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BWW Review: THE CAMPFIRE FESTIVAL from The Williams Project

Live Theatre is Back and Coming Out Strong

BWW Review: THE CAMPFIRE FESTIVAL from The Williams Project
Rheanna Atendido in Hell Here at
The Campfire Festival from The Williams Project
Photo credit: Michael B. Maine

Dear Readers, it's so good to be able to call you all that again. I'm so pleased to announce that live theatre has returned to the Seattle area. That doesn't mean we're completely back to normal, but it is a start, as The Williams Project has put together "The Campfire Festival". And with its rotating slate of shows, they remind us of what we've been missing, and longing for.

With "The Campfire Festival", The Williams Project has gathered four local artists to come up with all new, short plays. The artists, Justin Huertas, Aaron Martin Davis Norman, Maggie L. Rogers, and Dedra D. Woods present half-hour solo works, conceived for performance outdoors with very small, socially-distancing audiences. Each performance presents two of the shows in rotating pairs.

The shows include:

"Hell Here" by Justin Huertas

Playwright, composer, and lyricist Justin Huertas ("Lizard Boy", "The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion") will create a musical short to be performed by singer, songwriter, and actress multi-hyphenate powerhouse Rheanna Atendido (WET: "Dance Nation", ArtsWest: "Head Over Heels"). Blending Justin's mythic imagination with the intimacy of an acoustic set, it promises to be a concert musical like no other.

"Storytime: Good Grief" by Aaron Martin Davis Norman

In a year punctuated by loss, artist, educator, and activist Aaron Martin Davis Norman has spent a lot of time considering how we can Grieve Well. Trained in opera, musical theatre, and gospel performance, the artist who created the soaring music in The Williams Project's "Blues for Mister Charlie" will share a musical expression of their process of finding a way through personal grief. Accompanied by Kevin Haylock.

"Untitled" by Maggie L. Rogers

Hailing from Louisville, KY, multi-disciplinary artist Maggie L. Rogers will look back at growing up, her grandma, her family, and roller skating in a genre-bending performance. As Artistic Director of Washington Ensemble Theatre and a prolific director, Maggie is shaping the Seattle theatre scene. In The Campfire Festival, she'll tell her story the way only she can.

"30 Minutes" by Dedra D. Woods

In 1967, actor/storyteller/creator and change agent Dedra D. Woods' mother witnessed the riots unfolding in Detroit. Fifty years later in Seattle, it's an open question how much things have changed. After appearing in The Williams Project's "A Bright Room Called Day", "Small Craft Warnings", and "The Time of Your Life", Dedra returns to explore life, loss, Blackness, joy, and family in her brand-new piece.

For the evening I attended, I was blessed to see the shows from Huertas and Woods and I could not imagine a better reintroduction to live performances. Beginning the evening with Huertas' "Hell Here" we meet Joan (Rheanna Atendido), a singer fresh off her tour and now back home in her small apartment on Capitol Hill, when suddenly the quarantine lockdown hits and she goes from performing for her fans to completely isolated. And if that weren't enough, now she seems to have new roommates, the demons of her past selves. With Huertas' distinctive voice, Atendido, filled with humor and heart, confronts the not-so-great moments of her past. If you're familiar with Atendido's work around town you know of her rich and powerful voice, which she combines with some fantastic comedic timing to bring this tale to vivid life. And if you're familiar with Huertas' work, you know of his talent to weave fantastical tales, even from something as mundane as isolation in quarantine, and how he fills it with clever and memorable songs.

BWW Review: THE CAMPFIRE FESTIVAL from The Williams Project
Dedra D. Woods in 30 Minutes at
The Campfire Festival from The Williams Project
Photo credit: Michael B. Maine

Next, we had Woods with "30 Minutes", in which she informs us at the outset, that this is NOT a performance. She then launches into a superbly crafted monologue as she views our current world through the lens of her own Mother comparing the Detroit riots in 1967 to the riots of the past year following the needless deaths of people of color at the hands of the police. Through recorded interviews with her Mom, she looks at how far we've come, and how much we've stayed the same. From her other performances, I know Woods to be a gifted actress, but here she shows off her fantastic writing skills as well with a piece that seamlessly goes from funny to heartbreaking to provocative.

This being my first foray back into seeing live theatre in over a year, I was understandably excited. Hell, I was practically giddy. And while I was only able to catch two of the four shows, I can say with assurance that this was the perfect way to dip my toe into the theatrical waters and made for a wonderful evening. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "The Campfire Festival" from The Williams Project a "Can't wait for more" YAY. And I should mention that spaces are limited so reserve your spots soon.

"The Campfire Festival" from The Williams Project is performed outside, in front of the Rainier Arts Center. Some seating sections are available as are areas fit for blankets or camping chairs. And all are in isolated areas and under strict safety guidelines. And, as usual for The Williams Project, all tickets are part of their Pay-What-You-Can model. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.thewilliamsproject.org.


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