The Teen Summer Musical is an institution in Seattle. For many years Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center and Teen Summer Musical director Isiah Anderson worked with dozens of young people over eight to 10 weeks every summer to create a world class, large-scale musical production. In 2019, performances of Uncle Willy’s Chocolate Factory played to full houses at Benaroya Hall and included 60 young people performing amazing choreography and singing incredible original music. In 2020, there was no Teen Musical. Like most annual events it was canceled due to COVID-19.
The Teen Summer Musical has returned for 2021, though in an abbreviated form. This year’s production is made possible by Acts On Stage, The Voices Project, the Associated Recreation Council, and Seattle Parks and Recreation. Fifteen young people between 12 and 18 years old will be dancing and singing in an original musical Story of an Off-Brand Band written by Michelle Lang-Raymond and adapted and directed by Isiah Anderson, with original music by Lang-Raymond and musical director Cedric Thomas. About half of the cast and many of the staff have either performed in or were a part of the crew in past Teen Musical productions. By the first performance of this year’s musical, the cast and crew will have put in 5 weeks of hard work, Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, at the Acts on Stage Theatre space in White Center, co-founded by Michelle Lang-Raymond and Isiah Anderson.
Some birds aren’t meant to be caged — not by tiny steel bars and not by tiny forced narratives woven around their lives like intricate vines with pointy sharp thorns. As I listened to multidisciplinary artist Shontina Vernon tell me about her art — and by extension her life — during our telephone interview, I thought about how society’s carefully woven metastories threaten to confine us all like beautiful but trapped birds with very few of us daring an escape. Shontina Vernon is the one who got away.
When Drew Hobson got the opportunity to audition for a video game in 2012, he was thrilled. A self-described comic nerd, he was working with a children’s touring company when the theater’s director heard a video game company was having a hard time finding an African American voice for the lead character in a new game. The director immediately thought of Hobson. So Hobson recorded the audition on his home equipment and sent it in.
“And I got the lead role. And it was amazing ’cause the lead role, where you start out at the first part of the game, and you can play all the way through the game, is African American.”
There was no campfire at “The Campfire Festival.” Rather, warmth came from other sources: Rheanna Atendido’s energizing voice in duet with an amplified acoustic guitar, Dedra Woods’s staging of her and her mother’s memories, storytelling about ghosts and pandemic boredom and political change, and the enthusiastic incredulity of safely and finally engaging in live theatre again alongside other strangers.
Last Friday evening, I nervously walked north through the very green Columbia Park, hugged by Alaska Street and Rainier Avenue South. What would this post(ish) pandemic theater look, sound, and feel like? Upon nearing the outdoor box office table, I viewed the outdoor theater setup on an upwards sloping lawn, where empty hula hoops lay on the grass designating socially distant seating clusters. Once seated, I stared at the facade of Rainier Arts Center, the stage for this theatrical event. There, affixed on white columns were blue banners with the words “Create,” “Celebrate,” “Perform,” or “Connect,” messages that further amplified this theatrical event.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, Tyrone Brown was in Lesotho, an independent country of 2 million people completely surrounded by South Africa. As a volunteer for the Peace Corps, he was teaching English, life skills, and HIV/AIDS prevention to Lesotho elementary school students. But the Peace Corps decided to withdraw all their volunteers worldwide and send them home.
Born and raised in Seattle, Tyrone Brown, the founder and artistic director of Brownbox Theatre, credits his mother for introducing him to the arts when he was very young. Brown feels Seattle gave him more freedom and exposure to the arts that he wouldn’t have received, especially as a young Black male, had he grown up somewhere else. Still, being involved in the arts in a single-parent family had its challenges.
“I remember I was in the Northwest Boys Choir for a short period of time. I don’t remember a lot about the experience except for one thing. We had a big concert that was happening in downtown Seattle. And my mom couldn’t get me there. She said, ‘I don’t have money for bus fare. So you’re going to have to call somebody.’ It was a predominately white institution, a group of white boys basically. And I didn’t know those kids, who came from two-parent homes and had money. I was just so embarrassed.”
Fury-fueled crowds of chanting protestors, clever and insightful picket signs, and collective action to transform or eradicate unjust laws and cultural practices — this is how many see social justice. But when Intiman Theatre began to look for a new home and contemplated how they could advance their mission, they imagined how social justice could be advanced by backstage storytellers — costume designers, lighting designers, sound riggers, set builders, and other technical theatre artists. The answer was a two-year Associate of Arts degree in Technical Theatre for Social Justice (AA-TTSJ) and a partnership with Seattle Central College (SCC). But what does that mean, exactly? Who can participate? And what does social justice in technical theatre really look like? During our telephone interview, Intiman’s Educational Director, Dr. M. Crystal Yingling, gave a sneak peek into the program.
The adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s book plays at Sound Theatre through July 28
by Georgia McDade
If you believe the Garden of Eden, then you accept that life was peaceful, tranquil. If you also believe the Garden was located in Africa, then perhaps you can accept that the Africans lived peaceful, tranquil lives — at least for a time.
Amontaine Aurore. This multitalented woman is making a name for herself. She is a writer, actor, director, performance artist, and founder of Ten Auras Productions. When there were no roles for her to play, she wrote one-woman shows in which she starred: Waiting for Billie Holiday (2006), My Name Is Trazar (2007), Queen Rita’s Blues Alley (2008) ,and Free Desiree, (2012), all directed by Tikka Sears.
Book-It Repertory Theatre’s production of Willa Cather’s novel My Antonia at Center House can make you feel good.
Unlike two recent productions, University of Washington’s Incident at Vichy and Seattle Repertory Theatre’s A 1000 Splendid Suns — both superb, but decidedly less than humorous — My Antonia has many funny parts. Antonia Shimerda and Jim Burden face crises just as characters do in the other works, but here, there is breathing space. Adult Jim’s nostalgia figures prominently, as the play is based on memories dating back to the time 10-year-old Jim and 14-year-old Antonia meet.
Langston Hughes Performing Art Institute hosted one of the most emotional, heart-pulling choreography moments this year. Shown at the historic Central District building in September, Showing Out: Contemporary Dance Choreographers was an event showcasing artistic expression through powerful movement. Curated by Dani Tirrell, it highlighted the Black and queer experience that is often underrepresented and unappreciated in our society.