Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals is among the coolest shows in town, showing off new work with fantastic casts. But attendance is limited — and both for Village Theatre and for audiences regularly starved of relevant theatre, that may be an opportunity missed beyond the weekend.
Catch NWT’s interview with musical theatre writers and Festival veterans Michelle Elliott and Danny Haengil Larsen, here.
The Festival of New Musicals, in its 19th year at Village Theatre through the Village Originals program, is akin to a weekend of summer camp for grownups. First there’s food, then talking about arts and artists, then watching a read/sing-through of a musical that perhaps no one’s ever seen before; and then the process repeats, several times over. Make it through the weekend, and you’ll have been introduced to five full-length new works by promising writers and composers, featuring some of the best actors in town.
But attendance at the Festival is limited — to certain invited industry and press members, and to those willing and able to pay for a “membership” to Village Originals (the chief benefit of which is admission to the Festival). Memberships start at $200 for admission to the full Fest, or $75 for one day.
And although the exclusivity of the Festival might lend to some of its intrigue, it’s also a bummer — both for audiences seeking work that better speaks to them, and for a theatre looking to cultivate new audiences.
The Resonance of New Works for New Audiences
Classics serve a cultural function — they’ve withstood the test of time, and connect us with past generations, even as the works themselves are remade and updated on the stage. But they’re not the works that ever landed with me (a Grandpa Millennial, of the mid-’80s) or connected me to the theatre form. Whatever lives those shows were speaking to, they weren’t mine.
I can pinpoint the exact show that showed me I could really love the theatre. It was six years ago. It was both the first time I ever saw a show twice, and the first time I understood that experiences like mine and friends like mine could be represented on stage. It was new, it was fresh, it was quintessentially local.
The show was These Streets, a rock music-driven play by Gretta Harley, Sarah Rudinoff, and Elizabeth Kenny, and directed by Amy Poisson in ACT’s Falls Theatre. It centered on women in the Seattle rock music scene in the ’80s and ’90s, before my time and at venues I couldn’t get into yet. But so many of my coming-of-age memories, beginning in the late ’90s, were around all-ages shows at venues like RKCNDY and Graceland and inside of record shops; friendships formed with musicians and others met randomly on Capitol Hill buses, late-night coffee shops, the all-night book sale, and the Globe Cafe; and how, as our paths diverged, I lost touch with virtually all of them. These Streets was about all of that, and more. And it landed when both my life (moving back to Seattle from the East Coast for the second time in five years) and Seattle itself were in major stages of flux.
Since These Streets, only Hir (a play by Taylor Mac, which ArtsWest and Intiman co-produced in 2018) has approached that resonance with me. Both speak to the inevitability of change, and both give center stage to counterculture and youth in places they’re not often brought, at least respectfully: the mainstream theatre. These aren’t topics, or feelings, that classics could bring up in the same way.
Development of new works is a significant, but relatively under-the-radar, element of what Village Theatre does — and it has the most potential to speak to new audiences. Of the work put up at Village, the Festival tends to showcase material that’s freshest, the most resonant with our times. And it brings it to life with a large local cast of up-and-coming favorites alongside long-established ones, rather than relying on a large proportion of out-of-towners. In a theatre community always starved for younger audiences, those aspects — fresh material and recognizable talent — could both be big draws.
A Weekend of Fresh New Works & Familiar Artists
In its 19th year, the Festival presents five full-length new works interspersed with other events (including previews and “short musicals”), collectively making for a pretty luscious weekend of theatre.
Below are details on the shows and casts, and a general schedule of the weekend. For more information, see Festival page here.
5 pm: Kick-off party (food provided by WildFin)
6 pm: Musical previews
7 pm: First show (XY)
Book, Music, & Lyrics by Oliver Houser
Developed with & Directed by Hunter Bird
Music Directed by Michael Nutting
On the advice of doctors, Chris’s mother took the leap to subject her intersex child to genital surgery as an infant and raise him as a girl. Now 26 years later, Chris has transitioned back into being a man and is navigating his first romantic relationship while he is haunted by his eleven-year-old self.
Cast: Merek Jarocki, Kendra Kassebaum, Sara Porkalob, Mikayla Sanchez, Chris Shea, and Peter Smith; stage directions by Vincent Milay
NWT Notes: Even in fictional accounts, NWT does not condone use of old (pre-transition) names for any reason in promotional materials or coverage; they’re generally sensationalized, pointless and harmful. They have been removed from the description.
10:30 am: Brunch (food provided by Fins Bistro)
12 pm: Quick musicals (First Stage Theatre)
2 pm: Second show (Cold Turkey)
7:30 pm: Third show (Modern)
Book by Andrew Russell
Music & Lyrics by Rich Gray
Directed by Brandon Ivie
Music Directed by Nathan Young
A wild and funny satire based on the 1971 Norman Lear film of the same name, Cold Turkey tells the story of a beleaguered small town which responds to an advertising gimmick to win a $25 million challenge to quit smoking for 30 days.
Cast: Greg McCormick Allen, Eric Ankrim, Ethan Carpenter, Molli Corcoran, Sarah Rose Davis, John X. Deveney, Iris Elton, Jalá Harper, Kate Jaeger, Mikko Juan, Danny Kam, Jason Kappus, Terence Kelley, Laura Kenny, Bobbi Kotula, Tony Lawson, Shermona Mitchell, Jayne Muirhead, Vincent (VJ) Orduna, Karen Skrinde, Alexandra Tavares, Matt Wolfe
Book & Lyrics by Selda Sahin
Book & Music by Derek Gregor
Directed by Jessica Spencer
Music Directed by R.J. Tancioco
A new-grass, post-rock musical, Modern is the inspiring story of a group of Amish teenagers on their Rumspringa. Witness their brief period of freedom as they struggle to find the balance between love, tradition, progress, faith, and who they’ll become.
Cast: Kody Bringman, Dexter Darden, Rachel Guyer-Mafune, Frederick Hagreen, Cassi Q Kohl, Arika Matoba, Becca Orts, Eliza Palasz, Tyler Rogers, James Schilling, Hannah Schuerman, Patrick Shelton, Jeremy Steckler, Fune Tautala
2 pm: Fourth show (Eastbound)
7 pm: Fifth show (Cowboy Bob)
9:30 pm: Closing night party (food provided by Fins Bistro)
Book & Music by Cheeyang Ng
Book & Lyrics by Khiyon Hursey
Directed by Desdemona Chiang
Music Directed by Steven Tran
Two worlds. Two cultures. One question: how far are you willing to go to find family? Chinese-American adoptee Calvin travels to China in search of his birth mother. Unbeknownst to him, his biological brother, Yun, travels to America, seeking to break free of family traditions. Their quests in search of their own identities force them to evaluate whether family is chosen or biological.
Cast: Ya Han Chang, Beth DeVries, Daniel Le, Cheeyang Ng, Zachary Noah Piser, Shuyan Yang
Music & Lyrics by Jeanna Phillips
Book & Additional Lyrics by Molly Beach Murphy
Directed by Annie Tippe
Additional Music & Music Directed by Alex Thrailkill
Peggy was a good neighbor, a good daughter, and a great bank robber. Disguised as a man in a fake beard and a ten-gallon hat, “Cowboy Bob” evaded detection for more than a decade. In a score that’s equal parts Riot Grrrl and Texas two-step, the small-town legend inspires a local waitress to take life by the reins and let it ride.
Cast: Andi Alhadeff, Antonia Darlene, Adam Fontana, Alexandria Henderson, Suzy Hunt, Rico Lastrapes, Cobey Mandarino, and Nathaniel Tenebaum
The Village Originals Festival of New Musicals runs 8/9 through 8/11 at Village Theatre in Issaquah. Admission is available only through Village Originals membership, starting at $200 (full series) or $75 (single-day admission); info and festival schedule available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are multi-stall and gendered in both locations; gender-neutral single-stall restrooms are available on balcony level by talking with house manager. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.