“This is a people’s history,” says playwright Nikki Yeboah. “I want us as a city to lift this story.”
by Amanda Ong
From March 17 to March 19, Erickson Theatre will host a staged reading of 11th & Pine, a new play about the organizer experience of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), presented by Sound Theatre Company. Initially known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) before being renamed to CHOP, the organized protest against police brutality held in Cal Anderson Park in 2020 was one of the longest and most robust protests Seattle has seen to date. Written by Nikki Yeboah, a professor of playwriting at the University of Washington, and directed by Leah Adcock-Starr, 11th & Pine was written in conjunction with oral histories from CHOP’s organizers.
For those involved, and even those who were simply bystanders in Seattle two years ago, it still can be complicated to make sense of what happened in CHOP. What once was at the forefront of national media now does not even have a plaque of recognition in Cal Anderson Park. The community gardens and the Black Lives Matter street mural are all that remain of the protest, but to the average tourist, that much wouldn’t even be clear. While the City still has lingering legal battles related to CHOP, it hasn’t yet taken an opportunity to historicize the event, and despite CHOP making national headlines in 2020, CHOP organizers haven’t always had their voices heard by mainstream media.
“When the George Floyd protests began, really all eyes were on Seattle,” Yeboah said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. At the time of the protests, Yeboah was living in California. “We were encouraged that [the BLM] movement that people had been fighting for [for] over a decade was finally demanding national attention. … I thought that fervor would still be here, naively, I think. When I got here, no one was talking about it, I didn’t see any kind of material remnants. I was just [wondering] what had become of it. And that was the impetus for [11th & Pine], just trying to figure out how people remember it, and what is [CHOP’s] legacy?”
Yeboah began the project this summer, with eight researchers from the University of Washington. Through social media archives, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they revisited the summer of 2020 and identified pivotal people and events in the rise and fall of CHOP. The group was then able to create their own guided tour of CHOP and reach out to some of the people who had come up in their research. The researchers ultimately conducted over 30 oral histories over the course of the summer, and then adapted them into 11th & Pine as a fictional play reflecting the story of CHOP.
The performance at Erickson Theatre will be the performers’ first reading that is open to the public. Their first two table readings, however, were open to a different audience — people who had been involved in the interviews. Yeboah says she welcomed them to give feedback and ensure they felt represented before the play became public, leading to some radical script changes before the reading the public will see starting March 17.
“[It was] really necessary because I understood how vulnerable people had made themselves in this process, and how raw everything was for them,” Yeboah said. “It was an open wound for a lot of the people involved. They felt misunderstood and misrepresented by a lot of the media. And they questioned the things they had fought for and what had become of the movement.”
For instance, CHOP’s demands to divest funding from the Seattle Police and reallocate it to other community safety programs were at first supported by some City Councilmembers. However, The Seattle Times reported that two years after CHOP, the council’s actual divestments have been meager at best, with only a 13% reduction of SPD’s budget and approval of $30,000 hiring bonuses for police last August.
11th & Pine has offered an opportunity for representation to a number of CHOP organizers, and now offers us the opportunity to see a behind-the-scenes picture of the summer of 2020. While everyone saw the headlines, now we might know the perspectives and reflections of our community members who experienced CHOP intimately. While for now tickets are available to the staged reading, Yeboah hopes the play will be able to have a full production in Seattle in the near future.
“This is for Seattle,” Yeboah said. “This was a historical moment, and why aren’t we treating it as such? It doesn’t feel like enough is being done to lift up this pivotal moment in Seattle’s history. And I want to contribute to that, because this is a people’s history. I want them to feel honored, I want them to feel lifted. I want us as a city to lift this story. It shouldn’t be hidden or forgotten or glossed over. It should be central to how we understand ourselves.”
See 11th & Pine between March 17 and March 19 at Erickson Theatre, Seattle Central Community College, on 1524 Harvard Ave. Tickets are on a sliding scale from $5 to $75, and are available for purchase through Sound Theatre Company’s website. Digital scripts on tablets will also be provided for any audience members who request them for accessibility. Erickson Theatre has two wheelchair-accessible entrances for different seating options. For specific accessibility requests, contact Accessibility@SoundTheatre.org.
While CHOP made national headlines, CHOP organizers were often unheard, ignored, or misrepresented by mainstream media. Local news outlets like the South Seattle Emerald, Converge, PubliCola, Captiol Hill Blog, and Real Change worked to amplify these voices on the ground. Revisit some of the coverage of CHOP on the Emerald.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 03/15/2023 with a link to Sound Theatre Company’s ticketing page and with information that the reading of 11th & Pine will no longer be able to provide ASL interpretation and that digital scripts will be provided instead.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: In addition to the Black Lives Matter street mural, Cal Anderson Park’s George Floyd Mural is one of the last remnants of CHOP/CHAZ’s existence. (Photo: Aurelio Ayala III)
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