The theater in person returns to Seattle with the Campfire Festival
For the Campfire Festival, Purcell and Abram moved to the Rainier Arts Center, a community cultural facility. Built in 1921 as the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, and converted into an arts center in the mid-1990s, the neoclassical structure features a long, elegant portico rising above a grassy lawn. During the festival, this porch will serve as a stage, with the audience seated below in Columbia Park. “We’ve learned that outdoors, acoustics are essential, so the performers will all be amplified,” Purcell notes.
Much thought has gone into taking into account both the health of patrons and artists, especially since the pandemic guidelines are subject to change. To obtain a permit from Seattle Parks and Recreation for the festival, The Williams Project submitted a COVID-19 security plan, which specifies the spacing of people and “pods” present, masking requirements, contactless ticket sales and other measures.
One of the challenges was not to let the logistical arrangements overshadow the artistry. But Purcell is confident. “We have very strong relationships with some interesting artists who do small, intimate shows because he’s our role model,” he says. And it gave creators a lot of leeway to develop their original material.
In Story time: Good mourning, Aaron Norman draws on his background in gospel, opera and musical theater to, as Purcell says, “respond to the times and his personal grief, with original stories with songs he has produced. gathered. He will be accompanied by musician Kevin Haylock.
Maggie L. Rogers premieres a solo work about her family and childhood in Louisville, Kentucky. “Maggie has a tremendous sense of irony, and how humor fits into the world and her own past,” Purcell says. “And she will be on roller skates.”
A monologue called 30 minutes, by Michigan native Dedra D. Woods is also personal. There, she shares her mother’s memories of the deadly riots of 1967 in Detroit. A seasoned actor, Woods is both excited and nervous about his first scriptwriting adventure. “The reason I thought about doing something about the riots was the juxtaposition of the Seattle protests last year and the Detroit riots. [my mother] experienced, ”says Woods. “The play has a lot to do with race, and with me as a black artist, my thoughts and imaginations about it.”
Justin Huertas, who has several other projects in the works, including a revised version of his Lydia and the troll, was unable to clear her schedule to appear in person for the duration of the festival. But he was happy to design a song cycle for local singer-songwriter-actress Rheanna Atendido in The Spooky and the fun mode that Huertas fans will recognize. “This is a traveling musician who is never home except for a quick recording or an overnight rest when the COVID pandemic occurs,” he explains. “So she’s in her apartment now and finds out he’s haunted.”
One of his pop culture inspirations for the play was the Alone at home movies. Another was a TV show he grew up watching on Nickelodeon, Are you scared of the dark? “These are kids telling each other scary stories and it ties into my thinking about campfires,” Huertas says.
On certain dates of the festival, Purcell includes an additional offer in the form of a personal project. For a maximum of 15 participants, he will lead ‘The Wealth Walk’, a 90-minute social-distancing walking tour of the sites of Rainier Valley and Mount Baker that have changed since his youth, especially in recent years, the result of local hyperspeed gentrification and other social and economic forces. The tour will also be available as an audio download.
“I was fascinated by how you could tell the political story of a place just by walking around and paying close attention to what you see and feel,” says the Beacon Hill native. “We sometimes forget that we now live in a city with the richest person who has ever lived. What does this mean for us and our neighborhoods? “
The Williams Project has also scheduled two live productions in 2021: the surrealist by José Rivera Marisol and James Baldwin’s rarely produced drama steeped in gospel music, Amen corner. (Times and dates to be determined.)
For Purcell, returning to the live dynamic of theater is essential because of the “real-time relationship” between performers and audiences. Its employees are also delighted.
“I love social media, it’s great, but it also prevents us from really developing the kind of community that lasts and has roots,” says Woods. “People are looking for that right now, trying to find ways to really see each other.”
Huertas agrees. “I played a lot during the pandemic on Zoom and Instagram,” he says. “But there is something so different about feeling immersed in an experience with a group of other people having the same experience. This is what excites me. “