Category Archives: USA
Seattle-based Parley Productions are excavating one of the magical corners of history. The Mumble chatted to their director…
Hello Rebecca, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I was born in Southern California, but growing up I lived in many places, since my dad was in the military. I currently live in Seattle, Washington.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
When I was in 4thgrade, the school principal called me into his office to ask me to play E.T. in our Christmas pageant because, being small for my age, I could fit into the costume he’d rented. Undeterred, I threw myself into the role. (Even the voice!)
Can you tell us about your training?
I have a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in English. After college, I studied for two years at the Pacific Conservatory Theater before spending three more years getting my MFA in Acting from U.C. Irvine.
You made your professional acting debut in England – can you tell us about the experience?
I honestly didn’t know what I was getting into at the time. On a whim, I auditioned for the role of “Hero” in Much Ado About Nothing and got it. We performed it in the Bay Area, and then took the production to the (then) newly re-built Globe Theatre in London. We were the first Western actors on that stage; the resident company (under Mark Rylance) hadn’t even mounted their first production. The pillars had yet to be painted! The first time I set foot in the Globe was the moment I began to take a serious interest in professional theater.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
It’s hard to boil it down, isn’t it? For me, in good theater there’s a clarity of intention that runs through every moment on stage. The effect is that the piece resists dismissal and invites discussion beyond a dismissive “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
The answer I hear most often to this question is that theater is live, and of course that’s an essential element of theatrical performance. But I don’t think theater is in competition with streaming film and TV. The bigger competition, I think, is between art and entertainment. Don’t get me wrong: I love entertainment. It serves a cultural function, primarily having to do with diverting attention. Art doesn’t divert attention; rather, it focuses attention. Entertainment helps you forget; art helps you remember. There’s not much of a profit to be made in helping people remember, though. Hence, dwindling arts funding.
Can you tell us about your personal evolution process from actor to the writer/director of today?
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but I’d never written a play until I met my partner, who’s also an actor. Actually, the reason I’m primarily a writer, director, and teacher today is probably that I’m a woman with children. I was a New York actor when I became pregnant with my first son. The casting opportunities dried up immediately! So, like my 4thgrade self, I put on the costume that fit, so to speak, and kept on working in whatever way I could.
Can you tell us about your time as <deep breath> the Resident Playwright at the Washington Correctional Center for Women as part of the Engaged Theater Residency?
It’s a phenomenal program, conceived of and run by the indefatigable Robin Lynn Smith. For about six months of each year, a small cadre of theater artists enter the women’s correctional facility in Gig Harbor, Washington, and conduct acting and playwriting workshops with an ensemble of prisoners. The workshops culminate in a performance of original work written by and for an invited audience of prisoners, friends, and family. It was my honor to be the chief “word-wrangler” for that program for three years.
You’ve got three famous actors from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Sarah Bernhardt, Elaine Stritch and Rita Hayworth (did you know she was Latinx?).
I’m both a good vegan and a good Cuban. I love tart, starchy food. That means rice and beans, a big salad with veggies, cilantro, and lime; maybe tacos with spicy tempeh; and a cup of coffee.
Can you tell us about Parley Productions & your role?
Parley is an artistic home for twelve gifted Seattle playwrights that I founded a few years ago, when my students bemoaned the scarcity of platforms for playwrights of new work. We meet twice a week, year-round, to discuss, develop, and rehearse our writers’ original plays, which we present to audiences as workshop productions. Our programming is robust – we’ve produced 53 world premieres since 2014! I’m always in production for at least one workshop; frequently, more than one. I love the artists of Parley with my whole heart.
You’re masterminding a new play, cherubin, in Seattle next month – can you tell us about it?
One of the actors in the piece, Katherine Jett, challenged me to write a new play, and she included a couple of prompts: First, the piece would be designed for two women. Second, it would explore the question: What happens to Miranda (of The Tempest) after Shakespeare’s play ends? What challenges might she encounter in the unfamiliar, “civilized” world? I’ve been happily down that rabbit-hole for over 18 months now.
What emotional responses do you expect from the audience?
Fear, dread, laughter, recognition, and a squirm or two.
What is the theatre scene like in Seattle?
In Seattle, you’ve got your “legit” theater . . . and everything else. As a teaching theater artist I come into creative contact with hundreds of actors and playwrights, and there’s a lot of talent outside of the big houses! My main career mission is to amplify the rest of us – find a megaphone for those voices – so that underrepresented artists keep going.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Seattle…
Women facing execution in a Puritan jail during a catastrophic storm. One woman goes into labor. It’s The Tempest meets The Crucible, with a dash of The Handmaid’s Tale.
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
If I’m lucky? Playing with my kids, canoodling with my spouse, and making lots and lots and lots of theater.
‘cherubin’ Photography: Mark Gladding
West of Lenin, Seattle
October 26th – November 11th
Slate Theatre, Seattle
After a tasty wonton soup I headed across Seattle Blvd to the imposing Inscape Arts Building. I wasn’t sure it was the right place, but then I saw a small chalkboard that said “Slate Theater.” Bingo! On entering I was greeted by some friendly folks who directed me to the small performance space inside the large building. They were serving ‘by donation’ beer and then I found my seat for In Short Order, presented by MonoMyth Theatre.
The show is a vignette play with a three-woman cast. Patty Bonnell, Laura Engels and Ashley Salazar each put on stellar performances, fluidly transforming into a new character for each scene, while ably managing & maintaining a continuity which made the sections fit together neatly as a whole. The set was effectively minimalist, which added a lot of energy to the action without being overly noticeable. The lighting and recorded sounds were tight, & overall I experienced an expert staging of a theatrical piece.
The first scene, ‘Recruit,’ is set in a dystopian doctor’s office, where a woman has no right to choose how or with whom she will make a baby. This scene made me realize a different side of the woman’s right to choose debate. Like in China where they had the one child, and now a two child, policy. Of course it seems good to control overpopulation, but it is a slippery slope when the government wants to regulate a woman’s body. I am more grateful for our country’s right to choose, and will be steadfast in defending that right.
‘Witness’ begins with a person reading a poem on the street. A passer by compliments the poet and tells them about social media. A police officer approaches and interferes with the interaction and everything goes bad. The term “gut wrenching” is used a lot, but I didn’t know what it was like to have my gut wrenched until the climax of this scene. I had a powerful and tangible jolt in my stomach which has never been invoked by drama before.
In ‘Talkback,’ a mixed nationality married couple is at the US immigration office applying for permanent residence so they can stay together. When the official comes for their interview it becomes clear this is a Kafkaesque nightmare, and the worst part is that it is completely believable. Again I wish that our country were more welcoming to new people. Diversity is a great part of our country and it is wrong to treat new people with anything but kindness
In the last scene Patty and Ashley read from cards which the audience was asked to submit. Laura enters and tells us that the doors are locked, and we can’t leave. This ties the whole show together, because each scene is about lack of freedom, and, finally, the audience gets to experience not having the freedom to leave. Brilliant.
This show does a superb job of expressing meaningful ideas and having fun with it; funny, intimate and engaging, I hope you will go see this wonderful piece.
Reviewer : Michael Beeson
October 17th – November 18th
12th Ave Arts
The play begins in fog, with warehouse techno music playing, & feelings of intense anticipation grip us tighter & tighter. Despite an age of more than 400 years, Rebel Kat Production’s Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch is an action filled feast, and incredibly relevant to today’s political and social issues. 12th Ave Arts Mainstage is a perfect place to see a play. There is a catwalk-like stage which bisects two seating areas, allowing all in the audience to see all of the action on the stage – as well as fellow voyeurs across the way. It gives the performance an entirely immersive feeling.
Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch has an all female cast. When Martius starts to interact with her wife and child, I realized: wait, shouldn’t Martius be he, but they call her she, and she is she? My brain got confused at this total break from the norm. Martius and her wife are both female. The all female cast helped me to identify this bias I have in my self. In a recent interview producer & actress Colleen Carey (Aufidus) told The Mumble;
All-female Shakespeare is being done quite a lot these days. There are all-female Shakespeare companies in major cities all over the world… Gender is only one factor among many. It would be easy to assume that seeing or making a single-sex production would be a binary experience. The truth is, it is far more complex than that. Actually, the reason that I wanted to produce this particular play, with an all-female cast, is that the character of Coriolanus is neither a hero nor an anti-hero. It’s a fascinating social experience to see a woman playing a role that is not ‘likable’ per se; and when that beautifully complex female character is surrounded by other female senators, warriors and politicians (many of whom are also wives and mothers) a reflection of the modern world in which we live can be seen with a great deal of honesty.
The story reminded me of modern politics. The main character Martius is a political elitist rather is out of touch with the needs of the common people. Just as Hillary Clinton felt that she should ascend to the presidency as if by right, Martius believes that her accomplishments make it obvious that it is she who should be elected senator. Alas for her, to the people she represents the politicians, who live fat lives, while normal folks struggle to put corn on the table.
Nike Imoru brings Martius to life brilliantly. She is skilled on the battlefield, but the Martius who interacts with the public was cold and reminded me of a border patrol officer who acts like a dick, because it is their job to act like a dick. Then there is another side whenever Martius she interacts with her family, you see her as a child to her mother, a wife to her wife and a mother to her child. Seeing these two sides of the character made me conflicted about who to root for, the misunderstood tyrant, or the struggle of the people. The latter are fed up with the government establishment and reject it with the banishment of Martius. In Coriolanus, the people have to deal with the terrible consequences of the vote to banish Martius, like the British people now are dealing with their decision to leave Europe. Back in Shakespeareana, when the people realize the ramifications of rejecting Martius, they feel regret. It was a big theme of the show for me. Making a decision and regretting it, then trying to change it and regretting the change.
The play’s language is of course difficult to understand for an early 21st centuryite. I can tell the players are speaking English, but what they are saying is not always clear. With pure Shakespeare it is then up to the director and cast to show the audience what the characters are feeling and doing. The great thing about this is the audience has to exercise their brains to give the story meaning. Coriolanus is participatory, unlike popular television which tells you a story to be observed passively, we as the audience need to create our story along with the performers facial expressions and actions. Director/choreographer Emily Penick has given her players a beautiful space to bring Coriolanus to life and the show is a rewarding experience.
Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch is a truly wonderful play and I hope you will see it and make your own interpretation of it. Coriolanus is also great exercise for your brain, to work on empathy and imagination.
Reviewer : Michael Beeson
Coriolanus, Fight Like a Bitch has just started its month-long run at Seattle’s 12th Ave Arts. The Mumble managed to catch up with two of its actresses for a wee chat…
Hello ladies, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
KATHERINE : I am from Nashville, Tennessee, originally, but I’m now based in Seattle. Just crossed the ten year mark. Colleen is a Seattle native.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
COLLEEN : I enjoy a wide variety of different forms of live performance; and I find that that I am influenced by the theatrical elements in each of them. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of ‘high art’ versus ‘low art’. I have been less moved by the perfectly cold technique of a famous actress in one of my favorite classical plays at a prominent regional theater and much more deeply moved by the uncontainable pathos of a burlesque piece, in which performer slowly revealed his dark skin from underneath a KKK robe and a white body suit. To me, what makes a piece of theater ‘good’ is this: “If you want to create a masterpiece, you must always avoid beautiful lies.” (Jerzy Grotowski)
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
KATHERINE : I did my first play at age nine- auditioned sort of on a whim- and I promptly fell in love with theatre. At thirteen I discovered Shakespeare and it was like a light went on inside me. After that, I pursued acting more seriously and sought out training, particularly in Shakespeare.
You’ve been washed up on a desert island with a solar-powered DVD player & three films. Which would they be?
COLLEEN : 1) The Wizard of Oz 2) Cinema Paradiso 3) Wings of Desire
What does Katherine Jett like to do when she’s not being theatrical?
KATHERINE : I am hardly ever not theatrical; I go to bed and wake up thinking about theatre. But to give my mind a break, I usually watch cartoons, which I love (Bob’s Burgers and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic are my favorites). I also love learning, whether it’s via book, podcast, or documentary. My most favorite subjects right now are little-known women’s history and anything paranormal. I also love yoga, dance, and petting dogs.
You are quite a stalwart of the Seattle theatre scene. Can you tell us about it & how it compares to the rest of America?
COLLEEN : I don’t think of myself as a stalwart. I know that I work about as much as any other actor in Seattle. There’s any incredible talent pool here in this city!! I try to go out and see at least as much theater as I do. I am so inspired by artists around me that my experience of going to see theater is a huge part of what Julia Cameron calls ‘filling the well’. Theater in America is a huge topic to address! (I also try to see theater whenever I am traveling.) If I had to offer one small critique of the Seattle theatre scene, it would be this: I’d like for us as a community to challenge ourselves to take more risks. I’d love for Seattle theatre to more actively ‘comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’.
You have just started a run of Coriolanus at the 12th Ave Arts in Seattle, can you tell us about the play?
COLLEEN : The country is at war, and the Senate cannot keep the peace within its own walls— let alone on the battlefield. Enter Coriolanus: the country’s most famous badass warrior. She returns home to face the greatest battle yet: to win the love of the people & run for office— or face the dangerous consequences of defying society’s expectations.
Your executive producer for Coriolanus is Rebel Kat Productions, can you tell us about them?
KATHERINE : Rebel Kat is a new production company, and Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch is it’s inaugural production. I have found working with them to be a wonderful and refreshing experience. The company is headed by Rebecca Petriello, who, in addition to being extremely skilled at business in general, has a level of integrity I have never before encountered in a producer. She cares deeply about making art that is meaningful and relevant, and she is really dedicated to doing right by the people working with the company. I feel very lucky to be one of those people.
How are you finding juggling producing Coriolanus & performing in it?
COLLEEN : It’s great! I am so very passionate about the project that I am constantly discovering new opportunities to support and contribute to the work of all the the artists involved in the production. Both crew and cast make up a truly fantastic team!
Can you describe in a single sentence the experience of putting on a Shakespeare play?
KATHERINE : No. But I’ll try. It’s like going on an archaeological dig while climbing a mountain, and sometimes you slide back down a little and have to re-climb parts, but by the time you’ve reached to top, you’ve created a path that’s still hard to climb but easy enough to lead tour groups on. (That was a very long sentence, but still technically one.)
It is interesting that an all-women play seems a complete flip from the days when Shakespeare’s plays were performed solely by men. Can you describe the unique energies surrounding a single-sex production?
COLLEEN : All-female Shakespeare is being done quite a lot these days. There are all-female Shakespeare companies in major cities all over the world. Personally, I would say that unique energies in any production have mostly to do with individual people. Gender is only one factor among many. It would be easy to assume that seeing or making a single-sex production would be a binary experience. The truth is, it is far more complex than that. Actually, the reason that I wanted to produce this particular play, with an all-female cast, is that the character of Coriolanus is neither a hero nor an anti-hero. It’s a fascinating social experience to see a woman playing a role that is not ‘likable’ per se; and when that beautifully complex female character is surrounded by other female senators, warriors and politicians (many of whom are also wives and mothers) a reflection of the modern world in which we live can be seen with a great deal of honesty.
How would you describe your working relationship with Colleen Carey, & do you hang out afterwards?
KATHERINE : You bet we hang out afterwards. Since meeting her almost two years ago, she has become one of my dearest friends, as well as co-collaborator. We have deeply compatible convictions and ideas about performance and the artistic process, and for me, it’s an extreme delight to work and scheme with her.