When Allyson Lee Brown performs her solo show “SBW 365: The Myth and The Mule” in early November, it’ll be her first time on stage in nearly two years. The emotions during the buildup to that moment have been complicated.
“In full transparency, it’s a little nerve-wracking,” she said. “This time, it’s going to be my work, like my own words. That’s both beautiful and just like, I want to pull my hair out.”
Brown’s performance is one of nearly two dozen events slated to be part of Sound Theatre Company’s Making Waves Fall Arts Festival, which is running Thursday-Sunday evenings through Nov. 13 at 12th Avenue Arts. Launched in 2012, Making Waves is dedicated to showcasing experimental and developmental work across disciplines. This year’s performances include play readings, dance, poetry, film and comedy.
A four-week cornucopia of theatrical events is simultaneously a bold reentrance into live performance and a cautious tiptoeing back in for Sound at a time when event scheduling isn’t quite on solid ground.
“One of the things that we built in for this particular program, which I feel very good about, is that we gave ourselves a lot of safety hatches,” said Teresa Thuman, Sound’s co-artistic director. “If we needed to cancel something, it would be one event or one act, as opposed to an entire production. We’ve already had our experiences with the canceling and the postponing enough to keep us busy for a while.”
Amid the pandemic, a nationwide racial reckoning caused theaters around the country to consider their own institutional biases, from staffing to programming, even as they were unable to make any onstage strides. Sound Theatre has been explicit about its own journey toward a more equitable theater model even before then.
2018’s season was dedicated to “radical inclusion” and featured a program of plays by deaf and disabled playwrights. 2019 explored voices of the erased, including readings of plays by Native and Indigenous writers. In early 2020, Sound’s last show before the world was upended, was Darren Canady’s “Reparations,” a sci-fi-tinged examination of intergenerational trauma co-produced with LANGSTON and directed by Jay O’Leary-Woods. Later that year, Sound named O’Leary-Woods, a key leader of anti-racist coalition Seattle Theatre Leaders, its co-artistic director.
The act of creating space for a variety of voices is also evident in Sound’s artist-centric approach to the programming of the Making Waves festival. Thuman wasn’t familiar with Brown’s show when Sound gave her the slot; she simply loved the “wonderful, commanding ease” she brought to the stage in previous Sound productions, like “Reparations.”
“In some ways, we are very comfortable with saying, ‘We really like this artist. Here’s the space. How do you want to use it? What do you want to do?’ ” Thuman said.
What Brown wanted was to return to a piece she began developing during her drama MFA program at the University of Washington. Expanded from its 10-minute original form to around 40 minutes, “SBW 365: The Myth and The Mule” examines Black women’s experiences, from the archetypal to the personal. For Brown, this return to theater is also an endpoint.
“This is my last time teaching people about how to talk to us about what Black women deal with on a daily basis,” she said. “This is my last hurrah. After this, I don’t want to have a talkback. I don’t want to sit and explain to you why I feel unprotected as a Black woman, or why I feel silenced as a Black woman. It’s all on the stage; I’ve quite literally laid it out for you.”
On the other end of the theater life cycle is Rose Cano’s “Pariah,” a generation- and continent-spanning play about Flora Tristan, the French-Peruvian socialist activist and pioneering feminist, and her grandson, post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Closing out the festival on Nov. 13, “Pariah” is receiving its second reading — the first time it’s being done in person, with blocking, projections and around a 10-person cast bringing it to life.
The play is an “exercise in fantasy,” given that Tristan and Gauguin were never alive at the same time and yet share the stage in the play, Cano said. The nonlinear storytelling combines selections from both persons’ diaries with fictional characters and conversations to examine themes of class, race, art and gender.
Cano is looking forward to learning more about her own play from the actors’ interpretation of her words and to achieve something that’s just not possible in an online reading.
“I’m excited about seeing each other’s faces, for sure,” she said. “And about being in the same room and feeling the energy, because Zoom took all the pacing out of theater. I’m exaggerating — but it’s hard to pace. Two people can’t talk at once. So now, I’m going to love the overlap because our voices have been so lonely.”
For Thuman, the festival is an exercise in beginning to learn how audiences and artists can safely share a space again. But it’s also a culmination of sorts.
“We want to create things that are meaningful to the community and [are] moving the community needs forward,” she said. “We’ve been chasing those thoughts for a couple years now, and now it’s kind of coming to fruition.”
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