Eight short plays premiere this weekend at As If Theatre Company’s short-run festival, Kenmore Quickies. The plays spring from an unusual inspiration and a research process focused heavily on Kenmore’s local history.
When the new company As If Theatre announced its second-ever show, right away it was a curiosity: a festival of short plays based on segments of the Kenmore Mural Project, which celebrates the small city’s history with an enormous, building-length painting created by A. Gaul Culley and Staci Adman. The mural was completed in 2016.
As If brought together eight local playwrights and divvied up the massive (188-foot long) wall eight ways, giving the writers each a section and a prompt. They also gave them reference materials on the history behind the imagery, from which the mural artists drew inspiration in creating the painting. The playwrights could then choose to incorporate that material into their piece, or set it aside and interpret the picture anew.
Whichever approach the playwrights pursued, the whole idea has something of a meta feel to it: life inspiring fixed visual art, which in turn inspires live theatre. Intentionally or not, the transformation feels right at home for a company whose vision declares, In the long-standing debate, ‘Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?’ As If Theatre Company consciously chooses the latter.
The playwrights selected to tackle the project are John C. Davenport, Caitlin Gilman, Marcus Gorman, Betsy Hanson, Christopher Kidder-Mostrom, Catherine Rush, Julieta Vitullo, and Carolynne Wilcox. Each of them received a randomly assigned section of the mural as a prompt, along with a randomly assigned director and actors, who will each perform in two of the plays.
The playwrights run the gamut stylistically, from Gorman, whose work is often humorous and offbeat (think Deers, the Gregory Awards People’s Choice Award-winning play at Annex Theatre, about talking animals who are regulars in a bar), to Vitullo, whose work often draws upon darker imagery (her current full-length work, Two Big Black Bags, about a veteran of the Malvinas/Falklands war, shows at ACT Theatre on August 9-11; see NWT’s interview with her here). It’s little surprise that the plays vary stylistically, too. According to As If, they range from funny to touching, incorporate several of Kenmore’s local landmarks, and include actors playing some of the animals roaming throughout the mural (crow, peacock, alligator, bear). Sounds like Gorman’s Deers could be right at home amidst the menagerie.
The audience will see the each piece’s image prompt before the start of each short play. As for which playwright wrote it, however, in the short term you’ll have to guess — they’ll remain a mystery to the audience each night until curtain. After seeing them all, each night’s audience members will cast their votes for the festival’s audience-choice award, and then find out who wrote what. As If will present the award (based on the cumulative three nights of voting) on Sunday, after the final show.
As If is a brand-new company, based in a place not exactly known for its bustling theatre scene: Kenmore, a small city on the north shore of Lake Washington (fittingly called the “Northshore” district). And that’s the point. The company, founded by three theatre artists (Cindy Giese French, Amy Gentry, and Molly Hall), chose to plant its artistic home in a place without a theatre, expanding the arts offerings there. As If has now also partnered with Arts of Kenmore, an organization which previously focused on visual rather than performing arts, as a fiscal sponsor.
Kenmore Quickies is a way of further grounding the company in its geographic home. As Gentry, the company’s Managing Director, noted, the company’s Kenmore base and the resounding support received from the local community made the Kenmore Mural Project a natural centerpiece for the festival. “We wanted to create something that really shines a light on the area; the artists here, and the history here,” she explained. “We figured, what better way than to kick off our short play festival using prompts from a piece of art IN Kenmore and ABOUT Kenmore.”
Next up for the company is Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire, which will run this October. The company’s debut show, The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, played this past February-March. Both plays feature family drama and center strong women in their roles.
Kenmore Quickies runs 7/26 through 7/28 at the Kenmore Community Club. Tickets $20, available here. For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; theatre is wheelchair accessible, though the main restrooms are not.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.