You’re a sensitive, arts-obsessed person starting another year of college, or maybe this is the beginning of your career in higher education. The switch from that hot-as-hell, outdoors-friendly summer to stuffy indoor classrooms and late-night study sessions can do a number on your psyche. Where can you find an outlet for all these…feelings? Why, the dramatic arts, of course.
Here’s a look at five local institutions and their fall theatre seasons, ready-made for student and non-student audience members alike.
University of Washington
Language of Angels (11/17 – 12/4) + More
This fall, you’ll see many people pack themselves into Husky Stadium to cheer on one of the biggest names in PNW college sports, but one light rail stop away is the Floyd and Dolores Jones Playhouse at 41st and the Ave in the U District.
Starting November 11, swing by one of my favorite Seattle theatre spaces for the ghost story Language of Angels, written by prolific Japanese-born playwright Naomi Iizuka (Good Kids) and directed by UW faculty member Valerie Curtis-Newton (last season’s Suzan-Lori Parks offering Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2, & 3). Iizuka’s best-known play involves a young girl who goes missing in a North Carolina cave and the ripples of her disappearance on her closest friends over several years.
Meanwhile, the Undergraduate Theatre Society has two shows for the fall quarter. Up first is Twelve Ophelias (a Play with Broken Songs), directed by Priya Hendry and written by Caridad Svich (also the author of Book-It Rep’s current show, In the Time of the Butterflies). Another Appalachia-set tale (but this time with a neo-Elizabethan bent), it’s a resonant remix of Hamlet with a resurrected Ophelia (and a chorus of doubles) reclaiming her story. Then as part of their New Works Series comes Bahay Kubo from Filipino-American student Shea Formanes.
📸: Seattle University (Photo from a past year’s performance)
Seattle University has broken up its academic school year with three shows. Next winter boasts a showcase of directing scenes, and next spring brings a full production that has yet to be announced. But for fall, they will be presenting Celebrating Laughter, Love, and Levity: A Campus Cabaret. According to Amiya Brown, director of theatre, the campus-wide show “will feature talent from across the campus including SU students, faculty, and staff. This production will bring together performing artists of all kinds to join in celebrating collective joy and communal storytelling through live performance!” And no two shows will be the same, as “there’ll be different acts on different nights.” In short, get your arts kicks on First Hill, then come around a couple nights later and do it again.
Corners Grove + Our Town + Cabaret
Throw a rock at pretty much any locally produced performing arts show (please don’t literally throw rocks at people) and you’re guaranteed to find a Cornish College of the Arts alum. So what do they have cooking?
Up first on November 3 is Corners Grove, written and directed by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, a modern-day reimagining of Our Town “about growing up and hometowns, friendship, and drinking in parking lots.” While that bows at the Cornish Playhouse, mosey on over to Raisbeck Performance Hall two days later for the OG Our Town, the seminal work of Americana by Thornton Wilder. Come for the meta-theatricality as you experience the lives of Grover’s Corners citizens, stay for the ghosts. And if you’re a young Gen-Xer/elder millennial (holy wow, we’re old enough to have college-age kids), cry during the third act because you remember that one episode of My So-Called Life where Angela and Rayanne rekindle their friendship during a very emotional rehearsal of the play.
Over in Musical Land, willkommen to the Cornish Playhouse on November 18 with Cabaret, the Kander/Ebb/Masteroff Tony winner that rocked Broadway in 1968 and then gave megahit The Godfather a run for its money at the 1972 Academy Awards. Cabaret is iconic enough not to necessitate much summary but, in short, it’s a semi-autobiographical tale set in Weimar-era Berlin centering on American expatriate writer Clifford Bradshaw (a stand-in for Christopher Isherwood) and British cabaret singer Sally Bowles during the rise of the Nazi Party.
Shoreline Community College
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (12/2 – 12/11)
Shoreline Community College’s big show isn’t going up until December 2, but the good news is that it’s a fabulous one. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has emerged as a regional theatre mainstay despite losing Best Musical to Monty Python’s Spamalot at the 2005 Tony Awards. (Putnam is better, IMO.)
It’s self-explanatory based on the title—six schoolkids (played by adults) compete at the titular bee, revealing their quirks and anxieties along the way—but that description belies the show’s great empathy. Being a child can be absolute hell, especially under extreme pressure from your school, your parents, and your peers, and Putnam handles it beautifully; few modern musical comedies manage to find that balance of nuance and huge laughs. Most delightfully, the play is interactive, as the script requires several audience members to also compete in the bee; if you’re a great speller, you may end up part of a musical number or three.
Seattle Pacific University
📸: Seattle Pacific University (Photo from a past year’s performance)
There’s never been a better time to talk about mental health. (To be honest, though, when isn’t it?) Enter the 2007 play Mrs. Packer, a true-life tale of American advocate Elizabeth Packard, from OBIE Award-winning Emily Mann (Still Life, Having Our Say) and director Andrew Ryder.
It’s the 1860s, and the well-educated, 22-year-old Elizabeth has just been married off to Calvinist minister Theophilus Packard (great name, bad person). When Elizabeth questions Theophilus’ deep-seated social and religious views, he openly accuses her of insanity, making use of a legal loophole that a husband can have his wife committed without her consent. Elizabeth is imprisoned for three years but continues to defend herself, and upon a contentious release, she gets her literal day in court to challenge her husband and fight for the rights of married women everywhere.
An incarceration melodrama, a 19th-century legal thriller, a true story about how our country treats the “mentally ill”; this is the kind of stuff that thrives in a college setting, where dramaturgy becomes a healthy part of a drama student’s academic diet.