Just Believe and Receive It; Love will Perform It Today

On a Thursday afternoon, over 100 teens gathered in the theater of Kentridge High School. Sitting in clusters throughout the audience seats, they chatted amongst themselves, occasionally rowdy, occasionally subdued. A well-loved baby grand piano sat onstage with a few adults checking in with each other, reviewing documents, watching the time on watches and phones and keeping their eyes on the door as stragglers continued to enter.

KRHS and KMHS 02
Kentridge High School Drama Teacher Jennifer Grajewski with students from Kentridge and Kent Meridian High School. Photo credit Tracy Martin

The gathering of young people represented the full spectrum of the student body with emissaries from A.S.B. (Associated Student Body), G.S.A. (Gender and Sexuality Alliance), L.E.A.P. (Latino/a Educational Achievement Project), M.S.A. (Muslim Student Association), Men on the Move (for young men of color), Y.E.L.L. (Young Educated Ladies Leading for young women of color), and more in attendance. Adding to the excitement to the buzz in the room were students from Kent Meridian High School making their way in. This was a gathering of students participating in a rally in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in January—one of the first meetings where the kids were getting on their feet, leaving the brainstorming stages behind them. Continue reading “Just Believe and Receive It; Love will Perform It Today”

Rising Star Project: the Next Stage

Six years ago, the first iteration of something truly special took place at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Following the mainstage production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, it was simply called “The Oklahoma Project.” The idea was to invite students from all over Puget Sound to remount our professional production on our stage under the direct mentorship of 5th Avenue professionals. Students were invited to perform, to stage manage the production, to work the technical elements, move scenery, alter costumes, fit and style wigs, manage fundraising campaigns, set ad budgets and project manage direct mail campaigns.

In all its many facets, the project was, in a word, unique. Continue reading “Rising Star Project: the Next Stage”

Celebrating PRIDE at The 5th

By KWAPI VENGESAYI, Community Engagement Specialist

During the run of the Tony Award winning musical, Fun Home, The 5th Avenue Theatre hosted a series of insightful free-to-the-community events. Featuring presentations, spoken word performances and guest panels with Gay City, PFLAG, ArtsWest and other community leaders, these events explored themes from the show and discussed topics related to the Seattle LGBTQ community and experiences. A huge thanks to our amazing community partners and sponsors, Bank of America and Virginia Mason, who helped make these special community events possible. Below are few moments captured from our Celebrating PRIDE at The 5th event series:

“Welcome to the Renaissance”: The World of Something Rotten!

The Renaissance

Something Rotten! transports today’s audiences from the seats of a Broadway house across the Atlantic and back through the history book pages to Renaissance England. But what is the Renaissance, and how did it change England in the 16th century? The word “renaissance” is French for “rebirth” and was a term used to describe the period roughly between the 14th and 17th centuries when society was marked by great advancements in art, science and culture. It is believed that the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the 14th century after the Fall of Constantinople and the Roman Empire. During this period, artists, scholars and scientists moved to Italy to continue their work. Patrons, wealthy families of renown in Italy, like the Medicis, provided creative minds with great sums of money to create art and innovate to further advance the family’s popularity and power. The period saw advancements in art, literature, music, politics, religion, science, philosophy and a revived interest in the humanism of the Greeks and Romans. Some of the most notable inventions of the time were the telescope, microscope, printing press, advanced uses of gunpowder and artillery, and a flushing toilet. The most prominent artists and figures of the time include Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas More, Galileo, Martin Luther and several more. In the next few hundred years, the Renaissance moved outward from Italy to its neighboring countries, including England.

Continue reading ““Welcome to the Renaissance”: The World of Something Rotten!”

Things You Learn as a Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellow

By HATTIE CLAIRE ANDRES, 2016/17 Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellow

As I wrap up my year-long fellowship at The 5th Avenue, I look back on my experience assistant directing five shows this season, directing Rising Star Project and shadowing my mentor Bill Berry to gain Artistic Leadership experience and insight.

Planning Is Everything

  • So much of theater administration and leadership is being an expert planner: planning the shows for next season, planning who will work on those shows, planning financial allocation and strategy and planning calendars so that everything that happens in this busy building works in harmony.
  • As a director, you can spend more than a year planning your show before rehearsals even begin: in auditions, deciding how you want to cast the show; in meetings with designers to create the visual life of the story on stage; and in preparation for working with actors to decide how the story will be staged.

Communication Is Key

  • Hattie and Casting Director Kelsey Thorgalsen discuss RSP auditions. PC: Orlando Morales

    Artistic Leaders, such as David and Bill at The 5th, are charged with the job of developing a creative vision for the theater they work for, and communicating that vision to their staff, the artists, the board and the audience. This communication happens in many different ways but one of the most important outcomes it achieves is to have everyone understand the importance of the shows and the stories The 5th is choosing to tell on our stage.

  • As the director of a show, it is essential that you masterfully communicate your vision for the show to everyone working on the production – the choreographer, music director, actors, designers, crew and producers – so that each person feels confident in their ability and inspired to tell a unified story on stage with you. As an assistant director, you are often part of facilitating this process, delivering notes to actors and designers when the director is busy with another aspect of rehearsal.

Relationships Are Crucial

  • “It’s all about who you know” is often said as cliché in the entertainment industry but there is a large element of truth to that statement. Because creating a show together is such a personal experience, highly dependent on the chemistry of everyone in the rehearsal room and their ability to collaborate, it is not only important to be skilled at what you do – be it dancing, designing costumes, or running the sound board – but it is also important that people trust you and find you enjoyable to work with.

    Hattie with Romy and Michele Associate Director MK Lawson (L) and Choreographer Peggy Hickey (R) at opening night party. PC: Duell Fisher
  • As the assistant director, I got to work with five different creative teams this season, most of whom I didn’t know before beginning rehearsal. Each time I started with a new team, I intentionally spent time and energy to get to know each person and build a trusting, working relationship with them. By the end of the season, I had over 20 new collaborators with whom I’d built relationships.

Each Day is Unique

  • One of the most exciting aspects of working at a theater is that monotony is non-existent. When looking at Bill’s calendar to find shadowing opportunities, I saw that he had a completely different schedule every day: from meetings with a wide array of people to attending auditions in New York to directing Beatsville in Florida or The Pajama Game here at The 5th.

    Rising Star Project Students. PC: Jeff Carpenter Photography
  • In my own experience, working on five shows throughout the season, I saw first hand how wildly different each show was – from Man of La Mancha as a reimagined classic to The Little Mermaid as a family-favorite contemporary hit to The Pajama Game which embraced its Golden-Era identity to Rising Star Project with its abundant student energy to The Secret Garden revising its script and score for the revival production to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion developed from the ground up as a brand new, world premiere musical. No show was the same and each day brought a different set of challenges and exciting revelations.

Project Reprise: Searching for New Intersections Between Musical Theater and Dementia

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach and JEN KULIK, Project Reprise Artist Project Manager

UW students after their recent performance of an original music revue created for people with dementia.

How can musical theater play a role in enhancing the quality of life for people with dementia?

This past season, The 5th Avenue Theatre partnered with the University of Washington’s Musical Theater Program and Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine to answer this question. This joint effort came to be known as “Project Reprise” and culminated in a unique opportunity for UW undergraduate students.

Continue reading “Project Reprise: Searching for New Intersections Between Musical Theater and Dementia”

The 5th and the National Endowment for the Arts

Located in Seattle, The 5th Avenue Theatre is one of the nation’s leading musical theater companies with a deep commitment to creating Broadway-caliber productions and developing the nation’s new musical theater. Since 2011, The 5th has premiered 17 new musicals, nine of which have gone on to Broadway including Best Musical Tony Award-winners Hairspray and Memphis. Creating live theater that serves our community is expensive, and like most theaters in the country, cannot be funded through ticket sales alone. We are proud to say that the NEA has been with us, supporting us along the way. Their financial support has been invaluable, allowing us to engage and entertain an audience of over 300,000 each year. Over 11 years, the NEA has provided us with 11 unique grants totaling $435,000 that support our projects. Some of these include our 2011 commission, Rosie the Riveter, which traveled to elementary and middle schools across Washington; our 2016 “revisal” of Paint Your Wagon that featured a brand new book; and our 2017 reimagining of The Secret Garden, currently poised for a Broadway revival.

Continue reading “The 5th and the National Endowment for the Arts”

Fifteen Years, Friendly Giants and Footloose: A Recap of the 2017 5th Avenue Awards

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach

On June 12, The 5th was thrilled to host the 15th annual 5th Avenue Awards: Honoring High School Musical Theater.

The evening was the culmination of months of dedication and passion. Beginning October of last year, a team of evaluators traveled thousands of miles to see productions at schools all over Washington—a record 122 productions performed by 100 schools—as near as Capitol Hill and as far away as Blaine, Vancouver, Spokane and Sequim. From large urban areas, to small rural communities the mission has always been the same: to recognize the work, talent and commitment that students, faculty and parents devote to their school’s musical theater productions. Through these efforts, we hope to emphasize how high school theater programs are invaluable to our communities.

Continue reading “Fifteen Years, Friendly Giants and Footloose: A Recap of the 2017 5th Avenue Awards”

The 2017 5th Avenue Award Recipients Are…

Congratulations to all! This year, our evaluators saw 122 productions, each and every one of which was worthy of our applause.

Here are the nominees and recipients for the 2017 5th Avenue Awards. Recipients are bolded in each category.

Continue reading “The 2017 5th Avenue Award Recipients Are…”

The 5th Avenue Awards: High School Musical Reunion

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach

Since its launch in 2003, The 5th Ave Awards program has sought to recognize and celebrate the amazing work that is being done across the state in the world of high school musical theater. Each season, dozens of evaluators see hundreds of performances in every corner of Washington and in June, thousands of students come together for the culminating 5th Ave Awards ceremony.

Over the years, countless students have taken part in this educational program—and as a high school reunion (Romy and Michele’s!) is taking place on The 5th Ave mainstage, we’re taking the opportunity to also throw a 5th Ave Awards Reunion.

Recently, a handful of 5th Ave Awards alumni came together to share memories, updates, and advice for the Class of 2017.

MACARONI AND CHEESE, I DID IT!

On the night of the awards, many students are invited to receive recognition, but also to perform for their peers. Many memorable moments are made when they step onto the stage for the Awards ceremony the first time.

Justin recalls being a bit anxious: “Oh man, I remember being in the stairwell backstage with the other Lead Actor nominees waiting to perform our medley…And I was a nervous wreck. A couple of the nominees had been nominated before and performed before, but I had never performed on that stage in front of that many people. I just remember trying to absorb all of that confident energy and trying not to sweat off my fake mustache.”

“I remember saying to the girl next to me, ‘I’m gonna pee my pants!’” remembers Kirsten. “I didn’t pee my pants. Instead I walked out there, stood amongst my peers and sang my heart out to a full house of students and parents and teachers. I’d never felt anything like that before.”

Sarah remembers the moment she received her award. “When I got up there the only thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Macaroni and cheese, I did it!’  I was so shocked when I got up there—it was the first time I really thought I could do theater as a career.”

“I will never forget stepping onto The 5th Avenue stage for rehearsal that day,” says Lauren.  “It was the first of what would become many, many times. Since then, my new favorite moment comes every year when I get to stand backstage and listen to the roar of thousands of high school students supporting each other. The theater is never more alive than on the night of the Awards.”

LASTING EFFECTS

For many alumni, it is hard to believe that one night can have such a lasting impact on their lives.

“I was pretty dead set on pursuing a career in Opera—Classical Baritone,” says Jordan. “But the experience at these Awards is what started me down the path to choosing musical theater—which is one of the better decisions I have made in my short life. My experience being on that stage drove me to work until I could get back on it as a professional…It absolutely affected who I am today!”

It fueled my passion to celebrate weirdos,” says Justin with a laugh. “Of the Lead Actor nominees that year, I was definitely one of the weirdest.  But the support of the crowd—full of teachers and peers—made me feel welcome and encouraged me to lean into the weirdness. I think it’s safe to say that I haven’t stopped since.”

Brandon adds: “The 5th Ave Awards was truly my ‘in’ to The 5th Avenue Theatre where I would later intern during college, assistant direct, become the Executive Assistant to David Armstrong, then move up to Casting Director and Artistic Projects Manager… And then eventually—I’ve directed three shows on the mainstage. I participated in The Awards and less than 10 years later I was directing on the mainstage. I feel pretty lucky about that.”

“After The Awards I knew that a career in the arts was what I wanted to pursue,” says Kirsten. “After graduating from PLU, I moved to Seattle and immediately auditioned for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! I went on to play Ado Annie in that production, performed with their Adventure Musical Theater program, interned, worked in casting, helped with many education programs, participated in the New Works department in both administrative and performance roles and continued to perform in productions over the course of six years. For me, I know it started with The Awards, and feeling like this was a community to which I belonged and could grow from.”

WE NEED YOU

Allison is one of a handful of 5th Ave Awards alumni who are now 5th Ave Awards teachers with students of their own. She, like many of the alumni present, are constantly reminded of the value of musical theater in one’s life.

“Musical theater allows us to explore our own identities and step into the shoes of others. It’s a place where anyone can show up and hear ‘we need you.’ It’s a place where we can tell important stories as an ensemble and have conversations with people we might not have otherwise.”

Jared agrees: “To absorb someone else’s story, to see someone else’s craftsmanship, to ‘escape’ one’s life for a minute or two… It helps with the pain and sorrow of this world and teaches us that there are others aside from ourselves.”

Jordan appreciates how musical theater bridges generations: “It can touch on issues and it can reach audiences of all ages.  Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of me watching some musical with my grandmother. And I find that it brings a feeling of nostalgia to a lot of people I know.”

“Musical theater also teaches the art of collaboration,” Lauren adds.  “Whether students remain in musical theater or not, they have gained the insight that an incredible product takes the efforts of all types of individuals – each contributing their own talents and expertise.”

YOU ARE NOT WEIRD

At one point, the group begins to imagine what they would say if they could go back in time and offer advice to their former high school selves.

“Keep embracing who you are and what you love,” Brandon declares.  “And find the people that love it as much as you do.”

Kirsten adds, “You are not weird. You are gifted. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that the joy you find in theater is silly. It is hard, absolutely. It is a hustle. But if you love it, if it brings you joy, do it. Work hard, never stop learning, never stop teaching.”

“Trust your work and never stray from what you find to be meaningful in this business,” says Jared.

“I think I would tell myself to have lots of fun, keep asking questions, and continue to explore as many sides of theater as possible,” says Allison.  “Going backstage at The 5th during the Awards was such a cool eye-opener…In college, I tried stage managing, directing, wardrobe, stage crew, and discovered applied theater—using theater for education, social justice, reminiscence work…My world opened up and theater became something so much bigger than I’d ever imagined.”


Heartfelt thanks to our title sponsor WELLS FARGO and to THE BOEING COMPANY and ALASKA AIRLINES for their additional support of this program.

Click here to learn more about The 5th Ave Awards and for a list of this year’s nominees.