When I sat down with Ellen Cooper, the Executive Director of the Anything is Possible Theater Company, I was excited. Ellen, who also wrote the company’s current rendition of Robin Hood, was in the middle of telling me just why her company was different from all of the other kids’ theaters out there. Her reasons were compelling ones.
Above all, she talked of how the messages in children’s shows are not deep enough. The Anything is Possible Theater Company, she said, sought to bridge the gap between real-life issues and what is deemed appropriate for children.
To this end, she said, Robin Hood is set in the present, where the Merry Men are homeless youth and the Sheriff is an old rich businessman. By recontextualizing an old classic, they are able to grapple with issues that many children in the low-income areas of South Seattle face, while still providing the draw of a time-honored tale. This would then spark discussion in families about topics like class inequality and homelessness. She described Robin Hood as “A relevant show about people’s lives. It demonstrates an active and positive way to respond to what’s happening through community-building”.
Other things about this company also sparked my interest. Ellen mentioned the pay-what-you-can night and low ticket prices, designed to make the play accessible to a low-income crowd. AIP even gave away 40 tickets to Treehouse, a Seattle organization serving foster children. And in a neighborhood where this happens to be one of the only theaters in existence, let alone one serving children, AIP’s community-mindedness was something I gravitated toward immediately.
So, it was with high hopes and a growing excitement that I sat down to watch “Robin Hood.
The play did do some of what Ellen mentioned. The set was a homeless encampment, complete with a “99%” poster behind a chain link fence and a tent upstage. The costumes furthered this concept – the Merry Men were dressed in mismatching, ripped clothing, and the “bad guys” – the Sheriff of Nottingham, his daughter, and the host of barons and kings – were in business attire. From the offset, the stage was set for an interesting take on Robin Hood.
But then… the characters opened their mouths. And out came a jumble of what sounded like terrible Shakespeare. As I struggled to figure out why on earth the characters were speaking like this, I realized that as an attempted throwback to the traditional Robin Hood dialogue, Ellen had decided to write it in a strange approximation of pseudo-Old English. With that, what could have been an insightful look into why Robin Hood is relevant to our time – especially to the citizens of Rainier Valley – became simply a concept smacked onto a play that didn’t really fit.
Ellen’s idea to set Robin Hood in modern times, highlighting the disparity between classes in a way that would resonate with the community’s large low-income population, is a brilliant concept for a children’s show. Using a time-honored classic like Robin Hood to bring audiences in and then showing them a new way to look at it is all well and good. However, if you are going to do that, then do it. Language sets the time period for any play, so to not alter it made what would have been a brilliant commentary into a disjointed modernization of a dated text.
This was just the first of many examples of a half-realized concept. The stage was very narrow, so many of the scenes were conducted in a line. Though some handled their text and movement with ease, too often the scenes played like a presentation. The myriad of accents only added to the issue – we had Irish, British, American, and some odd combinations of the three, which served to confuse the audience rather than create a cohesive world.
For all of that, the show was enjoyable. Adorable children and talented young adult actors made us all smile as they carried out the telling of Robin Hood’s tale with gusto. Broad-sweeping villains made kids gasp and adults chuckle. The ensemble seemed to connect with each other in a way that was endearing, especially with a multi-generational cast. And despite some flaws and my disappointment that the show didn’t completely live up to my expectations, I found myself enjoying the piece. The Bottom Line: Ellen has attempted to recontextualize children’s theatre by making it relevant and placing it in an area where kids have limited access to art. Although her show does not entirely succeed, her effort to create change and get the children of South Seattle involved in art is admirable. Go support the Anything is Possible Theater Company.
Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.
Local social justice groups will be hosting a community meeting later tonight to inform south Seattle residents about the counties plan to build a new, super–sized$210 million Juvenile Detention Center, and how it will impact the area’s youth. The event will feature free food, a chance to meet with community organizers working on the issue, and a debate between elected officials about what is needed to fix the current Juvenile Justice System. Event organizers hope that the meeting will shift the community’s focus from “fixing broken youth” to “fixing broken education and criminal justice systems.”
“The story the County tells is that the current youth jail is old and needs repairs. So they want to build a new one, but make the new one twice as big. The current facility isn’t even at capacity. That logic just doesn’t add up.” Says local area youth Khalil Butler, who will be speaking at the event. “When a school in my neighborhood needed remodeling, they moved the students to another location and made the needed repairs. Then the kids were returned to a repaired school that was same size as when they left. If construction of the New Youth Jail moves forward as planned, seems like a lot of money will be wasted.”
The No New Youth Jail Campaign: Community Night will take place in the 2100 building, located at 2100 24th Avenue South. Doors will open at 6:00pm and the program will start at 6:30pm. Over 200 people are expected to attend.
As concerns have recently reemerged over the level of violence in the South Seattle area, the Emerald spoke with Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, and who also recently led a community discussion on violence reduction at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center. Councilman Harrell currently resides in South Seattle.
Emerald: You recently led a community forum on the topic of violence prevention in the South Seattle area. Community Meetings, as they relate to violence, are dismissed by many as a “token” response that rarely ever results in any action being taken. Why should residents have cause for optimism after this particular meeting?
Bruce Harrell: First of all we are developing an actionable plan that we should be able to announce this month. We’re putting not only resources behind it, but best practices we’ve taken from other cities, as well as some creative ideas about how to protect our community in the South End of Seattle. So my attitude about meetings like that are, number one, I try to make sure that we can talk about everything, including things our own community can do. An example would be that one East African attendant spoke up and said that: “You know, I don’t see East Africans here and you need to do better outreach to make sure that my community is represented at these kinds of meetings.” I told him that he was right, and that we would do everything possible to do that, but I added: “You need to do the same thing. You need to figure out, how we can reach your community, as we have tried to reach out.” We established an immigrant/refugee commission, specifically for that purpose. We now have an East African person in our Police Academy, which we’re proud of.
That’s a prime example to me of, when people are demanding that others do things, that they feel empowered to do it themselves. I live by a quote: “You either accept things the way they are, or you accept responsibility for changing them.” So, I think that the meeting was a very good one. It gave people the chance to meet our police officers and to let them know that we do care about South Seattle, and that they do have leaders who are developing plans to protect our community.
Emerald: Some people say that the easy remedy to violence in the area is to simply have more police officers around, however, an expanded police presence is a very polarizing issue amongst South Seattle residents. How can it be assured that police officers are viewed as actual partners with the community in fostering a safer South Seattle?
BH: The fact of the matter is that we can not have police officers on every corner arresting kids for just standing around being who they are. We also have to give our own community leaders the tools to empower themselves.
I think that there are people who have come from the street life, and have found a way to overcome it. They have dealt with the negative messaging that they have received in their lives and now are giving back and can help us improve our communities. I think that as an investment strategy we need to know who these individuals and groups are, and we need to double down on them. Again, we all know that we can’t arrest ourselves out of all the problems we have. We need to flood the streets with these kinds of good folks.
I also think that our officers need to be better trained to build community trust, and community relations at every opportunity. I recently attended a meeting at Rainier Beach High School, and I watched a couple of officers stand by the hallway and simply watch the crowd for a long period of time, to then only walk out of the school and get right into their car. What I wanted to impress upon the officers is that this is the time you build community, and public trust. So I want to see more officers, like Captain John Hayes, who seems to know everyone’s name in the community, and who can walk around and mix it up. Because when we couple that with the right kind of outreach, we can move the needle. The other component is that the “no snitch”policy is a cancer to our community, and when we see shootings, we need to be able to break that. What has been effective in some other cities is to get high profile spokespeople, athletes, celebrities, people that come from the community, to help us change that cultural norm and that has to be very intentional when we are losing these lives.
Emerald: How do you think the city can empower organizations that are currently working in South Seattle to address the public safety issue?
BH: Right now I’m trying to figure out what organizations have the ability to scale up, and provide us some capacity to move the needle in terms of cultural norms, and can really make a difference. So, I think the first thing we need to do is take an inventory of these organizations and invest in them. The city’s role then is to be the quarterback or the facilitator in allowing these organizations to do what they do best, and that is reaching the community and changing the conversation, so that communities can feel empowered to protect themselves.
Emerald: Economic Development has often been trumpeted as a silver bullet for public safety concerns around South Seattle, however, many people view it as a “trojan horse” for gentrification. You would be hard pressed to find a resident who wouldn’t love all of South Seattle to be a consistently safe and vibrant place, but they would also love to still afford to reside there when that happens. Could you address that issue?
BH: I think it first starts with a vision, and that vision has to be described with some level of specificity. So if I was to describe a great vision for South Seattle it would be that it remains affordable, so that you wouldn’t see huge seven figure homes in these areas with very few affordable homes and it would be safe. so I don’t think that you compromise price just because it becomes safe. That’s where the beauty of small business comes into play. You have to have a barbershop, a pizza place, a small restaurant, or a store where you can buy clothing. You have to have a vibrant small business atmosphere that, again, is safe and has parking, that you can use transit to get there. It has to be vibrant, so that anyone, from any part of town, feels comfortable going there. A great example is the resident led resurgence going on in Hillman City.
You don’t have that vibrancy in some areas of South Seattle. The medical cannabis dispensary is not the kind of small business that attracts a lot of patrons; they only attract a certain kind of patron. So the vision is of safe, active, vibrant, small business development, affordable housing, open space, parks that are activated, police officers who walk and ride bikes around, that’s a good community and an affordable community.
Emerald: With our potential police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, being an outsider to the city, many have questioned if a person who lacks a familiarity with the area can really hope to address the concerns of South Seattle. What is your feeling on that?
BH: I would have absolutely loved to have had a chief who knows all parts of our city, in particular the South End, but we don’t have that. The mayor made it clear that it was his preference to go outside the existing culture, and I accept that. So now, what’s most important is that Chief O’Toole gets the intel needs and that she has actual experience with dealing with some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country, and she does. I sat in on her interview panel, and that was exactly my line of inquiry. She spent a lot of time overseas as well, and I wanted to make sure that she had the credibility and experience in dealing with some of the tougher areas, and I’m fully convinced she does. In fact I think she will shine in that regard. She will have a learning curve to know the players in the community and so forth, but I think she is a quick learner and I think we’ll be very pleased with her ability to adjust.
Emerald: There’s a lot of conversation that if Rainier Beach, Skyway, Othello, etc, where instead Fremont or Wallingford, the type of violence and crime that’s been experienced wouldn’t be accepted by the city. What can be done to fix the perception that there is a divide in what the city tolerates in certain areas in comparison to others?
BH: If you walk other neighborhoods, and parts of this city, as I do, such as Lake City Way, University District, Pioneer Square, you will hear the exact same thing, that conditions are intolerable, yet the city leaders do not make the right level of investments into those areas. The fact of the matter is using federal funds, state funds, and city funds, we should again double down on the South End, because of the rates of poverty, the rates of unemployment, the graduation rates that aren’t where we need them to be, and I think that while we can greatly improve that, we don’t have leaders who are neglectful of that part of town.
I go back to what I said earlier, for those people who want more attention and resources, join me in making sure we get them. a lot of time, when I do my inventory organizations in the community, I ask: “What do you need? How can we help you succeed?”
As someone who sees these drive bys and shootings, I understand the frustrations people have, and I don’t mean to minimize them, but many of us have been dealing with them for 30 to 40 years, and I think it’s symptomatic of what’s happening in our country. You notice in almost every city, in every state, you have under invested areas, but I’m very optimistic that we’re putting strategies in place to improve them. Cleveland High School is a great example of that. The graduation rates have gone up 20 percent and the PTA has broken records in fundraising! So there are things that are rising in the right direction and what sets us back is another dead body found in the street.
SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) and Artspace are partnering with Sound Transit to present “Connect the Dots,” a free neighborhood art event — celebrating community, culture, entertainment and sustainable transportation. Connect the Dots will take place on Saturday, June 28th from 11am to 3pm starting at the Mt. Baker Light Rail Station Plaza (2415 South McClellan Street, Seattle, WA 98144), where many of Artspace Mt. Baker Loft’s commercial spaces will be open to the public (2915 Rainier Avenue S., Seattle, WA, 98144). Also—street food, live music, and skateboarding demonstrations by Skate Like A Girl can be found in the Plaza.
LQ Lion Dance will make an appearance and at 12:00pm, the Chaotic Noise Marching Band will lead the way in the “Connect the Dots” parade, followed by Boys and Girls Scout Troops heading south on Rainier Ave towards Walden Avenue and then to the Claremont Apartments (3333 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle WA 98144) for more activities. OneSevenNine, a local artist who focuses on color, folklore, imagination, and fairytales, will be teaching art classes in one of the Claremont storefronts. There will also be a pop-up arts and crafts fair showcasing local designers, record collectors, vintage clothing outfitters, handmade goods, and more. DJ Wizdumb will be spinning records in the Plaza while specially selected food trucks from the SouthEnd serve up some fine eats!
SEED is a non-profit community development corporation with the mission to improve the quality of life in Southeast Seattle by creating partnerships and inspiring investments in housing, arts and economic development – with a special focus on residents with fewer opportunities and resources. In 2011, SEED developed the Claremont Apartments, a new mixed use project on Rainier Avenue South — offering affordable living units and commercial space.
Artspace is a non-profit real estate developer whose mission is to create, foster, and preserve affordable space for artists and art organizations. Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts opens in June, and includes 57 units of affordable apartments for artists and their families and a commercial ground floor of community-focused businesses.
Together SEED and Artspace, along with Sound Transit will start the transformation of Rainier Avenue South into an “urban village” where friends, family, commuters and community members can easily indulge in an affordable, safe, and sustainable lifestyle.
Gems is a column devoted to spotlighting the various denizens who contribute to the rich mosaic that is the South Seattle area.
Who: Drina Turner
Avocation: Library Assistant
Favorite Area of South Seattle: Skyway
Where You Would Know Her From: Perched vigilantly behind Skyway Library’s front desk, ready to combat belligerent loudness and delinquent book returns.
What’s your favorite thing to do in South Seattle?
Working as a Library Assistant. It’s not a passive job as some might think. It’s actually quite dynamic. You get a diverse range of thoughts and ideas when you’re helping people with their problems. The clientele changes throughout the day. In the morning you have job seekers and people who work nights, along with the elderly. The library becomes somewhat of their social scene and a place for entertainment. Then in the afternoon, you have students coming from school and in the evening you have people just getting off from work, so throughout the day you have various needs being met. You many times become, “that person,” for people to talk to when they don’t have anyone else. Sometimes just “being there” helps them a great deal.
So what is the difference between a librarian and a library assistant?
It can be confusing! A librarian is someone who has their master’s degree in library science. A library assistant is someone who has at least a high school diploma.
Are there any amusing stories you can share as a library assistant?
One that stands out had to do with someone forgetting their library card and not having any identification. Usually when people come up to the front desk and need their library card, but don’t have any way of identifying themselves we ask them a series of questions to ascertain that we are giving the correct person the correct information.There was this young lady who came to the desk and didn’t have any identification but she said, “but my name is tattooed here!” and then proceeded to pull her shirt down to reveal this large tattoo of her name on her neck. I was thinking, “Well you more than likely are who you say you are… but that doesn’t exactly meet our verification criteria.”
How do you get on a library assistants good side besides being a lover of silence in the library?
One of the things I find extremely helpful when you visit a library is to just approach whoever is sitting behind the desk as someone who really is there to help you. The best thing to do is not assume that you’re going to be met with resistance or negativity, that way your interaction goes lot smoother. That’s works so much better than giving them a hard time for no apparent reason. And yes, as librarians and library assistants, we do understand that there are policies in place that we may not all agree with, but they’re in place for a reason, and part of it is to protect your own confidentiality. If we just gave your information out to anybody who just knew enough to get it, then you would be here for a completely different reason and not a good one. It’s important to assume first that you can get help if you ask for it, and there’s never a need to escalate a situation if you are not getting the help you want.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever received at the library?
Well, this is a broad answer, but people tend to think that we know everything, as if we are a walking Google (laughter). So, people think we have mastered the most recent version of Microsoft Publisher, or that it’s second nature to us to decipher complex federal and county law, so request can run the whole gamut.
What 3 books do you recommend people read right this very moment?
Good Lord Bird by James McBride, which is going to be made into a movie starring Jaden Smith (Will Smith’s son).
Dear Girls Above Me by Charlie McDowell, about a young man who can hear the conversations of the women who live above him, with many of them being true to life.
Giant George by Dave Nasser, about a Dog who is larger than any great dane
How do you think South Seattle can be improved?
I think that there is a lot of potential for development here. My feeling is that areas go through periods of time of vitality and depression before they are revitalized, and I have a feeling that this area is on the upswing.
I’m hoping that when people see the new (Skyway) Library being built that it will draw more commerce to the area of Skyway, so that people have more choices for shopping needs and anything else. Many of the residents in this area are at a financial disadvantage in comparison to other areas, and as a result of that there are several services that are lacking. I hope that the county finally decides where this area belongs, as right now it is unincorporated, neither tomato or tomatoe, in not belonging to Renton or Seattle. There is much more that can be done in this area and I’m hoping it will soon experience a growth spurt.
Finally, people should go to the library because?
There’s a lot that the library can provide,at no cost to you other than having an ID card. All we ask is that you have picture ID if you are 18 and over, you can come here to request movies, books (in various formats), as well as having access to different programs we offer that are inclusive to young and old. We are currently making a push for health and trying to offer classes and presentations, where people are here to talk about what you can do to get healthy, foods and exercises. We try to challenge the thinking that the library is just a place where you can come and be quiet. We have a game day that is geared towards young teens and programs for small children. This is your tax dollars at work for you. If you need help and there is no place that you think you can go, come here and find out. The library of your youth, is not the library of today! In lieu of a photo Drina preferred that we use a picture of a bird as it perches vigilantly
While gyms are traditionally known to celebrate slim figures and body-builder images, Rainier Health & Fitness has a different purpose: to encourage healthy lifestyles, strong bodies and authentic community. For Amal*, her husband and seven children, Rainier Health & Fitness has been a key part of developing healthy practices. Every family member exercises regularly and Amal herself walks to the gym from their Beacon Hill home to hit the treadmill or participate in a yoga class.
Amal’s friends ask her, “Why do you go to the gym? You’re already skinny?” Amal replies that exercising is about staying healthy and feeling well, not just being skinny. Her mom died in 2008 and had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so she wants to prevent suffering from the same preventable conditions. Plus, if she doesn’t work out, her muscles get tight and she has migraines. The migraines are actually what drove her to join the gym in the first place in April 2010; Amal’s doctor said she should go to the gym, a stress-free environment, for her migraines. Now they only resume after not coming for a week or two. “Coming here is good for my heart and brain,” Amal says.
In addition to regular exercise, Amal’s family has also made healthy changes to their diet thanks to the influence of their vegetarian daughter. Amal used to drink lots of coffee, but now has reduced her consumption to one cup per day. Coming from Somalia where many dishes are prepared with oil, she has steered away from this ingredient and has quit frying food. Instead, she serves the family only brown rice, oatmeal and whole grain bread, spaghetti and cereal. She also checks the labels of food and looks at calories before purchasing. As a result, no one in her family is overweight.
“Health is number one.” Amal says, “It’s worth $30 per month.” She tells everybody to come here and has met lots of new friends while working out.
* pseudonym, name changed to protect privacy
About Rainier Health & Fitness
Rainier Health & Fitness first opened its doors in March of 2005 with the dream of using exercise to address health disparities in its neighborhood. Since then it has grown to over 1600 members. The volunteers and staff at Rainier Health & Fitness are dedicated to improving the health of their Rainier Valley community by encouraging healthy lifestyles and strong bodies. The fitness center makes exercise fun and accessible by offering affordable prices and creating a non-intimidating workout environment, especially for those who are new to exercise. A variety of group classes including yoga, ZUMBA fitness, Pilates, turbo kick and cycling are available to members at no additional cost while personal training, group training and CrossFit are offered through certified trainers for comparably low additional fees. Regular memberships are an affordable $30 a month with a one-time membership fee of $99.
Skyway Solutions is hosting an Elected Officials Panel tomorrow, May 22nd from 7:00 -8:30 pm at the Skyway Water and Sewer Building : 6723 S 124th Street, Seattle, WA 98178. The panel will feature King County Councilmember Larry Gossett and 37th District Representative Sharon Tomiko- Santos. All residents of the south Seattle area are encouraged to attend.
Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle