JACK Quartet Gears Up for ‘Human Subjects’ at Meany Center

An innovative collaboration between the JACK Quartet, neuroscientists and educators at the University of Washington is preparing for a performance at the intersection of science and music. After three years in the making, Human Subjects is ready to make (brain) waves.

When the JACK Quartet premieres Human Subjects by composers Richard Karpen and Juan Pampin later this month, they’ll be totally wired—literally. The quartet, whose extended three-year residency at the University of Washington culminates in the concert on May 18, will be performing this world premiere composition while wearing portable encephalophones (also known as EEG brain helmets) and attached to wearable muscle neuron sensors.

During the upcoming performance at Meany Hall, the sometimes musical, sometimes noisy response of the JACK Quartet’s brainwaves will add another layer to the composition of Human Subjects. While Karpen and Pampin’s score has been meticulously composed—and the musical response of brainwaves has been considered at every stage of the process—there’s still room for improvisation and reaction in the JACK Quartet’s performance. It’s this musical unknown that’s made the three-year collaboration with the University of Washington’s Music Composition and DXARTS departments so exciting.

Karpen, one of Human Subjects’ co-composers, is the founding director of the university’s Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) in addition to serving as director of the University of Washington’s School of Music. DXARTS, created in 2001, was designed to support a new generation of hybrid artists, creating opportunities for artists to learn in the ever-evolving field of digital arts. Pampin, Human Subjects’ other co-composer, is the associate director of DXARTS, where the JACK Quartet has been collaborating with Pampin and Karpen, several neuroscientists and a team of researchers.

John Pickford Richards, viola, wants to encourage audience members to rid themselves of expectations and let the experience of Human Subjects wash over them. “We like to say we’re controlling the music with our minds, but really, we’re making music with them.”

JACK Quartet started performing at the University of Washington over a decade ago—and in that time, the idea of developing brain-controlled music with composers Karpen and Pampin slowly began to form. When the Meany Center received a Mellon Foundation grant in 2016, the three-year JACK Quartet residency was born. Most of the residency was spent wearing those encephalophones and experimenting with improvisation.

the JACK Quartet
Shervin Lainez

“We certainly had no idea what would come of it,” Richards said, “but we knew it would be experimental, which is our general preference.”

After an extended period of research and development, the team set their sights on creating a concert-length work.

“Most music we play is composed in traditional western music notation, but this piece has developed slowly through discussion and trying things out,” Richards explained. The performance audiences see and hear on May 18 will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The JACK Quartet, or JACK, was founded in 2005 by Richards, violinists Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld, and cellist Kevin McFarland, whose first initials spell the quartet’s name. In 2016, violinist Austin Wulliman and Jay Campbell replaced Streisfeld and McFarland, respectively, but by then, the quartet’s name had stuck.

Wulliman hopes that audiences will leave Meany Hall curious about sound and fascinated by the pathways JACK’s brains travel in order to create the musical labyrinth on stage.

“We had a hilarious time testing the Boulez quartet for our readings on the EEG,” Wulliman said, recalling his first visit to the University of Washington as a newly minted member of JACK.

The quartet experimented with form: first playing the quartet normally, then simply moving their arms as they followed the music, and finally, just thinking about the song—all while wearing the portable encephalophones.

“This was some of the foundational data for building the electronic instrument as it stands now,” Wulliman said. “My favorite memories from that first trip are running through the Arboretum and drinking a wonderful martini at Flowers.”

While it’s often said that science and music are the universal languages of our planet, making Human Subjects an incredible blend of the two. But Wulliman prefers to examine the individual nature of music.

“I see the personal and empathic in each individual work of art,” he said. “This piece, by its very nature, becomes personal and specific to us and our bodies as performers.”

JACK Quartet at EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center). Photo by Cenk Ergün
JACK Quartet at EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center). Photo by Cenk Ergün

JACK has been visiting the University of Washington since 2009, with residencies ranging from reading student work to public performances. It was there that they met Karpen and Pampin, who invited the quartet to join them for a three-year extended residency. The technology itself was alluring, but JACK was also drawn to the amount of time they’d be able to spend on this single concert-length piece.

“This work is different from most of our other premieres in several respects,” Christopher Otto shared. “First, there’s obviously new technology involved that we haven’t worked with before. Second, we’ve spent much more time immersed in the collaborative creation of this work than we have with most pieces. Third, the composition has not involved any kind of notation, but rather relies on a dialogue among the creators about the different types of musical situations we will navigate.”

When Otto learned that the quartet would be working with EEG, the concept peaked his curiosity. Otto was familiar with the composer Alvin Lucier, whose 1965 composition Music for Solo Performer involved Lucier hooking himself up to borrowed scientific equipment in order to amplify his Alpha brainwaves and operate sixteen percussion instruments. It’s a fascinating piece (11 minutes of which are available on Youtube) but Otto knew digital music technology had advanced significantly since then.

Otto shared that there are several challenges and joys that come with the experimental nature of Human Subjects, but the biggest challenge has been enduring the physical pain that comes from the sharp electrodes pushing on his skull. But it’s not all pain. Learning how to control the electromyography (EMG) armbands to manipulate JACK’s instrumental sound was a joyful experience.

“I’m interested in the ways that sound as a material, governed by physics, can interact with the human psyche,” Otto said. He added that he’s been interested in mathematics for a long time, and that this interest informs the music he composes.

JACK Quartet
Beowulf Sheehan

“There are endless possibilities, and most of them are found through improvisation and conversation,” shared Jay Campbell.

The biggest joy Campbell is finding in the Human Subjects process is the room for experimentation.

“The collaborative aspect of this project is really fun,” Campbell said. “We can improvise with these tools and find novel sounds—or we can just ask if certain sounds could be coded in to correlate to specific physical actions.”

Campbell is fascinated with the relationships between brainwaves and sound, especially when it comes to making music and composition a more accessible form for people with disabilities. These same instruments that JACK is experimenting with at the University of Washington could one day serve as creative outlets for folks unable to sing or operate traditional musical instruments.

“We’re all just kind of playing around with these really complex toys, tweaking and honing it towards something that has expressive capacity,” Campbell said.

When asked what they’ll miss most about Seattle, Otto cited the Henry Art Gallery, particularly The James Turrell Skyspace, Light Reign. For the rest of the ensemble, what they’re going to miss doubles as a restaurant recommendation: Din Tai Fung.


Human Subjects will be performed at the University of Washington’s Meany Center on May 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students and seniors, $20 for the general public and can be purchased online or by calling (206) 543-4880. More information about the JACK Quartet can be found on their website.


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

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Seattle Theatre

Danielle Mohlman continues her exploration of equity, diversity and inclusion in Seattle’s theatre community by speaking with local artists and organizations about recent achievements and trials they have faced.

Over the last few years, equity, diversity and inclusion have become goals of theatre companies across the United States. But what does that look like in practice? We spoke with four theatres in Seattle who put these goals at the center of their practice and asked them to share their successes, aspirations and the areas they feel need improvement. 


In October 2018, the Dramatists Guild and The Lilly Awards released The Count 2.0, a national census that analyzed data from six seasons of theatre, 2011 to 2017, looking at the production history of theatres of all sizes. The Count was focused on playwrights, lyricists and book writers—the content creators of the theatre—and released information that doesn’t feel all that surprising: of all the major cities surveyed, Seattle has the most room to grow. Between 2011 and 2017, only 8% of produced plays in Seattle were written by artists of color and only 24% by women. 

The Count certainly has its own room to grow. It’s impossible to count every single theatre in Seattle, let alone every theatre in the country, so they created a set of guidelines to generate the most representative survey. To start, the theatre must be a non-profit with at least a decade of experience professionally producing plays or musicals. Each theatre surveyed produced at least three plays or musicals each season, with each production running longer than 21 performances. And the theatre had to be routinely reviewed, either nationally or regionally. 

And while The Count didn’t release data on generative artists who identify as queer, non-binary or disabled, the statistics still feel like a challenge to theatres. A challenge to create theatre that looks more like our world. 

There are national efforts to meet this challenge, like The Jubilee, a nationwide theatre festival featuring works by artists who have traditionally been excluded—including but not limited to artists of color; Native American, Indigenous and First Nations artists; women; non-binary and gender non-conforming artists; LGBTQIA2+ artists; Deaf artists; and artists with disabilities—and regional endeavors, like The Women’s Voices Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C. But what are Seattle theatres doing to meet this challenge? 

At Intiman Theatre, Artistic Director Jennifer Zeyl and Executive Director Phillip Chavira are using a compact and impactful mission to guide their way. Simply put, Intiman “wrestles with American inequities.” 

“It means upending the apple cart,” Zeyl said. “Change to power structures must happen from the bottom up and the top down. It means remaining open to having every aspect of your organization challenged and changed. It means empowering youth voice and centering the vision and talents of the future.”

Chavira added that wrestling with these inequities isn’t easy. 

“It means talking about white supremacy,” Chavira said. “There will be tough conversations to have with your team and facing years of oppression can be challenging.” 

Chavira pointed out that he’s the first executive director of color in Intiman’s 45-year history—and that equity, diversity and inclusion should extend far beyond the stage to include administration and executives as well. Chavira, who identifies as Latinx, Mexican-American and queer, moved to Seattle two years ago to take over the executive director role. 

Native Gardens
Cast of Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías. Intiman Theatre (2018).

In 2018, Intiman retired their $2.7 million debt and are now operating debt-free. 

“But we’re super lean,” Chavira said. “It’s time to grow our company. Our mission is flourishing and audiences want more diverse narratives on stage.”

And as they flourish, Intiman is examining how they can become more inclusive. 

“We are learning constantly,” Zeyl said. “Guarding the intersection of professional theatre-making and community storytelling takes humbleness, dexterity and a willingness to throw the rule book out the window.”

Pratidhwani’s mission centers on creating performance opportunities for artists of South Asian descent. Agastya Kohli, artistic director of the organization’s Drama Wing, explained that this often materializes in producing plays with an India-centric view. But that’s not a hard and fast rule. 

“We’ve produced plays written specifically with Indian characters, as well as plays that were not written for Indian actors at all,” Kohli said. “We are developing, fostering and maintaining a thriving pipeline of artists that all theatres in Seattle benefit from and can enrich their works with.” 

This season, Pratidhwani partnered with both Forward Flux Productions and Theater Schmeater to co-produce A Small History of Amal, Age 7 and I and You, respectively.

“Pratidhwani is an engine that is enabling equity, diversity and inclusion not just within our footprint in performance arts, but well beyond the scope of just our productions,” Kohli said. 


Pratidhwani exists to nourish and nurture the Indian community in Seattle, from both an audience and artist perspective. Kohli, who identifies as a director, producer and actor who happens to be Indian, shared that the organization doesn’t think about diversity and inclusion when programming their season.

“We are creating a space where we naturally tell stories that look ‘diverse’ to the dominant culture of Seattle,” Kohli said. “To us, these are not stories of ‘others’—these stories are not ‘different’. These are our stories. They ground us in a foreign land. They allow us to exist in two different worlds at the same time.”


Identity is at the center of Deaf Spotlight’s work as well. Patty Liang, the organization’s executive director, identifies as Deaf, feminist, Chinese-American and someone who believes strongly in giving back to her community. 

“You cannot ignore the intersecting identities that make you who you are,” Liang said. “As a community member, I want to see the Deaf arts community thrive, especially women and artists of color. I want to help Deaf people succeed as professional artists without having to let go of their dreams.” 

Deaf Spotlight’s mission is to showcase and celebrate Deaf culture and American Sign Language through the arts. 

“Our entire organization is fluent in ASL,” Liang said. “The majority are Deaf, and represent a range of professionals and community members who believe in supporting the Deaf arts community. There is not enough visibility for Deaf artists and their contributions to the art world, and there aren’t enough professional opportunities for Deaf artists to hone their skills. We want to change that.”

In Liang’s experience, most arts organizations don’t plan for Deaf and disabled access. 

“As an artist and an arts administrator, I want the ability to go to any event, any time I want, without having to struggle to request interpreters beforehand,” Liang said. “My professional and artistic growth has been stunted by the lack of options available to me. The same is true for many Deaf and disabled artists.”

I and You
I and You by Lauren Gunderson, a co-production with Theater Schmeater.

Liang understands from experience that making performances accessible takes time and resources. She challenges theatres and other arts organizations to budget for interpreting, captioning, audio descriptions and other neurodiverse and physical accommodations. 

Deaf Spotlight started a short play festival to see Deaf performances, stories and experiences on stage. Kellie Martin, who identifies as both queer and Deaf and uses the pronouns “ze” and “zir,” runs the festival each year. 

“I never thought I would fall in love with theatre,” Martin said. “In college, I realized that theatre is rich with depth in terms of analyzing each character’s role on the stage and the stories that made them who they are. I like to make people think. As an art advocate, I often see the potential in people from my community, and I want to help Deaf artists thrive in their creative fields.”

Martin shared that ze admires the six playwrights who were featured in the 2019 festival. 

“I’m really excited for these playwrights to grow, evolve and to create even more plays with their own authentic experience—rather than having hearing playwrights write for Deaf actors,” Martin shared. “I love seeing the Deaf, hard of hearing and DeafBlind communities have a chance to share their artistic expression.”

Martin is continuing to hone zir craft, but wishes access to workshops, panels and forums was a given. 

“I don’t want to feel frustrated at not having access to these types of professional development opportunities,” Martin said. “I want accessibility available without having to ask in advance, including interpreters and relevant assistive technology.”


Desdemona Chiang, a freelance director who identifies as both Chinese and American, understands that as an Asian female director working nationally, she’s in demand. 

“I’m a commodity,” Chiang joked. “Right? I’m very useful. Because if someone wants to produce Shakespeare, it’s like ‘Oh! We could totally diversify our season if we have Desdemona direct Shakespeare.’ Or if ACT wants to do an Asian play. The fact of the matter is, the number of directors who work on a regional theatre level who can check off ‘Asian’ and check off ‘female’ are very few.”

Chiang walks into any meeting with a LORT (League of Resident Theatres) establishment knowing that she’s valuable because of how she presents. However, Chiang often only sees those diversity boxes checked on the one show she’s hired on. 

“I think what a lot of theatres do, when they’re looking at the leading edge for diversity, is that they look at the plays they’re programming,” Chiang said. “Right? ‘We want to program writers of color.’ Or more female or non-binary writers. And from there, hopefully that opens up some opportunities for the creative team. But I think a lot of times they begin with the text. I think they do it because they have to, not because they want to.”

But that’s not the only way to make change in regional theatre. 

Over the course of our conversation, Chiang brought up Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis, a theatre Jennifer Zeyl also cited as an inspiration for her own work. 

“I don’t question their motives,” Chiang said. “It’s not about inclusivity or diversity. It’s actually about justice. Jack Reuler at Mixed Blood is very concerned about justice and access. And it’s not just about the optical representation of brown bodies on stage. He’s genuinely interested in an economic justice.”

Chiang explained the theatre’s Radical Hospitality program for communities that didn’t have a way to physically get to the theatre. Reuler set up free buses for folks with transportation needs and provided free tickets for low income audience members. 

“This is the tricky part when we’re talking about diversity and inclusion,” Chiang said. “We’re talking about ‘Oh, let’s just show more brown people.’ And I don’t think that’s the solution. And that’s actually pretty problematic. Because what we’re not dealing with is how it affects the injustice in our society.” 

That sounds like an excellent challenge to Seattle theatres.


Danielle Mohlman is a nationally produced feminist playwright and arts journalist based in Seattle. Her play Nexus is among the 2015 Honorable Mentions on The Kilroys list. She is an alumnus of the inaugural class of Playwrights’ Arena at Arena Stage and the 2018 Umbrella Project Writers Group.


Sensory-friendly Performances in Seattle—and Beyond

More than 3.5 million Americans live with autism spectrum disorder. We spoke with five performing arts organizations in the Seattle area who are committed to providing sensory-friendly performances that welcome all families, including those whose children have autism and other sensory sensitive disabilities.

Being an audience member is powerful. Going to the symphony can connect you with a piece of music that feels like it was made for you. Surrounding yourself with opera can feel like communion with the soul. And that perfect piece of theatre will make you forget that you weren’t right on that stage with them. But too often, the performing arts are created for a very specific audience—an audience without sensory sensitive disabilities like autism spectrum disorder. That’s where sensory-friendly performances come in. 

According to the Autism Society of Washington, more than 3.5 million Americans live with autism spectrum disorder. Sensory-friendly performances are spaces created with autistic audiences—often children—in mind. Adjustments are made to productions, including sound levels, house lights and any strobe or other lighting elements that might be directed toward audience members. Designations are also often made to the seating arrangement inside the venue. Certain areas of the theatre are designated as quiet areas, while others allow talking amongst friends and family members. Audiences are free to walk around the theatre or even leave the space—all in the service of creating a performing arts experience that addresses each audience member’s needs.

Taproot Theatre, Village Theatre, Seattle Symphony and Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) all include sensory-friendly performances in their programming. The national tour of The Lion King even included a sensory-friendly performance at The Paramount Theatre earlier this year. 

Spencer Wolfe in The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show at SCT
Spencer Wolfe in The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show at SCT

“I think it’s important to be clear that the goal is not to change the art and the performance,” said Tracy Jirikowic, PhD, OTR/L, associate professor in the Division of Occupational Therapy at the University of Washington. Jirikowic has been researching sensory-friendly performances with her colleague Caroline Umeda, PhD, OTR/L, an assistant professor at Dominican University of California. Together, they’ve worked with performing arts organizations to implement sensory-friendly performances in their seasons, with the goal of creating inclusive spaces for audiences with and without disabilities. 

“Research thus far indicates that families desire an inclusive experience,” Umeda said, “not a ‘special’ experience that isolates individuals with disabilities or specific diagnoses from the rest of society.”

In 2014, Jirikowic attended the Sensory Friendly Summit in Washington, D.C., along with two Seattle Children’s Theatre staff members. She stated that, “this summit—and the collective group of people working on these initiatives nationally and internationally—inspired Seattle Children’s Theatre.” 

Umeda, who at the time was a PhD student at UW, led SCT’s first sensory-friendly performance during the run of Goodnight Moon in March 2015

“For many families who attended it was their first time bringing their child to a play,” Umeda said. “Several parents expressed surprise at how much their child enjoyed and connected with the play and how much they got out of coming.” 

SCT has benefitted greatly from Jirikowic and Umeda’s expertise. Not only does the theatre provide sensory-friendly performances for every production in their season, they also provide a Story Book, introducing autistic children to the building itself with topics such as “The Lobby” and “Entering the Theatre.” The section entitled “My Seat” includes this comforting piece of knowledge: “My seat will always be next to my family. I might have my family on one side of me and a person I don’t know on the other side of me.”

“One of the reasons I was drawn to Seattle Children’s Theatre was its commitment to making an inclusive space for all young people in our region,” said Artistic Director Courtney Sale. When she started at SCT in 2016, the theatre offered sensory-friendly performances for three of the season’s six productions. The next year, they were included in all six. 

“Attending a sensory-friendly show is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job,” Sale shared. “After the sensory-friendly performance of Stellaluna, a mother approached me and shared that this offering truly allowed her daughter to be herself. They felt welcome to verbalize and process the show in a way that might not be encouraged with a predominately neurotypical audience.”

But even with all the joy that comes from sensory-friendly performances, that space presents its own challenges. Umeda flagged marketing as one of the key challenges. Visibility is growing, but there are still many audience members who aren’t aware sensory-friendly performances are an option for them. Another key challenge is a lack of financial resources at the ­ non-profit level. 

“Organizations invested in these inclusion and equity initiatives need financial support to both get these programs off the ground and make them sustainable over time,” Umeda said. “In order to make sensory-friendly programs a reality for non-profit arts organizations, a funding stream is necessary.”

Sarah Diener, Maya Burton, Arika Matoba, Coulson Bingham, Julee Felts and Brad Walker in Taproot Theatre’s 2018 production of A Charlie Brown Christmas
Sarah Diener, Maya Burton, Arika Matoba, Coulson Bingham, Julee Felts and Brad Walker in Taproot Theatre’s 2018 production of A Charlie Brown Christmas

Taproot Theatre began offering sensory-friendly performances of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 2015, after actor Sarah Ware shared her own experiences of creating sensory-friendly performances in graduate school with Associate Artistic Director Karen Lund. And they have continuedever since. 

“After one particular performance, a parent told me what a joy it was for them to be able to enjoy theatre as a family in an atmosphere tailored to their needs,” Ware shared. “It’s really a privilege to be able to serve people in this way. Theatre is for everyone—and everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the art form. Sensory-friendly performances afford people the opportunity to be included in a world that often feels exclusive and out of touch with their needs as a family.”

In addition to many of the sound and lighting adjustments already mentioned, sensory-friendly performances at Taproot begin with a live announcement from the actors. 

“They introduce themselves and let it be known they’re all friends putting on a play together,” Lund explained. “So, if they say mean words in the play, they aren’t really mad at each other. They also remind the audience it’s okay to laugh and just have fun.”

Village Theatre began offering sensory-friendly performances through their Pied Piper series for youth and families during their 2012-13 season. Through the generosity of The Mark and Vickie Fund of the Nysether Family Foundation, Village Theatre is able to offer sensory-friendly performances free of charge. 

General Manager Erica Weir shared that during those first few seasons of sensory-friendly performances, Village Theatre put a lot of stress on themselves to deliver the perfect experience for those audiences. 

“What we started to realize through talking to families,” Weir said, “was that the most important and valuable thing was for the kids and their families to feel welcome and accepted, and that no apologies were needed.” 

Weir elaborated, explaining that every audience member has different needs. Some need to sit still, taking in every detail, while others need to use electronic devices, fidgets or headphones in order to feel comfortable. Some children need to be able to walk around during the performance and others leave before the performance is over. And every experience is accepted and welcome. 

In 2015, Seattle Symphony began exploring ways to make their family programming more inclusive to neuro-diverse children. A board member connected the Symphony with the University of Washington Autism Center and, soon after, the Symphony partnered with Seattle Pacific University’s Music Therapy Program and Music Works Northwest. These partners provided the Seattle Symphony with the resources required to develop sensory-friendly programming as part of their season. 

“The best part of the Sensory Friendly Concerts is seeing families and children able to experience a concert in a comfortable space where they do not have to worry if their child is going to make too much noise or be singled out for acting strangely,” said Collaborative Learning Manager Amy Heald. “What I love most is how the children and families feel comfortable to experience the concert however is best for them. It’s always incredibly rewarding to watch how the children get more comfortable and confident throughout the concert experience. Many are dancing and singing by the end. The dream is for all families to feel welcomed and comfortable attending any family program at the Symphony,” Heald said, “no matter what needs their child may have.”

Seattle Theatre Group experienced their first ever sensory-friendly performance earlier this year with the national tour of The Lion King. 

“Seattle Theatre Group has been receiving a number of emails and thank you letters from audience members expressing their most sincere gratitude,” said Associate Director of Education Marisol Sánchez Best. “I’ve read a number of letters that have stated that this show was the first show they’ve attended as a family. As a parent, this is hard to hear because everyone should be allowed to enjoy a night out as a family in a judgement free environment.”

Sánchez Best hopes that this will be the first of many sensory-friendly performances at the organization. 

“Seattle Theatre Group is the people’s theatre,” Sánchez Best said, “and we are committed to continuing this work for years to come.”

And a commitment to inclusive, welcoming performing arts experiences for audience members with autism spectrum disorder is a commitment we can all get behind.

 

Empowerment Through Teen Activism

Encore asked TeenTix if one of their members from the TeenTix Press Corps program would contribute a piece about what teen activism means to them. Huma Ali shares her experience as an activist and feminist as a teen today.

As I’ve gotten older, activism has become increasingly popular among my peers. Maybe it’s because we desire a sense of belonging, have discovered unwavering principles to hold on to, or seek to create change—each individual has different motivations. But collectively, my generation has found power in our voices. As students, we have begun to speak out about the changes we want to see in society. We’ve planned walkouts, formed clubs and attended protests—we have become activists. But while some of us have pursued activism, another group has set out to bring us down. Growing up among a fairly kind bunch of students, it was unusual to see kids doubt the activism of their peers. Yet, I have come to realize that such a reaction is inherent to activism; someone will always second-guess you.

“Everyone is welcome” sign for Ali’s Feminism Club
“Everyone is welcome” sign for Ali’s Feminism Club

In the seventh grade, I befriended an upper-class student who introduced me to activism and the need for it in today’s world. Until that point, I had been under the impression that conflict was absent in our world. I thought war was a tale of the past, and that we lived in a utopian society. To some extent, I blame my elementary school curriculum for this because every Martin Luther King Day lesson left me, and other students, thinking that racism didn’t exist anymore. Well, I soon realized that’s not true. I learned that the world is not a perfect place. The world probably can’t be perfect, but it can be better. I became an avid human rights activist, labeling myself a feminist. Activism provides an outlet for individuals to support their beliefs in a way they will be heard. The power of their words allows for change, in a society that needs it.

We’ve planned walkouts, formed clubs and attended protests—we have become activists. But while some of us have pursued activism, another group has set out to bring us down. 

Freshman year I joined my high school’s Feminism Club. It was a nice space, quite positive and full of like-minded individuals. But a torrent of hate lingered behind the club. Many students thought it was unnecessary—and some still do. Another group tried to start a “Meninist” club. Many of my peers thought of feminism as a derogatory term, and often called our events, like one of our walkouts, “stupid.” But these people wouldn’t make time to understand the reasons behind our actions. It is safe to say that it wasn’t always easy to be a part of the club. Recently, someone defaced our “Feminism Club! Everyone is Welcome!” poster by adding a line that read “no straight males.” It’s hard to comprehend a student’s motivation behind writing such a comment because our club’s priority is inclusivity. In response, we created an arrow out of tape, at the tail of which was another poster reading, “This is why we need Feminism Club. This type of mentality is exactly what we are trying to overcome. Feminism by nature is inclusive. We hope you will visit our club with an open mind!” I hope they actually come to one of our meetings. If they do, I don’t think I’ll be mad at them for defacing the poster—I’ll be happy they showed up and gave feminism a chance.

Being a teen activist, the most important thing I have learned is that you must stay rooted in your beliefs. People have agendas, intentional or not. You need to know what you are fighting for. There is value in the ideas of others, but there is power in the ideas you form by yourself. Activism empowers youth to fight for their beliefs through a viable means, in which they are given a chance to influence change in our society—at the very least, this is what it has done for me.

Huma Ali is a junior at Lake Washington High School who is passionate about the power of words. She is a patron of the arts, an active writer and works to make teen voices heard through TeenTix’s Press Corps program.


A Man of the People: Edwin Lindo and Estelita’s Library

In an unassuming building that used to be home to a wine bar, a community library and bookstore lies, ready to be explored. With a focus on social justice, ethnic studies and liberation movements, Estelita’s Library is open to anyone and has something for everyone.

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko. To Be Young, Gifted and Black, adapted by Robert Nemiroff. There is no order to the books on the shelves. There is an element of discovery. Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, by Benjamin Schwartz. The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois. Homer’s The Iliad. It’s like someone’s den. A few shelves long against one wall. Another shelf on the far wall with paperbacks. Most of all the books dealing with race, politics, gender, justice. Crazy Laws and Lawsuits: A Collection of Bizarre Court Cases and Legal Rules, by Robert Allen. 

The books on the shelves have been placed there by Edwin Lindo. He’s never run a library before. He teaches at the University of Washington with the Department of Family Medicine. He got his BS in Business Administration/International Relations from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California and a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the UW School of Law. He’s never worked in a bookstore, either. He runs this place—Estelita’s social justice library, bookstore and community space crammed into a little space on Beacon Hill. It’s across the street from El Centro de la Raza and behind a place called Chop House—a beauty salon.

Edwin Lindo (center) in conversation with patrons
Edwin Lindo (center) in conversation with patrons

Estelita’s was in a wine bar. The old counter now has vintage Black Panther comic books in it, old Black Scholar magazines, too. There are “Democracy is Power” postcards available for the taking. On the walls—African masks, tree branches with little bird nests in them (art created by local Briar Bates). Paper skeletons sweep across the front window. There are Che Guevara posters. An upright piano is shoved in by the window. There’s a church pew. There are a couple of tables with burgundy tablecloths on them to read, or commiserate, or to play chess.

The Responsibility of Intellectuals, by Noam Chomsky. The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka. Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela. 

“This is the sort of place I grew up in,” Lindo says. He grew up in the Bay Area to a Nicaraguan father and a Salvadoran mother. His dad would take him to a restaurant where there would frequently be discussions of art and politics, books and the news of the day. 

“I wanted to bring that here,” he says. “I hated books, I didn’t really start reading until after college. It was when I started listening to my elders that I started reading. They told me that books are where the secrets lie.”

The Rights of Indians and Tribes, by Stephen Pevar. Radical Dharma, by Jasmine Syedullah, Lama Rod Owens and Rev. angel Kyodo Williams. Roots, by Alex Haley.

The books on the shelves are mostly his own. It’s an interesting collection. Behind the counter he has piles of The Black Panther newspapers. The official newspaper of the Black Panther Party began in 1967, founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. He believes he may have the greatest collection of them in the world. Approximately 400 editions of the paper were created. He’s got 380 of them. He’s angling to get the whole set. “I tried to show them off to Bobby Seale. He said, ‘Cool, cool.’” 

A collection of postcards at Estilita’s
A collection of postcards at Estilita’s

The library is named after his daughter, Estelita, and opened in March 2018. The library operates through membership. From $30 to $50 or so, you can have access to the books (about 1,200 are in circulation now and he’s always looking for suitable donations) and have the books for a two-week stretch. Currently, Estelita has 336 members. “It’s amazing,” Lindo says of the growth. And more, the non-profit is already growing. He’s received a grant from the city to open a second location. It’ll be in the Central District. Plans are still being formulated.

The Quran. How to Rap, by Paul Edwards. The Macho Paradox, by Jackson Katz.

More than a place for knowledge to decentralize, it’s a place for the community to gather—play chess, have conversations with strangers, debate. Eager to bring people off the street, Lindo is also wanting to partner with like-minded community organizations. He wants to offer classes, book talks, lectures. “My wife asks me why I spend so much time here,” Lindo says. “It’s because I love it. I can spend hours here—jazz playing on the speakers, people coming in to talk, all these books.”

The Negro Revolution in America, by Louis Harris and William Brink. Native Son, by Richard Wright. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi.

Teenagers sit in the corner of the shop, peruse the titles and chitchat. It’s raining outside and they didn’t want to go home quite yet. Two old women come in, warmly chatting. Two thirty-somethings come in soon after. They ask Lindo about that night’s poetry open mic. “It’s been cancelled,” Lindo says, reluctantly. But then, “That doesn’t mean you can’t have it anyway,” Lindo tells them. 

The old women sit at a table with the thirty-somethings. They don’t know each other. They introduce themselves. They start talking. They get to know each other.

“That,” Lindo says, smiling. “That right there is what this is all about.”


Introducing Millennial Audiences to Theatre

Playwright Danielle Mohlman reflects on a three-year effort to bring Millennial audiences to Seattle theatre and her hopes for the future of this theatre group.

When I moved to Seattle in 2015, I didn’t know anyone involved in theatre. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who even enjoyed going to the theatre. So rather than learn a new city and the seemingly infinite number of theatres that came with it all by myself, I made a rational choice: I created a group for Millennials to experience theatre together. 

The first outing I planned was to see Come from Away at Seattle Repertory Theatre in December 2015. Only two friends joined me in the audience that night, but it remains the most talked about outing—even three years later. But here’s the thing: I didn’t know Come from Away was going to blow up the way it did. I couldn’t have predicted a cast album, a Broadway run and a national tour that sells out houses almost every night. And I remind these regretful friends of this fact: I can do all the research in the world, but at the end of the day I’m inviting them to take a chance on a new play with me. 

I started with an email list of ten Millennials who wanted to give theatre a try. The list has now grown to forty theatre lovers, including folks who work in the industry but want to make friends while seeing new plays. The group started as a pay-what-you-can experience, but we’ve moved away from that as folks become more comfortable spending money on theatre. And while the original scope was broad—“Let’s see some plays!”—we now exclusively attend plays written by female and non-binary playwrights, playwrights of color and LGBTQIA+ playwrights. 

“You have been a huge influence on me from an arts perspective,” Greg Socha, a marketing manager in his early 30s told me. “My go-to entertainment option used to be microwaveable popcorn and Netflix. And it still is. But I’ve realized that I love having the theatre as something to look forward to.”

Over the summer, I talked Socha into subscribing to the 5th Avenue Theatre with me. They were running a special on preview performances and I, knowing what a big fan of musicals he is, immediately reached out to him.

“I was counting down the days until we saw Come from Away—so worth it,” Socha said to me. “At this point, I’m getting more comfortable with actually making arts plans. I’ve even invited you to stuff!”

It’s true. Last season, Socha went with me to see two shows, The Impossibility of Now at Thalia’s Umbrella and Patti & the Kid at On the Boards, neither of which we connected with. It turned out our favorite show all year was Two Trains Running at Seattle Rep—a play that Socha invited me to. 

“One year ago, I wouldn’t have even considered going, or at the least would have talked myself out of it but knowing that I had a theatre buddy made me reach out,” Socha said. “When we actually got to the theatre, I would say that I was nervously excited. I was hoping we would have a good time, but you never know.”

Socha was put at ease five minutes into the performance and at intermission we were both beaming. 

Siddhi R. Ghai, a volunteer festival coordinator at Tasveer, has been with this group from the beginning. While she was living in India, she’d often see one or two plays a month. When I learned about Pratidhwani, Seattle’s only South Asian theatre company, I knew that Ghai was going to be a fan. 

“The few Pratidhwani plays we went to, Queen and A Small History of Amal, Age 7, were very interesting for me because I got to share a little bit of my culture with you,” Ghai told me.

She added that she loved getting all the cultural references without having to think about it. When we attended A Small History of Amal, Age 7 earlier this season—a play Ghai invited me to—she grabbed my arm as soon as we walked into the theatre. She was having a visceral reaction to the sound design—audio from a train station in Mumbai, the city where she grew up. 

When I asked her what it’s been like to see plays in a group setting, with people she may or may not know, her response was overwhelmingly positive. 

“Before meeting you, I never had the opportunity to discuss plays with a diverse group or people who I don’t know,” Ghai said to me. “It’s so interesting to get different perspectives because I feel it helps us expand our own cultural horizons.”

Jennifer Voorn, a manager of product management in the healthcare IT sector, has also gotten a lot out of these group outings. She’s part of the theatre group’s origin story and, along with Ghai, attended that first performance of Come from Away with me. In the last year, she’s come with me to see The Crucible and The Wolves at ACT Theatre, Native Gardens at Intiman Theatre and The Impossibility of Now

“I have greatly enjoyed meeting new people and hearing their perspective,” Voorn said. “I also enjoy experiencing the different levels of response a group can have to the same piece of art, in terms of what can make someone laugh, cry or be visibly uncomfortable. It’s amazing how the same piece of art can impact people so similarly—or so differently!”

Last season, Voorn took visiting family to see Into the Woods at Village Theatre. And, of course, she took a chance on some last-minute tickets to see Hamilton with her husband at The Paramount. 

“We bought last minute tickets on SeatGeek thirty minutes before the show,” Voorn said. “I was so nervous we wouldn’t make it to the venue on time. Once we arrived downtown, the smile on my face was so big. I will always remember that night.”

Melissa Herrett folded into my theatre group when she moved to Seattle in 2016, but a new dog and a job that requires her to travel has prevented a more consistent theatre habit. 

“I do see more shows now but that’s mainly because you invite me,” Herrett told me, adding that she wants to start bringing theatre into date nights with her boyfriend, substituting plays for the standby of dinner and a movie. 

Herrett did see Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore at ACT and The Impossibility of Now with the group this year.

“I prefer seeing shows with other people because my favorite part about them is being able to discuss after the fact,” Herrett said. “It’s nice to go together so you all have the experience of seeing the same performance. It would also be interesting to discuss a show that someone saw on a different night or at a different theatre and discuss how things varied from performance to performance.” 

Marissa Spiegel, an accountant, also enjoys the group outings. 

“I think it’s really fantastic to go see plays with a variety of people,” Spiegel said. “I think the people around you can really influence the show—not just the people you know there but the rest of the audience as well.” 

Spiegel attended group outings to see The Wolves and The Impossibility of Now. For The Wolves, Spiegel stayed with me to participate in the post-show discussion, which meant a lot to me. 

“My favorite type of experience has been when there is a group of people that has never seen the show and has 

relatively little context or background knowledge,” Spiegel said. “It’s great to see the show with a group that has fresh eyes to digest and talk about it afterwards.”

I have big dreams for the future of this group. I average about one theatre outing each month, but I’d love to get to a point where those outings happen on a day that people can count on—the first Wednesday of the month, for example. I’d love to create partnerships with local restaurants, so audience members can gather for a discounted drink or appetizer after the show and talk about what they just saw. I’d love to expand my network beyond Millennials I know, encouraging regulars to bring a friend along each time. And I’d love theatres across Seattle to work together to incentivize a younger audience base, rather than treating ticket sales like a competition for resources. 

But for now, while this is still an endeavor run by a volunteer staff of one, the most important thing I can do is keep planning events. 

I wish I could say that in the last three years, the group has grown exponentially and that every single event is a rousing success. But that would be a lie. Sometimes I email my group of forty and the only person who responds is my husband. Sometimes I can’t even get him to come with me. But I keep coming back, I keep putting in the work and I keep growing my network. Because I know these audience members count on me to take a chance on something new with them. And that’s enough to keep me going.


How to Start Your Own Arts Group

Excited about introducing your friends to more art? Start your own group for art lovers.

Choose a focus.

Danielle decided to choose theatre as her group’s focus, but yours could focus on dance, the symphony or even museums! Identify folks in your friend group who are curious about your passion and you’re on your way. 

Pick a performance.

Identify a performance that’s interesting to you and check Goldstar and TodayTix for discounts before you buy. Most performing arts organizations offer discounts for groups of ten or more, so be sure to check in with the box office if your group is large enough. 

Make a night of it.

Invite your group to get dinner before the performance or gather for a post-show drink. Not only is it a fun way to create community, it’s also the perfect place to download what you’ve just seen or excitedly anticipate what you’re about to see. 

Keep it going.

The key to a successful arts group is to just keep scheduling outings. Not every outing has to be a roaring success with fifteen of your friends. Sometimes only one or two others will be able to attend. That’s okay! Any opportunity to introduce friends to art is a success in our book.


In Search of Artistic Community: My Year with the Umbrella Project Writers Group

Every time I walk into The Cloud Room, I remind myself to breathe. Inhale one, two, three. Exhale one, two, three. It’s a stage direction I’ve included in my plays more than once—a necessary one because it’s a reminder to trust, to let go, to be vulnerable. This Capitol Hill co-working space is more than a place to gather and share new work. It’s also the place where I’ve shared my most vulnerable work: new pages from a script that terrifies me, its creator. Inhale one, two, three. Exhale one, two, three. 

When Sara Keats, Umbrella Project’s director of dramaturgy, told me she was starting a writers’ group, I was immediately interested. I’d been kicking around the idea of writing a play about the fanaticism of college football and the way campuses address rape allegations when players are involved. 

Most of my plays come from a place of rage and Rushing was no different. I’d read Missoula by Jon Krakauer and Unsportsmanlike Conduct by Jessica Luther, two books that report on sexual violence at the hands of Division I football players. I spoke with mentors about the topic—including one playwright who’s made his career on the football as hero’s journey story—and everyone was very encouraging. But I’m a playwright—a particularly anxious one. And no matter how much encouragement I receive, it’s not going to change the fact that I ultimately need to write the play alone. And, for this play, that was a terrifying idea. Which is why, when Umbrella Project accepted me into their inaugural Writers Group, I knew that this was the play I wanted to write. 

Umbrella Project’s work stems from a philosophy of radical dramaturgy. For Sara Keats, that means a flexible, dynamic and anti-oppressive artistic practice that marries more traditional dramaturgical practices with producing, advocating for and generally being incredibly involved in a new play’s journey from first page to final production. 

“The Umbrella Project Writers Group was, in a lot of ways, a natural outgrowth of our mission as an organization,” Keats said. “Umbrella Project is all about serving plays and playwrights, and we think the best way to do that is to inspire and empower new play dramaturgs.” 

She added that most good playwrights have a dramaturgical streak within them, one that’s often activated within the confines of a writers’ group. But it’s a different experience altogether to be part of a cohort solely as a dramaturg. 

“The biggest difference between Writers Group at Umbrella Project and other script development opportunities is that the dramaturgs are there from the beginning,” Keats said. 

In addition to the sheer amount of dramaturgical support, Keats is proud of the flexibility the Writers Group timeline offers. While I used the February to December calendar to write a first draft of Rushing, Seayoung Yim used our monthly meetings to get feedback on Summoning Frankie, a play that was produced at Seattle Public Theater. Now that the show has closed, she’s oscillating between bringing in new drafts and starting a completely new play. Meme García is working on an adapted play but paused midway through to bring in new pages of House of Sueños in advance of their 18th & Union and Bumbershoot performances. And Brandon J. Simmons came into the Writers Group with a play he’d been simmering on for a long time—but ultimately decided to start writing an entirely new play just a few months before our showcase. 

Simmons says that the most challenging part of the Writers Group is his struggle to simply write. 

“Umbrella Project is all about serving plays and playwrights, and we think the best way to do that is to inspire and empower new play dramaturgs.”

“Having space and time to work on a piece I’ve been struggling with for years allowed me to actually explore the limits of the idea before moving on to something more interesting,” Simmons said. “Goldberg is no longer nagging at the back of my brain. It’s effectively been put to rest, and I have space for new ideas.”

Yim applied to the Writers Group because she’s always admired the artists who make up Umbrella Project. She’s found that the most rewarding part has been meeting other playwrights and digging into their artistic processes. 

“I have worked with Erin Bednarz, the director of engagement, on previous productions of my play Do It for Umma and she’s an amazing delight,” Yim said. “I’ve found the Umbrella Project folks are a brilliant and kind group, so I knew I would really enjoy working with them.”

Summoning Frankie, the play she’s spent the most time with in Writers Group, is a nod to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. It’s a comedy about a magical school, but it’s also a play that tackles classism, gender and the politics surrounding school funding. 

“Writing about wizardry is something completely foreign to me, but I’ve been surprised how much I enjoyed making magical elements up,” Yim said. “It’s also the first time I’ve written for an all youth cast and it was really challenging and fun to write for that age group.”

García applied to the Writers Group because they wanted to see how other playwrights work and what their process is like. 

“I’m a relatively new playwright,” García said. “My play, tnc, isn’t exactly autobiographical, but I’ve been exploring what the concept of love looks like through queer Latinx eyes. Many of the speeches or songs in the play are poems I’ve written about people in my life. So, having them read aloud is oddly cathartic but also terrifying. As a genderqueer Latinx person who is not out to their family, the concept of love tends to simmer inside me until it bursts forth in erratic ways. What would it look like if the poems I write could just be said aloud, spoken for the world to hear, not hidden? What does love look like in a world where Latinx people are being detained, imprisoned and shunned? How do we continue to love in a time so bent on hate?”

The play García has been spending the most time on in Writers Group is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, simply titled tnc. It’s set on the border of Texas and Mexico in 2025 and is about a group of Latinx guerrilla soldiers fighting against a white supremacist, patriarchal United States. García came up with the idea earlier this year, when they were yelled at for speaking Spanish on the bus here in Seattle. 

“As a Latinx person there are very few instances where I have felt true power on stage or in a rehearsal room,” García said. “Spaces and productions were not designed for my body in this current political climate. My past traumas and fears are never taken into account and I frequently feel like a commodity—on display and dancing for white theater-goers and artists. I cannot express how many times I’ve been asked to use my “native dialect” on stage—or how many times I’ve had to play a prostitute or a maid. These stories, while important, do not reflect the true nature of Latinx communities. We are so much more diverse than that. I wanted to write plays which place Latinx folx at the heart of the story. I wanted to create epic worlds of war, love and loss. And I wanted it now!” 

Sara Keats (left), Umbrella Project Writers Group director of dramaturgy with Writers Group dramaturgs Rachel M.E. Wolfe (center) and Iphigenia Rising (right)
Sara Keats (left), Umbrella Project Writers Group director of dramaturgy with Writers Group dramaturgs Rachel M.E. Wolfe (center) and Iphigenia Rising (right)

Of course, these four plays wouldn’t be the same without the army of dramaturgs we’ve been fortunate to work with. Andrea Kovich, one of the four Writers Group dramaturgs, considers the collaboration among playwrights and dramaturgs the most rewarding part of the program. 

“So far in my career, I’ve done more production dramaturgy, which involves a lot of solitary work,” Kovich said. “It’s not until rehearsals start that a dramaturg really gets to engage with others and have meaningful conversations. Some local theatres and directors recognize the value of having a production dramaturg, but it’s not as common here that a dramaturg has been involved in the development of the script. Having an organization like Umbrella Project that recognizes what dramaturgs can do for new plays is hugely important to the creation of new work in Seattle.”

Mario Gomez has also enjoyed the energy of the cohort. 

“Most of my script development work had been one on one with the playwrights, where we’re both focusing on the same project,” Gomez said. “In the Umbrella Project Writers Group, we’re working with four playwrights and four dramaturgs, which makes for a completely different dynamic!”

And while that dynamic is exciting, it also presents its own set of challenges.

“For me, the challenge is that there are eight other people in the room—smart and talented playwrights and dramaturgs—all giving valuable insights and feedback,” Gomez said. “This makes it hard for me to find the balance between the amount and type of contributions I make, while leaving enough space for everyone to contribute and, especially, making sure that the playwrights receive the feedback and support they are looking for in each meeting.”

Dramaturg Rachel M. E. Wolfe has loved seeing her impact show up on the page. 

“Seeing my suggestions surface in the next version of a script has been pretty rewarding, I’m not going to lie!” Wolfe said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction and validation in knowing that you’ve helped shape a play into the best version of itself that it can be.”

What Iphigenia Rising most appreciates about the Writers Group is the time she’s been able to spend with playwrights this year. 

“Many of the new work opportunities that I’ve been part of before have been a month or two long—super short—so having a whole year to work with four different playwrights and see their journey is really amazing,” Rising said. 

From the beginning I knew that Rushing was going to be in good hands in Writers Group, but I couldn’t articulate why. I started this play with so many doubts—maybe I’m not qualified enough to write about football, maybe I’m not smart enough to tell this story, maybe this isn’t a play at all and I’m trying to force something that will never be. I still have some of those doubts. But Writers Group gives me the energy to keep going. These artists care for me—and my characters. They question my choices and remind me of seeds I planted in early scenes. They challenge me to be better. And isn’t that the dream?

The Umbrella Project Writers Group showcase runs December 7–16. Find out more at umbrellaprojectnw.org.

The Future (of Seattle Theatre) is Female

Female playwright-director teams are still a rarity nationwide, but this fall is full of women-led projects. Danielle Mohlman explores four plays coming to Seattle that showcase the talent, wit and power of women.

According to a nationwide study conducted by Theatre Communications Group, during the 2016–17 theatre season, only 26% of produced plays were written by female playwrights. This statistic is personal to me. I’m a female-identifying playwright working nationally. I’m a speck on that scale, but I do count. Which is why I’m a little ashamed to say I was actually excited to see this number. For several years, I’d been telling folks that female playwrights make up only 20% of produced plays. That six percent jump—that’s huge! 

I don’t have to tell you that 26% is an abysmal statistic. And this number doesn’t even include plays by genderqueer and non-binary folks, which only make up 0.004% of produced plays nationwide. 

But theatre companies across Seattle are doing their part to balance the scales and bring gender parity to their stages. I had the opportunity to speak with women championing other women—artists from Seattle Repertory Theatre, ArtsWest, Washington Ensemble Theatre and Seattle Public Theatre. These theatres are not only producing plays by female playwrights, they’re also enlisting female directors to take the reins. Females are strong as hell, y’all. 

Carey Perloff, director of A Thousand Splendid Suns at Seattle Repertory Theatre, fell in love with Khaled Hosseini’s novel—of the same name—as soon as she read it. She was directing Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, a play set in the Middle East, at the time and turned to Hosseini’s novel as a piece of research and inspiration. She found the novel so richly drawn, so captivating, that she wanted to see the story on stage—as soon as possible. Perloff, then the artistic director of A.C.T. in San Francisco, met with Hosseini, who lives in the Bay Area, and asked if he would consider allowing A.C.T. to adapt his novel for the stage. 

“For the most part, when we read news about Afghanistan it focuses on war and destruction,” Perloff said. “But A Thousand Splendid Suns is a gorgeous story of three generations of women over a twenty-five-year period, forging a very unlikely friendship and finding love—and even joy—in a whole new future, amidst political chaos.”

Once Hosseini agreed to the adaptation, Perloff set out to find the perfect playwright for the job. She was familiar with Ursula Rani Sarma’s writing through a play produced at A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory. Perloff was drawn to the poetry of Sarma’s playwriting. 

“She has a stunning visual sense and an ability to convey extreme emotion without excess,” Perloff said. Sarma had experience writing adaptations, which was important to Perloff. But more importantly, she had a connection to Afghanistan and the characters Hosseini had created. “She knew the part of the world that Khaled was writing about, so her lens was personal, intimate and true.” 

The play just finished a run at A.C.T. in San Francisco, part of a planned collaboration between A.C.T. and Seattle Repertory Theatre. 

“I have always found Seattle audiences to be adventurous, engaged and generous,” Perloff said. “I also know that Seattle audiences are excited about work from diverse cultures and multiple points of view. This is such an unusual piece in every way, both in terms of form and content, so it’s exciting to think of it playing in a city with such a strong theatre tradition and a really committed public.”

Perloff was quick to add that this isn’t a literal adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel. Rather, it’s a reimagining—utilizing all the tools of theatre at its disposal, including live scoring using found instruments like saws and bed springs to create the music of this world. 

“Seattle is in for a treat!” Perloff said. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns runs October 5 to November 10 at Seattle Repertory Theatre. 


Jason Bowen, Caroline Stefanie Clay and Shannon Dorsey in Skeleton Crew at Studio Theatre
Jason Bowen, Caroline Stefanie Clay and Shannon Dorsey in Skeleton Crew at Studio Theatre

Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, the final play in her three-play cycle “The Detroit Projects,” was the third most produced play in the United States last season. It’s also the play that ArtsWest has chosen to open their 2018–19 season—an ensemble drama about one of the last auto stamping plants in Detroit and the people who work there. 

Jay O’Leary, the play’s director, describes Skeleton Crew as a play about survival and having power over your own soul. 

Skeleton Crew explores how we persevere,” O’Leary said. “The humans within this play are very good at what they do. They are funny. They are smart. They are passionate. The key to surviving and thriving in life in general is how we fight. Do we fight with the soul in mind or do we fight with bitterness and ugliness within our hearts? These questions directly apply to our socio-political climate right now. The more ugliness we give, the more ugliness we receive.”

O’Leary added that not only are these characters dealing with how to survive a potential job loss, they’re also navigating morality and whether their definition of right and wrong can change when their hopes, dreams, even their next meal, are all in jeopardy. 

O’Leary discovered Morisseau’s plays at a point of frustration. 

“I was screaming about how desperately we need playwrights who are female-identifying artists of color,” O’Leary said. “My friend tossed over “The Detroit Projects” and I was immediately in awe of this woman’s power and poetry. Dominique Morisseau’s words sing and pulsate and thump their rhythms into the marrow of your bones. That’s how she builds up the humans of her scripted worlds—from the universal dust that creates the sack of blood and water which cradle our souls.”

She added that the people in Morisseau’s plays are so rarely seen depicted on stage and screen as fully fleshed out human beings, rather than grotesque stereotypes. 

“The fact that I, a young woman of color, get to direct this piece out here in very white Seattle means that the seats at the table are shifting,” O’Leary said. And she’s determined not only to take that seat, but to make the table bigger than it’s ever been. “Because who the hell wants to eat the same bland meal with the same exact people over and over again? I don’t, and neither do you.”

Skeleton Crew runs September 20 to October 14 at ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery. 


Kevin Kelly, Cheyenne Barton and Kiki Abba from Everything You Touch at Washington Ensemble Theatre
Kevin Kelly, Cheyenne Barton and Kiki Abba from Everything You Touch at Washington Ensemble Theatre

Maggie Rogers discovered Sheila Callaghan’s playwriting her senior year of high school. She was auditioning for college acting programs and fell in love with a monologue from Tumor

“Sheila Callaghan’s work keeps popping up in my life as a constant reminder to take risks,” Rogers said. “Her work is exciting to me because she doesn’t apologize or write ‘pretty’ people. Her characters are raw, visceral and in your face.”

Years later, Rogers is directing the Northwest premiere of Everything You Touch at Washington Ensemble Theatre, her directing debut with the company. 

“What I love so much about this play is that it is a love letter to every person who thought they were not enough,” Rogers said. “It bluntly tackles body image, food shaming, anxiety and the horrors of going home, in a way that deeply resonates with my dark sense of humor.”

And she knows it’s a play that Seattle needs right now. 

“Seattle loves to pride itself on being politically correct, but I feel like fat shaming is the only widely accepted prejudice in the city, and the country for that matter,” Rogers said. “When I moved to Seattle I found that I was often the fattest person in the room and a hot commodity on the Tinder dating scene. Over the past three years I have grappled with being called fat—on public transit, by drunk dudes on Capitol Hill—and have investigated why it hurts so badly, even though I know a stranger’s opinion should not hold any weight.”

Samie Smith Detzer, Washington Ensemble Theatre’s artistic director, agrees that now is the perfect time to produce this play. 

“This play is particularly potent when you consider that we have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding the degree to which our society believes that our bodies do not personally belong to us,” Detzer said. “This play explores how we can own our bodies. Plus, it’s funny! And witty! And raunchy! And sweet!”

In addition to being a prolific playwright and writer and executive producer on Shameless, Sheila Callaghan is also a founding member of The Kilroys, a group of female-identifying playwrights and producers dedicated to achieving gender parity on stage. 

“The Kilroys have exposed a messed-up system that was essentially created to keep marginalized voices and identities out of the conversation,” Detzer said. “They took the idea that there are no great women or trans playwrights and completely struck it down. What an amazing gift they have given us, the ability to move on to the next important question: Why the f— aren’t these plays being produced?”

Everything You Touch runs September 21 to October 8 at 12th Avenue Arts. 


Cast of Fade at Primary Stages
Cast of Fade at Primary Stages

Washington Ensemble Theatre isn’t the only company in town working with a Kilroys founder. Tanya Saracho, perhaps best known as the showrunner of Vida, is also fighting for nationwide gender parity on stage. Her play Fade opens at Seattle Public Theatre this month. 

“The Kilroys are such a valuable resource for me,” said Director Pilar O’Connell. “The celebration of female and female-identifying playwrights and folks of color is incredibly important.” 

O’Connell first encountered Saracho’s work when she was in college. She was researching Latinx artists working nationally and stumbled upon Teatro Luna in Chicago, a theatre company Saracho co-founded with collaborator Coya Paz. O’Connell dug deeper, read-
ing every Saracho play she could find. 

“I was drawn to Fade because I was looking for a smart show that gave me a different perspective of the Latinx experience,” O’Connell said. “This play addresses the idea of classism within your own culture, and although it is a Latinx story, I think it’s universally relatable.”

O’Connell added that she loves Saracho’s style—witty and realistic with just a hint of film magic. It’s a combination that’s incredibly appealing to actors. 

Seattle Public Theatre’s co-artistic director, Annie Lareau, is looking forward to sharing this play with Seattle audiences.

“We were drawn to Fade because of the intersectional conversation it presents around class, culture and the price of ambition many women and women of color face in white and male dominated professions,” Lareau said. “Through this microcosm of a play, we see the larger struggles faced by women in the workplace—all while calling into question the world of television and how it perpetuates dangerous stereotypes and the responsibility we have for shifting them.”

Fade runs October 12 to November 4 at Seattle Public Theatre. 


This fall—and throughout the entire 2018–19 theatre season—make a commitment to see more plays by female and non-binary playwrights. Dig into The Kilroys list, reward theatres that demonstrate gender parity on their stages. Because who knows? You may be part of a national shift, one that will make today’s 26% feel like ancient history.

 

The Next Generation of Arts Advocates

When you think about the board that supports your favorite performing arts organization chances are you’re picturing an older sect—folks who are established in their careers, have saved for retirement and have money to spare. It’s a group, when imagined this way, that’s difficult to join and impossible to keep up with. But what if I were to tell you that performing arts boards come in all shapes and sizes, and that some are even actively recruiting young people into their fold? I had the pleasure of speaking with members of the BRAVO! Council at Seattle Opera, Young Patrons Circle at Pacific Northwest Ballet and New Guard at TeenTix—three organizations that are not only recruiting Millennial and Generation Z board members, they’re also training the next generation of arts advocates. 

In 1996, Seattle Opera founded BRAVO!, a young professionals group aimed at audience members ages 21 to 39. For an annual fee of $79, BRAVO! members receive discounted opera tickets, invites to year-round social events and access to an exclusive intermission lounge, complete with complimentary wine and coffee. Now in its twenty-second year, BRAVO! is one of the largest organizations of its kind nationwide. 

But BRAVO! would be nowhere without its council members. Nine dedicated young professionals run this leadership board with the mission to make opera an integral and rewarding part of their peers’ lives. 

BRAVO! Council member Evan Bennett has been an opera fan nearly half his life. The 32-year-old joined BRAVO! a year ago, after leaving a position in the opera’s community engagement department. 

“The first thing I did once I left my position was to join BRAVO! as a member,” Bennett said. This year marks his first season as a BRAVO! Council member. “I genuinely love the art form and joining Council is a meaningful way for me to help get people my age involved in a centuries-old tradition.” 

It’s an art form that Bennett and the rest of the BRAVO! Council are passionate about—one that still resonates with audiences today. 

“You certainly don’t need a music degree to be a part of this group,” Bennett joked, nodding to his own background in music performance and as an employee of Seattle Opera. “Everyone on the council has come to opera in different ways. This diversity of experience has been an excellent catalyst for innovation around how to get people in their twenties and thirties involved in the art form.”

Young professionals groups are cropping up at performing arts organizations across the country, but Seattle Opera credits the vitality of BRAVO! to its council members. 

“… folks under 40 years old are not only a growing demographic in Seattle Opera audiences but also a growing donor base.”

“BRAVO! has over 800 members and almost all of them are season ticket holders,” said Kristina Murti, director of marketing and communications at Seattle Opera. Murti credits council members like Bennett and Eoin Hudson, BRAVO! Council president, for this conversion rate. “Our council is very active in programming events and bringing in their own professional and personal networks to try out opera.”

The numbers don’t lie. Hudson joined the leadership council in 2013 and since that time BRAVO! membership has more than doubled—it had less than 400 members when he joined. 

“In that time there’s been a lot of change—at the opera and in Seattle,” Hudson said. The change he’s most excited about is the fact that folks under 40 years old are not only a growing demographic in Seattle Opera audiences but also a growing donor base. “It’s exciting to see the art form being embraced by my generation and watching the preconceptions about opera shift.”

When I asked Hudson which opera he was most looking forward to this season, he named Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The ghost story will be performed in October, just in time for Halloween. 

Seattle Opera patrons interested in joining BRAVO! or the BRAVO! Council can learn more at seattleopera.org

Seattle Opera isn’t the only arts organization prompting their young audience members to get involved in the world of non-profit board leadership. For $60 a year, Pacific Northwest Ballet audience members ages 21 to 39 can enroll in the Young Patrons Circle, a social and educational group that offers ticket discounts, ballet after–parties and the collective sponsorship of an original piece of choreography at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual NEXT STEP performance. 

Young Patrons Circle’s Night with a Choreographer fundraising event to benefit PNB’s NEXT STEP program
Young Patrons Circle’s Night with a Choreographer fundraising event to benefit PNB’s NEXT STEP program

A fifteen-member board of directors serves as leadership liaisons for the Young Patrons Circle with the mission of supporting and engaging this new generation of ballet audiences. 

Meeka Charles was wrapping up her first year as board chair when we spoke. In addition to growing the Pacific Northwest Ballet audience, Charles has worked with the board to develop the ballet’s marketing and social media campaigns. Ballet has been a part of her life for over twenty-five years. 

“I grew up overseas and moved often,” Charles said. “Attending ballet was something my mother and I did together no matter where we lived. When I moved to Seattle, buying ballet tickets was one of the first things I did. For me, attending the ballet makes a new place feel like home.”

Charles added that she loves engaging her peers in ballet. It’s the reason she joined the board. 

Pacific Northwest Ballet is personal for Board Member Emily J. Yamada too. The Young Patrons Circle Board of Directors enjoys a rotating leadership structure and Yamada is preparing to begin her first year as chair. But it won’t be her first time in the Pacific Northwest Ballet spotlight. 

“I was a ballet student and amateur dancer from early childhood into early adulthood,” Yamada said, sharing that she studied at Pacific Northwest Ballet for six of those years. “I got to perform in The Nutcracker, which I loved. I’ve always admired the incredible company dancers.” 

In the years since her Nutcracker performance, Yamada has lived all over the world and has always made ballet attendance a priority.

“I can see why Pacific Northwest Ballet has such a reputation for excellence in the global dance community,” Yamada shared. “It was an easy decision to become a subscriber when I moved back to Seattle.”

During her upcoming year as chair of the board of directors, Yamada is hoping to expand Young Patrons Circle’s relationship with not only young patrons, but also other young professionals groups across Seattle. And, of course, continue the board’s work hosting events tailored to the interests and needs of Young Patrons Circle members. 

Pacific Northwest Ballet audience members interested in joining Young Patrons Circle and its corresponding board of directors can learn more at www.pnb.org.

Thirteen– to nineteen–year–olds across Seattle and Tacoma know that TeenTix is the performing arts organization to join. For the duration of their teenage years, TeenTix members are eligible for $5 day-of tickets to arts organizations across the region. The organization is supported by a passionate staff and two boards—an advisory council and The New Guard Leadership Board, an eight-member board made up entirely of TeenTix members. 

Neha Gupta joined the New Guard because she wanted to strengthen her leadership and public speaking skills. She fell in love with TeenTix because it gave her the opportunity to see theatre and attend museums without worrying about each organization’s price point. She still loves seeing as much theatre as she can, but it’s the people that make Gupta’s work worthwhile. 

“The New Guard Leadership Board is the home of some of the most talented, inspirational and kind-hearted individuals I have ever met,” Gupta said. She identifies as reliable, but shy. “The Leadership Board, as cheesy as it sounds, forced me to break out of my shell.” 

This season, Gupta is taking over as the New Guard Director of Partnerships, working with TeenTix’s arts partners to organize events and strengthen their bond with the teen community. 

Isabel Schmidt joined the New Guard Leadership Board because she was eager to connect with arts lovers in her peer group. Schmidt became a member of TeenTix as soon as she was eligible but took advantage of TeenTix’s 2-for-$10 days as her friends’ plus one in the years leading up to her thirteenth birthday. She’s going on her fourth year as a member of the New Guard, this time as the board’s president. 

“My favorite thing I’ve done on the New Guard has been giving advice to arts organizations in the city who are interested in highlighting youth voices and want advice on how to reach this important group of audience members,” Schmidt said. “I appreciate being valued as an arts-goer. As we say at TeenTix, teens know what teens want.” 

Schmidt also loves having thought–provoking conversations with her peers and TeenTix’s arts partners about what arts access really means. When she’s not serving on the New Guard—and going to high school—Schmidt enjoys playing cello. She cited Seattle Symphony’s upcoming Octave 9 space, an immersive performance and community space in the heart of downtown Seattle, as a place to watch. 

“I’m looking forward to Seattle Opera’s coming season,” Schmidt said. “There are a lot of impressive shows coming up!”

Watch out, BRAVO! Council, Isabel Schmidt might be coming for your job. 

TeenTix members interested in joining The New Guard Leadership Board can learn more at teentix.org.

Whether you’re a teen, a twenty-something or solidly in your thirties, chances are there’s a place for you on a performing arts board here in Seattle. The first step is to show up. We’ll let you take it from there.


Danielle Mohlman is a nationally produced feminist playwright based in Seattle. Her play Nexus is among the 2015 Honorable Mentions on The Kilroys list. She is an alumnus of the inaugural class of Playwrights’ Arena at Arena Stage and a member of the 2018 Umbrella Project Writers Group.


Our Favorite Ticket Deals for Folks Under 40

Not ready to join one of the boards profiled? There are still plenty of opportunities to see theatre, dance and opera at an affordable price. Here are some of our favorites. 

Club 20/30

Club 20/30 is Seattle Repertory Theatre’s free program for audience members in their 20s and 30s. Single tickets at Seattle Repertory Theatre start at $17, but Club 20/30 members are eligible for seat upgrades, happy hour pricing at the theatre’s bar and free ticket exchanges. 

The Pointe

The Pointe is Pacific Northwest Ballet’s email list for audience members ages 20 to 40. Throughout the year, The Pointe sends out discounts ranging from $15 balcony seats to 50% off any seat in McCaw Hall. 

TeenTix

If you’re 13 to 19 years old and live in the greater Puget Sound area, you’re eligible for TeenTix. Members are eligible for $5 day-of-show tickets at partner organizations across Seattle and Tacoma—including Taproot Theatre, ACT Theatre, Book-It Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre and many more.

MySymphony

MySymphony is Seattle Symphony’s free program for patrons ages 21 to 39. Members are eligible for $25 tickets to performances at Benaroya Hall.


Casting an Actor with Albinism: The Importance of Authenticity on Stage

Playwright Julie Taiwo Oni explores the difficult, yet necessary task of casting actors who authentically represent characters written and the effect this representation has on marginalized identities. 


How do you cast authentically when there is not a single actor of a certain identity to be found within your community? If my mission as a playwright is to share stories of the underrepresented, then how can I cast an actor who lacks the marginalized identity my script requires? This obstacle is an important element of the current fight for fairness in casting, and I encountered it full-force on my own journey to find a Black teenage male actor with albinism.

As a Nigerian-American and a storyteller, I am in constant conflict between heightened awareness of widespread misconceptions of non-Western cultures (my global side) and sheer shock and horror at the encountering of some ritual practices (the good ole American in me). When I first heard about the persecution of PWAs (person with albinism) in Africa from my father a few years back, I thought it must be an ancient myth; I was mistaken. In fact, even today, Tanzania has one of the highest global rates of people with albinism, and they are frequently attacked and killed for the sale of their bodies to witch doctors for good luck potions.

To dramatize this unfortunate story, I wrote Chisel, a two-character play about a Black American teen with albinism and his interaction with a biracial Tanzanian art student. Sal, my teen protagonist, is in conflict with his albinism because he doesn’t feel that he’s accepted as a Black Lives Matter activist due to his lacking pigmentation. He therefore engages in an aggressive activity that lands him in a juvenile detention center. Alice—his counter—struggles with being mixed race in a culture that often resents non-native citizens. I finished a draft of the play and placed it aside a few years ago, mainly because I had no idea who would perform either role, especially that of Sal.

The representation struggle has become all too familiar these days, from the rampant cultural appropriation of hip-hop, to Katy Perry’s kimonos and dreadlocks, to the whitewashing and gender identity-crossing of Hollywood via the likes of Scarlett Johansson. Yet an important part of the conversation is the challenge of representing marginalized identities when privileged bodies are so much more accessible on casting couches. Constant rejection and appropriation discourages under-represented actors, making it even more difficult to get them into the room. The unfortunate result is that more privileged actors get more opportunities to hone their skills in all levels of theatre.

Sometime into my own representation journey, my friend Bri, who was set to perform the role of Chisel’s Alice for a reading, sat down to help me brainstorm possible actors to play the PWA male character Sal. We were at a loss. Would an audience be able to gather the full weight of the story—centered on the identity of a young man with albinism—if the actor playing the role did not have this condition? It felt so important to see him. We decided that the absolute minimum at that moment was to find somebody who would understand Sal’s journey intellectually and be willing to engage in conversation about the PWA plight. We decided to cast Tom, a TV actor and friend. The reading went well, but the question of course came up: was this play castable?

Is it worth the ongoing and discouraging search for an actor of a marginalized identity when there are so many of privilege willing to play the role?

I believe it is.

So, I persisted. Everywhere I went, to anyone I met, I mentioned Chisel and my struggle to find an actor. I spoke of the PWA attacks in my classes on culture. I emailed modeling and casting agencies. I asked my acting students for recommendations. The result was a sharing and tagging anytime a friend or colleague saw a story on albinism and a collection of books and magazine articles sent by friends, yet still no Sal.

Perhaps six months after the reading, I got a message from Tom: “I see the Tanzanian albino girls we talked about in rehearsals.” The girls were Tindi and Bibiana Mashamba, sisters who were in Los Angeles on refuge after Bibiana had been attacked and lost a leg and fingers. They were at his local lunch spot. My heart jumped with joy. “Well talk to them!” I waited impatiently. Hours later, he told me he’d lacked the nerve to speak to them: “I didn’t know what to say. Sorry.”

And here we encountered the next obstacle on our mission: the hypocrisy of drawing attention to albinism when the heart of Chisel’s story is about a desire for acceptance instead of social isolation. If I were to pass a Black male with albinism that looked like a possible Sal, what would I say to him, “You’re a PWA, I need you”? Fortunately, Tom saw them again a few months later and asked if they would be interested in meeting up with the Chisel team. They were overjoyed (probably because they recognized him from TV, but I’ll take it). Their host and co-founder of African Millennium Foundation, Malena Ruth, arranged for us to all have tea. During our meeting, they told the story of Bibiana’s attack, and we were all horrified by their trauma yet inspired by these two warriors. 

If only these girls had been actors.

Despite these frequent roadblocks, I firmly believe that the theatre community can work together to hold each other up in the mission toward authentic casting. I think most of us want representation; the challenge is the grit that it requires.

A year or two after the initial Chisel reading, with a second reading under our belt but still no PWA actor for Sal, a new theatre colleague sent me contact information for a Black actress with albinism she’d heard about in Chicago. I emailed her a long, detailed, impassioned letter about my journey and how excited I was to be connected with her. I didn’t expect a reply. Ten minutes later, I got one. She was as excited as I was to be in touch.

I sent her Chisel and thought that perhaps I could find a way to cast her in the male role or adjust the script’s gender dynamics. She gave me the most heart-felt and thorough script feedback I had received, noting the ringing-true to her experience and sharing questions that came up. Casting her proved an impossibility because of the story’s essential commentary on Black male experience, but I promised to keep in touch and update her on the process. We made plans to collaborate in the future, and I asked if she knew any male PWA actors.

She did!

This is it, I said to myself, crafting another heartfelt email, this time, at long last, to a Black male actor with albinism. I got no reply. I was back to square one, even with some strong and inspiring ladies in my court.

A few weeks later, I was scrolling through my Instagram when I saw a post from @albinism_beautiful, a group I’d been following for years. It hit me that the members of this particular community might be worth approaching. The second I passed the profile of Jordan White, an eighteen-year-old young man from Atlanta, I knew I’d found my Sal. He was a Black teenage male with albinism with the description “Actor/Model.” I didn’t wait this time. I messaged him immediately and heard back within an hour or so. We began an ongoing dialogue about my play.

It turned out one of Jordan’s most prominent performances was tied to another PWA actor’s casting in a TV series shot in his city. Marginalized groups do have this profound ability to hold each other up, but we need to see that others respect our stories as well by pushing forth characters that are multidimensional—not archetypal. And we need the space to bring them to life ourselves. This is the key to representation.

On June 14, 2018, Jordan flew to LA for the first time to perform in a reading of Chisel at Pepperdine University, where I work. The Department of Humanities and Teacher Education generously hosted him for Albinism Awareness Day. After months of talking through the script and planning, we finally met in person.

I was shocked by this young man. He reminded me of the importance of life experience and observation to breathe humanity into a story. Jordan was an articulate, enthusiastic, hilarious and confident guy. When he entered the theatre, fresh off a long flight (and the first of his life), he greeted us all with handshakes and hugs, pumped and ready. I had anticipated—after all these years of studying the oppression of PWA—to encounter a shy and self-conscious young man who would need time to warm up to us; he was just the opposite.

“I like to be seen,” he said as we drove down Pacific Coast Highway after that first rehearsal. “I used to be mad all the time and hate the stares, but now I just smile.”

In a world of rampant cultural and identity appropriation, we have a responsibility as practitioners of live performance to allow the audience to experience another’s story truthfully. The joy of encountering an underrepresented actor onstage playing a character of his or her actual identity is too powerful to forego. The more marginalized actors see themselves represented authentically, the more they will start to fill our casting couches. The maze will dwindle.

Julie Taiwo Oni is a Nigerian-American playwright with an interest in exploring the African diaspora through narrative. Recent plays include nat&EM, Bunk, Denim, Black-Proof, and Chisel—a story that displays the oppression of people with albinism in Tanzania. Oni is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Pepperdine University. julietaiwooni.com


This piece, Casting an Actor with Albinism: The Importance of Authenticity on Stage by Julie Taiwo Oni was originally published on HowlRound on August 2, 2018.