Student Blog: Another Kind of Coming Home – The Return of Live Theatre in Seattle

From educational theatre to Shakespeare in the park, the theatre community that shaped me as an artist is coming back to life.

By: Jul. 28, 2021
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Student Blog: Another Kind of Coming Home – The Return of Live Theatre in Seattle

As a Northwestern student, the Chicago theatre world may be my current home base, but it was the Seattle theatre community that raised me. From the time I moved to the city at age eleven and made my professional theatre debut there the next year, the Seattle theatre world has felt like home. Taking the bus to downtown rehearsals and tackling dream roles at educational and storefront theatres in the suburbs, it's where I found family and mentors, realized this hobby could become a career, took risks and discovered passions, and grew up - as an artist and a human. From the time I turned thirteen and could get $5 rush tickets with my TeenTix pass, I've spent almost every weekend in the audience of one theatre or another, and on every visit home from school I look forward to a packed schedule of seeing my friends and inspirations on as many stages as I can. So alongside all the other strange experiences of the last year and a half, repeatedly coming home to a Seattle without live theatre was one of the strangest. But as we see a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, especially in the heavily vaccinated Seattle community, in-person theatre has slowly begun to make its return, and experiencing it in a variety of capacities has been a highlight of my visit home.

I kicked off my Seattle summer with work as a choreographer and teaching artist for in-person musical theatre training at Taproot Theatre's Acting Studio. For many years, Taproot has been one of my favorite theatres to attend, and interning on their online camps last summer was a joy that confirmed my love for teaching theatre. But teaching in-person for the first time in almost two years (and working professionally at Taproot, and as a choreographer, for the first time ever) was a different kind of special. Covid-safe theatre camp with masked students and limited staff was new and challenging, but I learned so much from veteran teaching artists and enthusiastic campers, many of them experiencing their first in-person theatremaking of any sort since winter 2020.

In many ways, educational theatre programs like this one are leading the charge of returning live theatre in Seattle. Although our Village Theatre does not open its welcome-back mainstage season until the winter, its youth theatre wing Kidstage is producing three student-directed musicals this summer, one of which (The Spitfire Grill) represented the first full live musical I've seen post-pandemic. I couldn't help but shed a few tears watching my friends beautifully perform a story of joy, hope, and community, with a live orchestra, in a real theatre, full of Seattle theatregoers (including friends) laughing and crying and applauding along with me.

While professional Seattle theatre has been especially slow to reopen, perhaps the highlight of my Seattle summer theatregoing was one of the few professional productions to have returned: Seattle Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare in the Park production of The Comedy of Errors. A highlight of this past academic year was spending an entire quarter in my acting class focused on performing Shakespeare, leaving me with heaps of new knowledge and discoveries about the genre - particularly about its radical lack of a fourth wall and hence its central use of audience connection. But as my classmates and I explored this connection with only an audience of each other, there was something missing. Comedy of Errors' incorporation of this connection would have stood out to me in any case, it being the first Shakespeare play I'd seen since taking the class, but as one of my first times experiencing that in-person actor-audience connection at all in over a year, this production (and its cast that absolutely reveled in the playful joy of making theatre with real humans) was incredibly poignant.

After a short visit to New York, I'll soon be back in the Seattle area to make my own return to live performance in a festival of 10-minute works at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Though I've been lucky enough to make some theatre in-person with cast and creative team members in the last year, I've had yet to perform for a live audience, and I simply can't wait. Though I might be preparing to start a professional theatre career in Chicago, it somehow feels right that it's in this community that gave me so many theatrical firsts that I'll be experiencing this first show back. Thanks to the pandemic sending all my spring and summer 2020 plans online, I've spent far more time back in Seattle in the last year and a half than I ever expected. But it's in the return of the theatre community that brought me up that I've finally felt a different kind of coming home.