Creating Common Ground: Reflections on the First Day of Rising Star Project’s Empowering Young Artists Initiative (EYAI)

about-rspIn 1996, August Wilson famously stated: “We can meet on the common ground of the American theater.” He also insisted that “we must develop the ground together.”

These are the words that I can’t help but recall as I sit on the floor of our rehearsal studio surrounded by 19 young performers— the inaugural cohort of the Empowering Young Artists Initiative (EYAI)—as they meet together for the first time.

It is hard to believe that Rising Star Project, the education program that EYAI supports, is in its sixth year of providing mentorship and training to local teens. As I’ve watched the program grow and flourish, the words of Wilson’s famous speech seem to echo with more and more insistence. By supporting young people along their unique paths to careers and higher education, we hope that we are also contributing to the positive impact that these young people will have on the world in the future.

But Wilson’s words remind me that, by bringing together such a diverse and driven group of students, Rising Star Project is also in a unique position to participate in the project that he was insisting on.

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The EYAI Squad represents communities as far away as Marysville and Yakima, and as near as Rainier Valley. Through remarkable support from our community, this group will come together for 10 weeks to train with theater professionals, prepare for participation in the mainstage presentation of Rising Star Project: The Pajama Game and to learn more about the form of musical theater. Importantly, this group will also convene to create a dialogue on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion—and the part that the arts can play in our society.

After Day 1, I will admit that it is equally inspiring to see this group of teenagers acknowledge each other as self-proclaimed musical theater nerds. I guess that is the other area of common ground, the one that August Wilson didn’t cite—but the one that the EYAI Squad will welcome you to with open arms.

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach


To find out more about EYAI, Rising Star Project, and other Education programs, click here.

An Introduction to The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Writers’ Group

 

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By MAKAELA POLLOCK

Often when I mention that I work with the Writers’ Group at The 5th, I get the response, “Cool!—So what do you guys actually DO?” The answer is both simple and huge. On the simple level, we write scenes and songs that add up to a whole musical, we give feedback to each other, we discuss what it means to create musical theater, and most importantly, we commit to being in the room with each other every other week in order to make that happen.

Behind this simple practice is a much bigger intention. And here let me take a tangent to explain that I am lucky enough to have been involved with the Writers’ Group since the first cycle began in 2014. At that time I was working with Ian Eisendrath as the New Works Associate for The 5th, and got to be involved in the development of this program, as well as all of the New Works projects (from sending writing teams on retreats which started new shows to being associate director for A Room With A View and every phase in between). From its inception, this group was designed to nuture local artists and hone musical writing talents so that there is a grassroots action of supporting the future of musical theater right here in Seattle. So there is a big umbrella hope that by meeting every week we are creating a legacy for great new shows, advancing the capital-C Craft of this unique American capital-A Art form.

But back to the nuts and bolts. We take all that passion and idealism and focus it towards working with each writing team to create a new show in a little under two years. In the first year there is a lot of discussion of what makes a musical (What makes a good musical? What makes a produceable musical? How do so many go wrong?) and how to get started (A song? A scene? Source material? An inspiring character?). Then there is the frenzy of pitching ideas and making outlines before diving into the writing itself. By the end of year one, we have collectively rejected dozens of ideas and had hundreds of rewrites in service of getting to a first draft of a first act of a new show.

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This past October, our four writing teams did unrehearsed table readings of four new shows as part of NextFest. Hearing these fledgling drafts get voiced by actors is one of my favorite parts of the process because so much is revealed in that raw reading. There are surprising interpretations, bold audience responses, and brand new understandings of the piece from the writers themselves. We now are launching forward with wholesale revisions as these teams work to complete the writing process and shape these new shows so that they are ready for a full week of rehearsals and reading by next fall’s NextFest.


Find out more about the Writer’s Group, and other New Works initiatives, at our website, and stay tuned for further updates from each of the writing teams in the Writers’ Group.

The Seven-and-a-Half Cent Solution: The Birth of the Labor Movement in America

By Gretchen Douma, Arts Writer

In 1955, The Pajama Game took home the Tony Award for Best Musical. Who would have thought that a musical humorously focusing on the labor troubles at a pajama factory would have been such a success?

But consider this. That same year, the two most powerful unions in the United States merged. The American Federation of Labor, founded in 1886 and the Committee for Industrial Organization, founded in 1935 joined forces to become the AFL-CIO, working to expand the country’s union movement and to more effectively champion workers’ rights. So maybe a musical about labor relations was a concept whose time had come.

In fact, the union movement in America precedes this milestone by more than a few decades. The birth of a united labor movement in the United States dates back to the late 1800s. A significant milestone took place in 1881 when carpenters, cigar makers, steel workers, merchant seamen, printers and delegates from the Knights of Labor, inspired by the British Trades Union Congress, met in Pittbsurgh and formed the Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions (FOTLU). Led by Samuel L. Gompers, the FOTLU had as one of its chief goals the establishment of the eight-hour work day.

It is easy to forget just how many aspects of modern workplace life we owe to the early labor movement. The eight-hour work day, federal minimum wage, workplace health and safety regulations, the right to strike, boycott and peacefully protest, the right to bargain collectively—all are the result of efforts by the American labor movement to protect working men and women.

The progress of the American labor movement has been one of fits and starts from the very beginning. The founding in Chicago in 1905 of the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW; known as “Wobblies” for short) galvanized the most radical elements of the labor movement, bringing together self-avowed socialists, anarchists, Marxists and radical trade unionists from all over the United States. From the outset, the IWW and the AFL were fiercely at odds about the correct tactics for making change.

labor-movementsFor every success, labor’s stride forward was thwarted by pressures from employers and the political and economic realities of the times. We took a step back with the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which killed 150 New York workers, and another step back as a result of the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike, when immigrant textile workers exposed the terrible pay and devastating working conditions in American factories. These events helped garner public support for the protesting workers.

But following World War I, a combination of often hysterical fear of “Bolsheviks,” economic depression, and creeping unemployment fueled public anti-union sentiment and anti-labor actions. Strike-breaking, blacklisting and vigilantism ran rampant. The Seattle General Strike of 1919 is just one such example. The first general strike the country had ever seen, it was a remarkable demonstration of solidarity between workers from across diverse industries and trades. In the space of four days, 65,000 workers walked off their jobs. What began as a protest against the low wages paid to shipyard workers effectively brought the city to a stand-still. But actions by local government officials, anti-union sentiment from the public, and pressure from the International AFL (which feared that the ongoing conflict would damage union-organizing efforts in other parts of the country) eventually broke the strike. What began on February 6 was over by February 10; however, the strike’s legacy of change through protest remains a vital part of Seattle’s psyche to this day.

It wasn’t until 1935 that Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act. This law set collective bargaining as national policy required by law, mandated secret ballots for workers voting on whether to unionize, and protected union members from employer intimidation and harassment. That same year, support from the AFL and the CIO helped the passage of national social programs including Social Security, unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, and a federal minimum wage.

The late ‘30s into the 1940s was a period of strong union growth and labor activity, and in 1946, the country saw the largest wave of strikes in U.S. history to date. In 1947, in reaction to what was seen as unfair practices on the part of the strikers, the Taft-Hartley Act was passed specifically to curtail certain types of union-driven boycott activities. Following the end of World War II and into the early 1950s, the American labor movement was splintering, as those with far left or suspected Communist leanings were expelled from the CIO. However, in 1955, the AFL and CIO made the decision to merge, bolstering the efforts and political clout of both organizations and the labor movement in general.

The 1960s brought a decade of social and political change. In 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice and the passage of the Equal Pay Act banning wage discrimination based on gender were enacted. In 1964, the U.S. saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act banning institutional forms of racism. Fueled by the unfair wages and working conditions plaguing California itinerant farm workers and buoyed by the energy of the Civil Rights movement, Cesar Chavez formed the National Farm Workers Association, organizing a series of successful strikes against grape growers. The NFWA later joined the AFL-CIO as the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.

Change continued to come, but come slowly. It took until 1970 for Congress to enact the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), authorizing the Secretary of Labor to establish and enforce workplace health and safety standards. Between 1970 and 2000, more organized labor groups raised their voices to protest workplace discrimination including the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and Pride at Work. As international trade has grown, especially in the latter half of the 20th century, the issues facing American workers and employers alike have become ever more complex. The arguments for and against the NAFTA agreement are just one example of that complexity. The fight for a seven-and-a-half cent raise at the center of The Pajama Game seems quaint by comparison.

As we head toward the second decade of the 21st century, it is useful to remember what lies at the heart of the American labor movement. Perhaps the mission of the AFL-CIO states it best:  “We resolve to fulfill the yearning of the human spirit for liberty, justice, and community; to advance individual and associational freedom; to vanquish oppression, privation and cruelty in all their forms and to join with all persons of whatever nationality or faith who cherish the cause of democracy and the call of solidarity, to grace the planet with these achievements. We dedicate ourselves to improving the lives of working families, bringing fairness and dignity to the workplace and securing social equity in the Nation.”

Q & A with The Pajama Game’s Trina Mills

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In this Q & A with the multi-talented Trina Mills, she tells us about what it takes to balance the three roles she fills in The Pajama Game: ensemble member, Associate Choreographer, and dance captain. Read more below!


You are in the ensemble, you’re the Associate Choreographer AND the dance captain. Tell us what each of those roles means and what they do for the show.

I am! Actually, the three roles really help each other. As the Associate Choreographer, I help Bob Richard as he comes up with the choreography. So I’m at all dance rehearsals which means I know all the choreography and spacing, which is the job of the dance captain. Being in the ensemble is my time to just focus on me and my track. It’s a BLAST creating a character, and having a more intimate knowledge of all the ins and outs of what everyone else is doing just helps me be a better ensemble member. So, in short, I’m so lucky to be able to do all three at the same time.

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Trina, second saloon girl from the left, as Timberline in Paint Your Wagon, Spring 2016.

What is your favorite part about these roles?

I LOVE the creative time I get to have with Bob [Richards, Choreographer of The Pajama Game] as he comes up with the movement. Being in on it from close to the beginning is such a cool thing. He’s such an inspiration.

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Trina, second from the right in the green dress, as Miss Krumholtz in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Winter 2016.

How do you balance these three jobs?

I’m getting better at it! I meditate and I find that really centers me. I also listen. A LOT. I keep my ears open all the time. It’s a great way to learn in the theater.

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Trina, second from the left, in A Chorus Line, Fall 2015.

What does a daily rehearsal schedule look like for you?

An average day of rehearsal before we move on stage means starting between 9am and 10am, and working until 6pm or 7pm with a lunch break, of course. If I’m not working in a scene or musical number, though, I’m usually not on a “break.” I’m usually doing some pre-production, discussing or creating with Bob. Which is awesome!

Are there ever times where your job as an ensemble member conflicts with your job as the Associate Choreographer, or vice versa?

I truly don’t think so. I really feel like they each help the other.


Don’t miss triple threat Trina in our production of The Pajama Game, playing at The 5th Avenue Theatre February 1-March 5. Click here to buy tickets and find out more.

Thanks to Mark and Tracy Photography for the production photos included above.

Our Mission: One-of-a-Kind Collaborations

Did you know that The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre share an artistic collaboration unlike any other in the country? For the past seven years, our two cornerstones of Seattle’s cultural landscape have partnered to co-produce one musical each year, including First Date which went straight to Broadway.

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The artwork for our co-production of First Date during its run in Seattle before proceeding to Broadway.

Our great collaboration allows us to produce and present intimate musicals in ACT’s 400-seat theater that would not be possible in our 2100-seat theater, and it allows the audiences at ACT to see exciting new material that falls outside the company’s regular programming. Our two theaters are so in sync that we choose the musical together, cast it together, take turns directing, and share costs. In just a few short weeks, this year’s collaboration, Murder for Two—a killer musical comedy murder mystery for two performers that slayed audiences Off-Broadway—will start rehearsals. We’re excited to see what our wonderful Seattle artists are going to do with this zany production.

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We have also forged artistic partnerships with local and national theaters and artists. The Secret Garden, playing here at The 5th April 14-May 6, is a co-production with the Tony Award-winning Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. Directed by our own Artistic Director David Armstrong, The Secret Garden played in D.C. over the holidays and was so loved by audiences that it was extended a full week and has been announced for a forthcoming Broadway run.

Locally, we have collaborated with Seattle’s celebrated Spectrum Dance Theatre and its renowned Artistic Director Donald Byrd many times. Nationally, we have partnered with Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, the Ordway Theatre in Minnesota and Theatre Under the Stars in Texas, to name a few.

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Coming up next: our Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry will depart to direct Beatsville, a new jazz-inspired musicalThis hip co-production with Asolo Theatre Company will entertain audiences in Florida before coming to The 5th in a future season.

We at The 5th are firm believers in artistic collaboration. Collaborations do more than allow us to share resources—they challenge us to stretch ourselves as artists, and to bring fresh content, ideas and perspectives to our audiences.

Find out more about our upcoming productions and collaborations at our website.

Meet the Factory: Sid and Babe

As we ramp up to the sexy, steamy production of The Pajama Game, we’re taking this opportunity to introduce you to the members of our fantastic cast. Or, as we’ve come to know them, the workers at the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory. Today we’re introducing you to the last two members of the assembly line: Sid Sorokin and Katherine “Babe” Williams.


pg_josh-davis-webJosh Davis (Sid)

Josh is making his 5th Avenue debut with our production of The Pajama Game! Most recently, Josh was seen on Broadway as an original cast member in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Off-Broadway, Josh has graced the stage in White’s Lies and My First Time. Regional credits include Bella: An American Tall Tale, Les Miserables, Guys and Dolls and Beauty and the Beast. Josh has been seen on TV and in film in Law & OrderAs The World Turns and The Graduates. He also has an extensive voice over career with clients that include Papa John’s, Chase Sapphire, Hulu, Vizio Smart Cast, 3M, Royal Canine and Shark Week. You can find out more about Josh by following him on social media, on Twitter and on Instagram.

pg_billie-wildrick-webBillie Wildrick (Babe)

Billie Wildrick is a fan favorite here at The 5th, having graced our stage numerous times in the past. Audiences may have seen her previously at The 5th in Carousel, Guys and Dolls, Sunday in the Park with George, Pirates of Penzance, Candide, Wonderful Town, Into the Woods, Hair and Company. She has been seen on Broadway in Scandalous. You may also recognize her from her other appearances on stages around Seattle, including Vanities, First Date and Das Barbecu at ACT; and Cabaret, Lizzie Borden, Man of La Mancha and Hello, Dolly! at Village. Other regional credits include The Sound of Music and A Christmas Story at the Ordway, and The Secret Garden at Shakespeare Theatre Company. Billie has a vibrant career as a director in addition to being an actor, and for her many roles both on and off stage she has received three nominations, a Gregory and three Footlight Awards. Find out more about Billie at her website.

Check out this sneak peek at the show of Josh and Billie singing “There Once Was a Man” at our Spotlight Night for The Pajama Game.


The Pajama Game is directed by our own Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry, and runs February 10 through March 5. To find out more and to purchase tickets, click here.

Meet the Factory: Hines, Gladys and Prez

As we ramp up to the sexy, steamy production of The Pajama Game, we’re taking this opportunity to introduce you to the members of our fantastic cast. Or, as we’ve come to know them, the workers at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks to learn more about each worker in our factory.


pg_greg-allen-webGreg McCormick Allen (Hines)

Portraying tap dancing, Time Study company man Hines is Greg McCormick Allen. Most recently, you saw him tapping away in Singin’ in the Rain and Billy Elliotat Village Theatre. Most recently at The 5th, Greg was part of the numerous cast members who graced our stage in last season’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His favorite shows include White Christmas (Phil), Mary Poppins (Bert), Billy Elliot (Mr. Braithwaite) and Cinderella (Lionel, the Herald). His upcoming projects include Fire Station 7 at Seattle Children’s Theatre.

pg_sarah-rose-davis-webSarah Rose Davis (Gladys)

Sarah is no stranger to The 5th: she starred last season as Rosemary Pilkington in, you guessed it, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying! This is her 22nd show with The 5th, and some of her favorite credits include: Paint Your Wagon (Lotta), A Chorus Line (Maggie), Grease (Frenchy), RENT (Mark’s Mom), A Christmas Story (Mrs. Schwartz), CarouselJasper in Deadland (Hel) and many more! She also starred as Fanny Brice in Village Theatre’s production of Funny Girl. For more information about Sarah, visit her website.

pg_kyle-robert-carter-webKyle Robert Carter (Prez)

Kyle is stepping into the shoes of union president “Prez.” Rounding out the trifecta, Kyle was also in our production of How to Succeed… last season. Or perhaps you saw him even later last season in our revisal production of Paint Your Wagon as Wesley. Other 5th Avenue credits include Grease (Teen Angel) and Jasper in Deadland. Kyle played Benny in the National Tour of In the Heights, as well as playing the role regionally. Other regional credits include Cubamor (Renato) and Sister Act (Eddie Souther). Off-Broadway, Kyle portrayed Butch “Cobra” Brown” in Storyville. Find out more about Kyle at his website.


The Pajama Game is directed by our own Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry, and runs February 10 through March 5. To find out more and to purchase tickets, click here.

Presenting the Pink Pajama! An Exclusive Cocktail from Our Partners at Purple Cafe

Thanks to our restaurant partner Purple Cafe and Wine Bar for creating this delightful beverage exclusively for The Pajama Game!


Pink Pajama

1/2 oz Contratto Aperitif
1/2 oz Lillet Rose
Cava
Lemon twist


Click here to find out more about Purple and make a reservation.

iHeartMedia Interview with Pajama Game’s Greg McCormick Allen

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Greg McCormick Allen, who is portraying Hines in our production of The Pajama Game, recently did an interview about the show and the process with iHeartMedia. Take a listen below!


Originally broadcast on Recovery Coast to Coast via iHeartMedia. Thanks to Neil Scott for sharing.

Find out more about The Pajama Game and buy tickets here.

Behind the Curtain: Q & A With Pajama Game Costume Designer Rose Pederson

Rose Pederson is back at The 5th for The Pajama Game. She made her debut last season with another workplace musical comedy: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Rose’s designs have been seen in other local theatres, including 47 shows at Seattle Repertory, 28 shows at ACT Theatre, and productions at Intiman Theatre, New Century Theatre and Seattle Children’s Theatre. She has also worked extensively in regional theaters across the nation, including the Broadway production of Largely New York, the Kennedy Center, Arizona Theatre Company, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Playmakers Repertory Company and The Merc Playhouse.

She took some time to answer a few questions about the costumes for The Pajama Game.


Tell us a bit about your vision for the costumes in The Pajama Game.

I originally talked with Bill Berry about the show and how we saw the “look.” We decided it would be real clothes, based on research of the period. I found many pictures of women working in factories in the Midwest in 1954. I also was able to use the Public Library picture file which has a collection of magazine articles, calendars, news articles, etc. from the period. Sometimes there are treasures there that can’t be found on the internet. My favorite finds were from the category of picnics.

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I chose a palette from car colors of 1954. They had such strong colorful and distinctive combinations. There are basically three looks for the show: The Factory, The Picnic and Hernando’s Hideaway.

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Costume design research for Factory Men costumes.
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Costume design research board for Hernando’s Hideaway costumes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you have any particular inspirations or influences?

My parents were both from the Midwest, so I actually attended many family reunions in parks there and have the photographs from those events during the same time period. I also have a collection of patterns that were my mother’s that we were able to use.

You also costume designed last season for How to Succeed…What are the challenges in finding and building period/retro costumes? What are the benefits?

With both shows, I was able to do vintage shopping in LA and also shop the LA fabric district, visiting stores like MOOD for vintage fabrics.

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PC Mark Kitaoka of Mark and Tracy Photography
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PC Tracy Martin of Mark and Tracy Photography
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PC Mark Kitaoka of Mark and Tracy Photography
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PC Mark Kitaoka of Mark and Tracy Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty is that we can still find original and sometimes brand new period pieces. The challenge is to mix modern clothes with the touches of the vintage clothes, such as the men’s cuffs or the shape of a skirt. Plus figuring out how the dancers can perform extreme dance moves in a period-looking piece that doesn’t have the stretch and flexibility of modern clothes.


Check out Rose’s phenomenal designs in The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre from February 10 to March 5. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.