among many others. “A highlight of starting this,” Kizer said, “is making connections with other Native artists. I look forward to future collaborations.”

Native American isn’t monolithic. It’s as varied as America’s landscapes. Everyone’s story is different. There is not one “Indian Story.” Native life isn’t something of the past, a relic; something near forgotten; or found in a museum. “I want to continue to educate the world about who each of us are,” Kizer said. “That we’re still here and we have something to say about ourselves.”

Kizer has been performing in predominantly white institutions his entire life. In high school choir, he did. In the world of classical music that he found himself in. At the University of Nevada, Reno studying voice. His entire career after leaving school. “I have been lucky to have incredible mentors, teachers, directors, and choreographers—mostly white—who have helped me get to where I am today.” But, at the same time, “if it weren’t for the experiences of me being the only Native in the room almost every time, I wouldn’t have had the drive to create opportunities for Native creatives to be seen and heard.”

His new organization is in its infancy. Funding is on Kizer’s mind. Getting the word out to Native communities about the work he and his colleagues are doing is on his mind. He’s eager to start a Native writers retreat somewhere in the Bay Area. He’s currently trying to find a physical space for it. He’s at work creating a series of readings, also. It will happen this coming fall as part of the PlayGround Innovator Incubator Showcase.

Meanwhile, even with all that, he’s writing, eager to tell his stories and the stories of the Washoe people. “We are humans,” he said, “and have the exact same challenges that everyone else has on Earth. We all have to work, pay the bills, feed our families, and keep the lights on.” His light is on his desk, aglow, as he writes, exploring who he is. He says he’s interested in retelling the Washoe Tribe’s legends and contemporizing the tribe’s songs. “Every time I hear a new story, I’m gaining knowledge of what it is to be Washoe.”

Further, every story told tells us a little bit more about who we all are. We all gain knowledge by hearing the stories of others. Native voices are rising. As Kizer stated, “We want to take back our stories and tell them our way.”

Kizer is showing us all the way forward.

“An Evening of New Native Plays” is now available to watch on demand through June 30, 2022. The video is free, but donations are accepted and appreciated.

Innovation and Connections: Summer 2022 Arts Camps for the Greater Seattle Area

Many parents and students are looking to get back in the summer camp game in 2022. Two excellent organizations which provide a variety of summer courses are Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) and Seattle Shakespeare Company, both near synonymous with arts education. 

“Sometimes theatres start up and then they add an education program later,” said Seattle Shakespeare Education Director Michelle Burce. “Seattle Shakespeare has had one the whole time.” One side of this education is Seattle Shakespeare’s Camp Bill, a series of workshops including a full theatre production intensive for middle and high school aged students. During these three week camps, students rehearse and perform shows, while also designing costumes and building sets. This summer, it’s Macbeth

“Students get to play with love, hate, ambition, mistaken identity and comedy. That’s a great outlet.” Burce pointed out that this relatively short time frame for a full production allows students to think on their feet and take control of the situation. In a professional production, there’s not just more time to rehearse—when actors begin such a rehearsal, there are fully formed costume designs and built sets. In a Camp Bill production intensive, however, it all happens at once. For Burce, this pace connects to the ephemeral, imaginative, and problem-solving aspects of theatre. 

a group of teenagers do a movement exercise

It was the COVID-19 pandemic that made this understanding really sink in for Burce. In the Summer of 2020, Camp Bill happened fully remotely. That year, campers participated in productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Students rehearsed over Zoom, filmed themselves individually, and then were edited together. Boundless creativity sprung from this unideal situation. In The Tempest, there’s a scene where a wandering Trinculo comes across a blanket-covered Caliban. “What have we here? A man or a fish?” asks Trinculo incredulously. This scene, ripe with interesting visuals, is one that should be challenging to execute in a virtual setting. However, two campers had a trick up their sleeve. “They found out that they had matching towels at home that were close enough,” Burce said. A camper stowed his sister away under his towel with her feet sticking out, while another camper filmed themselves beneath their own towel. In the complete and edited scene, it seemed just as if the two campers were in the same room.

In the Summer of 2021, Camp Bill returned to in-person programming. Traditional Shakespeare plays tend to necessitate close physical contact, so to ensure that the transition back to in-person camp was safe, Seattle Shakespeare took multiple mitigating steps. 2021 was entirely outdoors, and, instead of a full production, students worked on individual scenes. This meant the wondrous sets and costumes that often accompany Camp Bill production intensives weren’t there. Once again, students and teachers rose to the challenge, incorporating elements of the natural scenery that surrounded them. “In theatre you try to bring audiences into a magical world, but in 2020 and 2021 there weren’t traditional means to do that,” Burce stated. Making a magical world with the tools available, no matter what they are, encapsulates Camp Bill’s ethos.

Like Seattle Shakespeare, Seattle Children’s Theatre’s department of education and engagement has stayed very active during the pandemic. In the Summer of 2020, all camps and classes were virtual. I spoke with Johamy Morales, the director of the education and engagement department, and Caitlyn Davis, who, among other things, is the drama school camp czar. For Morales and Davis, this pandemic period did have benefits. There are expansive things that you can do remotely, “You can get teens in Florida, teens in Philly, and teens in Seattle in a space together to create and share ideas,” said Davis. Not only did teens connect with the programs remotely, educators and professionals from far and wide were able to bring their expertise to SCT virtually. Additionally, courses that had not been previously offered, such as creating through social media and the art of drag, became available during this remote period. 

two children rehearse a sword fight on stage. they stand facing each other with swords raised

When SCT returned to in person in 2021, safety was prioritized. SCT’s programs operated at just 25% capacity. This way, if county restrictions changed or a variant came, campers would not be left in the lurch. This, combined with still requiring masks and implementing innovative social distancing tactics, resulted in a very successful summer. Just over 950 students participated in summer programs, and there was not a single COVID case. SCT continued to provide a virtual option, too. “We’ve been very thoughtful about the way we’re scaling in and scaling back into in person,” said Davis. “We feel really confident that this coming summer we have a very strong structure to maintain everybody in a safe environment with the challenges of COVID while also continuing to provide a unique experience for young people to come in and learn and play with us.”

This commitment to access guides the department’s actions. Morales shared with me her personal story, how she had not had an opportunity to engage with theatre early on. She eventually began a program in San Diego where she and others perused various topics and then developed a piece with a director, taking these performances from school to school. “For the first time, I felt like my voice had power and my actions had meaning,” Morales said. “If I had the opportunity to experience theatre at a young age, and the power of storytelling, I can only imagine where I would be right now.” Morales and SCT in its entirety are committed to giving back. Both SCT and Seattle Shakespeare offer financial aid scholarships and make their availability well known. 

Arts summer camps are a potent environment for community building. “Our students come together and form a community and form relationships in a way that is really special in arts summer camp. You work really intensely with other people, but also get to go through all of these emotions and challenges and risks with an ensemble, and build friendships you might not get in the same way at school,” said Burce. “It’s not just about getting kids in the room and doing a scene,” said Morales. Indeed, it’s about the connections, sometimes lifelong, that are made. 

This summer, both SCT and Seattle Shakespeare will be fully in person. Camp Bill’s three camps, including the production intensive, will happen outdoors, at Mercer Island’s lush Luther Burbank Park. SCT offers dozens of courses, at varying locations, all providing students with excellent opportunities for exploration. Registration for this summer is open now.

Josh Caplan is a Junior at The Northwest School in Seattle. A member of the TeenTix Press Corps and a three-time participant in the TeenTix Arts Podcast, he is thrilled to have the opportunity to engage with arts journalism. Along with covering arts events, Josh is a DJ with KEXP’s 90.TEEN program. He also enjoys playing and listening to music, reading up on sustainable agricultural practices, and a good cup of coffee. 

This article was written on special assignment for The Seattle Times through the TeenTix Press Corps, a teen arts journalism program sponsored by TeenTix, a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit organization.