by Victor Simoes
The Sound Theatre Company (STC) recently announced Shermona Mitchell would become its new co-artistic director. A multifaceted theater artist and the first Black woman to lead the Sound Theatre board, Mitchell assumed the new position in January. Working with the founder and the other co-artistic director of the STC, Teresa Thuman, Mitchell will support the company’s mission to uplift local actors, directors, and audiences while bringing attention to stories often silenced by systemic oppression.
Founded in 2006, the STC is an itinerant theater company that operates slightly differently from most others. Sound Theatre strives to create a more equitable and human-centered working environment offering sensory-friendly performances and ASL interpretation in their productions. They offer playwright residency programs and consistently put women and BIPOC artists front and center in their projects. Sound Theatre’s most recent project, 11th & Pine, examined activists’ testimonies to reconstruct the story of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). The play by Nikki Yeboah invited the audience to reflect on the unfolding and aftermath of CHOP and the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings.
Mitchell’s connection to Sound Theatre dates back to 2001 when they had Thuman as one of their first professors in the Cornish College of the Arts. They officially started working with the company when Mitchell auditioned for the Sound Theatre/Brown Box Theatre co-production of Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi in 2015. In the next seven years, Mitchell starred in many Sound Theatre productions, acting in and directing many projects. In 2020 Mitchell became part of the Sound Theatre Board and the first Black woman to lead the board in 2021.
This past January, following a unanimous board vote, Mitchell became Sound Theatre’s newest co-artistic director. In the new position, Mitchell hopes to serve the organization by shaping the overall goals of STC, managing staff, contractors, and volunteers, along with the production managers and the STC board. Mitchell explained that even though being on stage makes their heart beat in truest form, there is still something refreshing and innovative about working in arts administration that they are very passionate about. So passionate in fact, that they actually predicted coming into this role.
“I had dreams of being the artistic director when I was in college,” said Mitchell “I told the professor: I’m going to take your company. And I think it’s funny to think about that and not take her company per se, but still, to work with a professor I met in Cornish College and be a co-artistic director with her.”
Mitchell sees this new role as an opportunity to honor Black women who mentored them when they first started working in Seattle’s theater scene back in 2005. Two important inspirations were Demene Hall and Rebecca M. Davis, who Mitchell met at their first professional show in Seattle. Hall taught them how to navigate the Seattle theater scene by sharing her experiences as a Black female actor and the joys and pains of this journey. She also advised them when it’s best to be patient with organizations and when it’s time to speak out and advocate for themselves and those around them. With Davis, Mitchell learned where to find auditions, what certain directors were looking for, and how other companies would or wouldn’t support their artists, particularly their Black artists.
Mitchell also takes responsibility for preparing the next generation of Black women for leadership positions in theater, making sure their story is not the exception.
Even though their roles of acting and leading the company’s artistic direction can seem very different, Mitchell clarified that both share similar responsibilities through their idea of service. While on stage they serve the story, and on the administrative side they support those telling it.
“I think with acting, you are in service to the story that you’re telling,” said Mitchell. “You have a group of people who are there to support you and uplift you in telling the story. As the administration, you’re there from the moment of conception; you think about our organization’s values and what stories are out there that would challenge us as an organization but also uplift the community members and practitioners that we have.”
The collective leadership between Thuman and Mitchell allows Mitchell to continue to pursue acting and be in the spotlight, a position they are unwilling to let go anytime soon. Mitchell explained that this leadership model guarantees the organization’s health is prioritized, allowing Thuman time to direct while Mitchell can devote time to acting. In addition to their work at Sound Theatre, Mitchell also performed as Jack’s Mother in The 5th Avenue Theatre production of Into The Woods.
“When you’re held down to one responsibility, you begin to resent it,” said Mitchell. “So while I [was] able to be on the 5th Avenue stage, Teresa [held] it down and [made] sure that 11th & Pine [was] going to be an extraordinary viewing. And then once Theresa begins rehearsals for Cost of Living, which she’ll be directing, I’m able to run the organization … and let her truly thrive as an artist, as a director”
In the following months, Mitchell will select the artistic programming for Sound Theatre’s 2023 –2024 season and explore ways that the company can grow its audience. They told the Emerald that their decisions will explore innovative ways to cultivate and maintain relationships that uplift the Seattle community.
Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.
📸 Featured Image: Shermona Mitchelll, the new Sound Theatre Company’s co-artistic director, poses for a portrait. In their new position, Mitchell will lead Sound Theatre’s 2024–25 season planning. (Photo courtesy of Shermona Mitchell.)
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