Dragon Mama: The Trials and Tribulations of an Asian-American Woman

Review of Dragon Mama by Sara Porkalob at American Repertory Theater

Written by Franklin High School student, Veronica Bunnell.

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Late night karaoke, drama, humor, love, heartache and complex characters all in an hour-forty-five-minute show created by one person? Writer and creator, Sara Porkalob, makes it seem so effortless. The second story in the Dragon Cycle Trilogy, Dragon Mama, is an incredible one-woman show starring Porkalob herself. It details the story of her mother, Maria Porkalob Jr. before and after Sara was born. The actress shares her mother’s journey and the unfortunate, heart-wrenching situations their family experienced during the late 1970s to early-1990s living in America. Sara Porkalob’s play emphasizes that there is much more to a person’s life than meets the eye.

The show recreates two time periods within Maria Jr.’s life. The first act focuses on her early life with her mother and siblings in Hawaii, as well as their life in Bremerton, Washington after they move from Hawaii. There, Maria Sr. works tirelessly as both a waitress and a worker at a bingo hall while raising her children as a single mother. As a result, thirteen-year-old Maria Jr. is left to take care of her younger siblings. The second act deals with Maria Jr. as an adult living in Alaska. Throughout the story, the family faces financial challenges and food insecurity.

Sara Porkalob’s versatile portrayal of her mother’s family is fascinating and draws in the audience. Her storytelling is both humorous and emotional. The stage only has a chair accompanying Porkalob as she performs. It emphasizes that the story is not centered around the setting but rather the actions and the dialogue. By using various tones and expressions, Porkalob is able to differentiate the roles in a way that captures their unique personalities. With numerous characters being added, it is easy to lose sight of the situation that occurs on stage. But with the right body movement and lighting, the audience cannot take their eyes off the story that is unfolding as well the valuable lessons it holds. In addition to the lighting and movement, the music choice makes an impact on her performance. Each song sets the tone and energy of the scene, and the audience gets hooked. The variety of music Porkalob plays during nerve wracking scenes symbolizes that music is the gateway to release her emotions. However, the show has so many quick transitions which can confuse the audience. There are moments where Porkalob goes from an outdoor to an indoor setting or from a flashback to the present and it takes a while for the audience to realize the change.

The turbulent life of Maria Porkalob and her family allows others to comprehend the struggles that Asian Americans face in the United States. Both Maria Porkalob Sr. and Jr. sacrifice their time with their children to make ends meet and provide the family with necessities. Whether it is through working two jobs or consistently moving to secure jobs, such as going to Alaska to work on a fishing boat, these women have to fend for themselves and make difficult decisions to survive.The overarching theme of resilience continues to make itself known throughout the many scenes, particularly to those who may not understand and relate to their actions.

Dragon Mama is the depiction of fortitude of spirit and perseverance in the midst of adversity. Maria Porkalob Sr. and Jr. are matriarchs who undergo unpleasant experiences for self-preservation and choose what’s best for their children. Being Asian Americans in a society full of limited opportunities, they epitomize true grit and express what it really means to rise up against hardships.

Lead photo credit: Sara Porkalob in Dragon Mama at American Repertory Theater. Photo by GretjenHelene.com

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Franklin High School in Ms. Roh's Asian American Literature class, taught by Press Corps teaching artist Omar Willey.

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Written in Water: A Dance of Snakes and Ladders

Review of Written in Water by Ragamala Dance Company at Meany Center for the Performing Arts

Written by Teen Writer Linda Yan and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

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Presented by the University of Washington’s Meany Center for the Performing Arts and performed by the internationally acclaimed Ragamala Dance Company, Written in Water is a stunning masterpiece for both the eyes and ears. Despite being only educated in Indian culture at the surface level, I was repeatedly touched by both the emotional and artistic qualities of the musicians and dancers.

Originally founded in 1992 in Minneapolis, the Ragamala Dance Company is today led by the mother-daughter duo Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, who also serve as the directors and choreographers of the company’s productions. Both first-generation Indian-American artists, the two, in their own words, are driven by their mission to create productions “influenced by their cultural hybridity” that “explore the myth and spirituality of their Indian heritage.”

As a Western viewer, I did not have a lot of context for the dance form, nor the cultural and historical events it was inspired by. Lacking this information, I likely missed many of the subtle cues and symbols hidden in this performance. However, as a self-proclaimed board game enthusiast, the first thing that caught my eye was the artwork projected on the auditorium floor, which reminded me of the classic board game snakes and ladders. As it turns out, Written in Water was inspired by the second-century Indian board game Paramapadham, also known as the original snakes and ladders. Deeply rooted in Hindu mythology, the grid of this game is representative of a person’s life. The snakes represent sins such as theft and anger while the ladders are representative of virtues including honesty and humility. The Paramapadham board projected during this performance was designed by Keshav Venkataraghavan, a cartoonist and illustrator for The Hindu newspaper. Written in Water performed by Ragamala Dance Company, Photo credit: Bruce Palmer

Written in Water is performed in the style of Bharatanatyam, an ancient Indian classical dance form. It follows the epic Sufi Poem, “The Conference of the Birds,” in which the birds of the world meet to determine who their sovereign leader will be; as well as the Hindu creation story, “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk,” where the world, along with all its evil and good, is created by the churning of the Ocean of Milk. In doing so, Written in Water explores the journey each of us undergoes throughout life as we search for the answers to our personal identity, as well as our connections to the spiritual world. As the dancers travel up and down the game board, they tell stories of individual encounters with good and evil throughout their own game of life. Through delicate hand gestures and facial expressions, the dancers convey complex emotions such as sorrow, joy, and hope as they each navigate through life’s struggles and delights. For instance, melancholy sections of the dance were slow and labored as the performers used their hands to accentuate acts of crying, defeat, and hopelessness. In contrast, the joyous movements were energetic and filled with fast-paced footwork. In the unique Bharatanatyam-dance style, the torsos of the dancers remain upright throughout the performance while their body movements are concentrated in the arms and legs.

The score for this performance was written by Amir ElSaffar and is performed by the company’s own South Indian musical ensemble, which consists of vocalists, as well as musicians playing the nattuvangam, santur, mridangam, violin, and trumpet. Unfortunately, the recording did not provide translated English captioning, so I could only guess at the meaning of lyrics, but they were sung and spoken in a poignant mix of Arabic, Tamil, and other languages. While this language barrier detracted a bit from my experience, the music was truly mesmerizing and successfully accentuated the emotions and energy of the performance.

What I found especially intriguing about it was that each dancer has bells secured around their ankles which tinkled every time they moved. In other words, the music came from within the dancers. Because of this artistic choice, part of the music featured in this performance is actually improvised based on the movements and actions of the dancers.

Written in Water is a beautiful piece that weaves music, visual art, movement, and history to create a unique show that explores South Indian culture and dance. If you, like me, were completely amazed by this incredible production and just wish that you could see it live, then you are in luck! Next year the Ragamala Dance company has plans to come to Seattle live to perform their newest work, Fires of Varanasi.

Lead photo credit: Written in Water performed by Ragamala Dance Company, photographed by Bruce Palmer

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Creativity Through COVID: How Some TeenTix Partners Have Managed the Crisis

Written by Teen Writer Josh Caplan and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

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When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, with it came a dark time for the arts. To halt the spread of the virus, our TeenTix partner organizations closed. Museums like Wing Luke, the Burke Museum, and MoPOP were closed to the public for what was then an unknown duration of time. However, this dark spot was not dark for ingenuity. Sparks of light appeared as our TeenTix partners found innovative ways to reopen safely. I visited these three museums with the initial intention of writing an article on the ways they had adapted to reopen during the pandemic. Unfortunately, we have recently seen a sharp uptake in cases, and with that, these museums have once again closed their doors. The state has issued a timeline that mandates museums to be closed until January 4, 2021. The museums continue their hard work through this lockdown, balancing the health of employees and patrons with their commitment to enthrall, inspire, entertain, and inform.

In my visits to these museums, this commitment became exceptionally clear. Photo courtesy of the MoPOP

When I walked into MoPOP, all groups stood over six feet apart and hand sanitizer was abundant. I was given a thoroughly cleaned stylus to use to touch screens throughout the museum. Small things like this immediately showed some of the adjustments MoPOP had made before they reopened. I strolled through an exhibit on Minecraft, walking past human sized endermen figures and mineshafts built into the walls. However, the most engaging part of the exhibit for me were videos focusing on how, to many, Minecraft is a world to explore one’s own ideas in any way they might like. That idea is very powerful during COVID times when some of us try to view this as a time to delve into new things. There were other fascinating exhibits I explored; they included an exhibit on the rich cultural history of tattoo, as well as exhibits on musicians from the Pacific Northwest area. All of the exhibits allowed me to do what for some, Minecraft does: reflect and explore.

As MoPOP has closed, they remain doing everything they can virtually. They have virtual live music events, with schedules online. You can find more information on their website.

The Wing Luke Museum is filled with a host of exhibits on Asian American history, art, and cultures. The Wing Luke had initially closed for six months. In March, when COVID hit, the Wing Luke and the Chinatown International District first felt the economic pains that came with COVID. The stigmatization of the pandemic originating in Wuhan, exacerbated by people’s prejudices, led to fewer people visiting the district and the museum. To add to this, the Wing Luke was at the peak of a fundraising season. They realized that these unprecedented times required unprecedented solutions and immediately took action on alternative fundraising and outreach. Chrissy Shimizu, director of individual giving at the Wing Luke, framed it this way, “We were seeing all of these long form videos that were scripted and didn’t come from the heart; all of the personal engagement that people get from being together did not translate. Instead, we encouraged our board of trustees to reach out to their friends who would usually attend fundraising events with them and ask how they were doing and hear what they would like from us as a museum.” Still from Wing Luke's safety protocols video. Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum

This creativity and commitment to finding new ways to keep the Wing Luke vibrant during COVID continued as the museum re-opened. Rahul Gupta, Director of Education and Tours, and his team worked hard to develop a highly individualized and personal virtual tour system. “When people visit the Wing, we want them to connect deeply with their own story and how that connects with the story of the museum and the people who first built our building. We didn’t want to lose that exchange, our ability to talk with folks who are on our tours and be part of a co-learning experience,” Shimizu added. The virtual tour is a live Zoom call. Tour staff walks through the museum while being able to interact with the group and answer questions. The intimacy that might come with an in-person tour is maintained in a safe way. On the virtual tour you can explore the Yick Fung Chinese import store, the bedrooms of what was once the Freeman Hotel, and several other exhibits. Virtual tours are still happening now, and you can book one on the Wing’s website.

Now, in lockdown, the Wing is not losing ambition. They have also transitioned towards offering more online orders and their marketplace, separate from the museum, remains open for in-person visits.

The new building of the Burke Museum has been there for over a year now. From outside you can see a large fossil through a massive glass window, giving passers-by a taste of the wonders that are inside. When I visited the Burke, the experience was almost exactly how it would be if COVID had not happened, with the exception of social distance markers and mask wearing. Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum

Through the three floors of the Burke, I explored time periods, geology, plants, animals, the climate crisis, and the art and culture of Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The Burke has a massive treasure trove of fossils, art and information that is now not accessible in person. In response to the latest round of closures, the Burke, like MoPop has created an exciting virtual alternative. A lot of their artifacts and information is available on their website, in a section they call “Burke from Home.” They have videos, articles and image galleries on everything from identifying the plants of Washington to drawing our surroundings. They have periodic Q&As with their experts, drawing activities for kids and families, entire virtual exhibits, and cooking tutorials. The Burke’s response to this second lockdown has been to make their wonders available online and then some. You can learn and explore on their website just as much variety as you would in-person. Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum

Back at the Wing, Shimizu pointed out, “The International District is a more vibrant neighborhood ecosystem than any other neighborhood in Seattle. If [the historic businesses in the ID] were to close and go out of business, they might be replaced by something that doesn’t carry on the cultural memory and cultural significance of the neighborhood and AAPI culture and identity. The museum is a cultural and economic anchor... A lot of people who visit the museum will go shopping or eating in the neighborhood. We want to make sure that when we [make] adjustments to our business model, we also pass on the love to ensure the well being of businesses in the area.”

Local arts organizations serve a role like this in their respective neighborhoods. They are in a way the keystone species of their neighborhood ecosystems. By supporting arts partners like the Wing Luke, the Burke, and MoPOP, we are a key part of this ecosystem. COVID cannot stop us from doing our part. For more information on ways to stay engaged with and support these museums, you can visit their respective websites.

For more information on MoPOP, see here.

For more information on The Wing Luke Museum, see here.

For more information on the Burke Museum, see here.

Lead Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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NEWCOMER: The Best Thing

Review of NEWCOMER at NWFF

Written by Teen Writer Lauren Rohde and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

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The week before we officially went into lockdown, I had one last hurrah at a Saint Motel concert. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I was in an enclosed space with so many people as a pandemic loomed on the horizon. Nine months in, loud throbs of music, air-sharing with strangers, and general feelings of exuberance are nowhere to be found, at least not in person. Enter NEWCOMER: A Seattle Hip-Hop Mixtape: a virtual look at Seattle’s vibrant hip-hop scene.

In a tour around Seattle’s small venues, NEWCOMER guides the viewer through black-and-white footage of various hip-hop concerts. Artists rap, sing, DJ, and in the case of Chong the Nomad, play the harmonica while beatboxing. Each clip is both fully immersive and beautifully shot; if it weren’t for the lack of sweaty crowds in my room, I’d believe I was actually there. The footage feels like a concert clip on your phone, but better, and the black-and-white cinematography serves to both clearly contrast the artist and audience as well as evoke a feeling of nostalgia. The past nine months have felt like a lifetime, and indeed, the cinematography emphasizes the fact that these events happened in the past. The presence of crowds is a shocking reminder of our pre-pandemic memories, when seeing live music wasn’t dangerous. Seeing people be able to be together and share an artistic experience is sad, yes, but a thought-provoking time capsule into the lives we once lived. In this sense, NEWCOMER is a perfect film for our time in that it allows us to immerse ourselves in the one thing there is no good online alternative for: the live concert experience. Film still from NEWCOMER. Shot and edited by filmmaker Gary Campbell.

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December, a Time For Expression

Teen Editorial Staff December 2020 Editorial

Written by Teen Editorial Staff Members Lucia McLaren and Mila Borowski

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When the weather outside is frightful, it’s the best time of the year to curl up with a hot drink and watch some socially-distanced entertainment! This December, we hope this wide variety of arts programs will have a treat for just about anyone.

To explore the realms of dance, Written in Water by the Ragamala Dance Company and presented by Meany Center for the Performing Arts, takes a refreshing, multimedia take on one’s journey to connect themself with their emotions and spirituality. If you’ve been craving a more comedic escape, take a look at Jet City Improv’s Twisted Flicks. Their improv-dialogue over classic movies of the past is sure to give you the laughter you need. When it comes to missing the experience of your favorite local restaurant, SIFF presents Bread, Love, and Cinema, a class on Italian food and how it’s interconnected with Italian film history.

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Announcing an Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP Dance Festival!

Join us for a FREE Arts Journalism Intensive in January 2021!

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Join us for a FREE Arts Journalism Intensive, hosted by TeenTix in collaboration with CHOP SHOP. In this four-week series, you’ll be mentored by a professional arts journalist, interview contemporary dance artists, and write an article about one of the artists featured in the 2021 CHOP SHOP Contemporary Dance Festival. You'll learn arts journalism skills that are applicable for all genres of art. All participants will have their writing published on both the TeenTix Blog and CHOP SHOP’s website and receive a stipend for their article!

Sign up RIGHT HERE! WORKSHOP SCHEDULE:

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Mustard Seeds: Writing Redemption, Not Excuses

Review of Mustard Seeds at Pork Filled Productions' Unleashed Festival

Written by Teen Writer Anabelle Dillard and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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In recent years, the worlds of film, theater, and television have seen a drastic increase in diversity, but with that diversity comes a tendency to follow the same tropes over and over again. Media with Black protagonists sometimes falls into Black pain or white savior narratives, media with LGBTQ+ protagonists often lands on the Bury Your Gays trope, and media with female protagonists often ends with vague declarations of girl power. Pork Filled Productions works to combat the stagnation of diverse media by providing a space for BIPOC voices in speculative genre fiction. Their most recent festival, Unleashed: New Pulp Stories for the 21st Century, featured staged readings from POC playwrights. The festival ended with Mustard Seeds, written by Michelle Tyrene Johnson and directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton, which follows two groups as their stories intertwine: four campers on the bank of the Missouri River and three spirits known as the Unborns. Over the course of a single night, the campers—Liz (Erika Fontana), Anna (Elisa Chavez), Ronnie (Vincent Orduña), and Mack (A. Fontana)—reveal personal truths and confront their own biases, while the Unborns—Taurus (Lauren DuPree), Gemini (Jose Ruffino), and Aries (Sarah Russell)—observe and comment on the behavior of the humans.

The Unborns are revealed to be the unborn children of the slaves who died while attempting to cross the Missouri River on the Underground Railroad. They each have a connection to different elements—Taurus with earth, Gemini with air, and Aries with fire—and learn important lessons from those elements: “listen,” “be patient,” and “burn what you think you know,” respectively. The Unborns also embody the elements they represent: Taurus is grounded and patient, Gemini is wise and spiritual, and Aries is passionate and impulsive. I found the way the Unborns evolved linguistically over the course of the play especially interesting. At first, they speak in mostly African-American Vernacular English and use antiquated vocabulary, hinting at the time period they came from, but as they spend more time listening to the campers, they adopt a more modern, academic dialect and use 21st-century slang. On the night the play takes place, under the light of the pink moon, the Unborns have a chance at life, and all they have to do is pick which of the campers they will be born to.

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Is LGBTQ+ A Genre?

Written by Teen Writers Kyle Gerstel and Adrian Martin and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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Well, what makes a film a western: the tone, or the cowboys? There is a specific procedure followed by most cowboy movies to effectively portray the (glorified) joys and hardships of cowboy life, with subject and style aligning to form the western genre. However, LGBTQ+ cinema has much broader potential, since a character’s gender and sexuality can be explored in multitudes of ways and don’t dictate every aspect of a story. This suggests that LGBTQ+ should not be considered a genre, but rather a categorization.

However, is that useful to queer people? Due to the inaccessibility of arthouse films, many young LGBTQ+ folks are forced to navigate mainstream entertainment giants like Netflix for crumbs of representation, which can be exhausting. According to GLAAD, a media organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ coverage, less than 20% of films from major studios in 2019 had a character that explicitly identified as LGBTQ+. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in popular media, so streaming platforms having a category to make finding such stories easier can make the experience much less isolating. One Day at a Time cast. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer - © 2018 Getty Images

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Liminale: The Art of Transition and Resilience

Review of Liminale at Cornish College of the Arts

Written by Teen Writer Disha Cattamanchi and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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Even after eight months of a pandemic and the constant quarantine and mask protocols, the reality of COVID-19 and its predicaments has yet to set in for many. We are in a suspended limbo where events around the world pass through us like the wind, all left in our rooms peering at our computer screens for work or school. It’s exhausting, to say the very least, and without the reprieve of art or performance to look forward to, it seems even more hopeless. This very feeling of entrapment is thoughtfully explored through Liminale, a Zoom-adapted dance performance at the Cornish College of Arts, which escapes the boundaries of our homes as it transforms living spaces into a blank canvas. Performed by students Margaux Gex, Ashley Glen, Vivian Larsen, Lola Mahaney, Hannah Owens, Alexandra Pelzer, Kennedy Polovich, Madeleine Selby, Kristin Skelley, and Audrey Wright of Alice Gosti’s Dance 257-Creative Process for Remote Spaces, it utilizes the Zoom platform, altering our perceptions of proper creative spaces into something new and interesting in this transitional period of COVID-19. Liminale by Alice Gosti. Photo credit: Sarah Haskell

Critically acclaimed and award-winning choreographer Alice Gosti sought to transform the boundaries of Zoom into new horizons by expanding the reach that dancers had in their own homes. As viewers, we experimented with Zoom’s multitude of features, switching back and forth between viewing the dancers through gallery or single speaker mode. It was interesting to play around with these features and to see where I wanted to focus my attention the most. I found that I liked the gallery more, as I could draw parallels on all the dancers and their synchronous movements all at once.

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Spontaneous Starts Off With a Bang and Ends With A Letdown

Review of Spontaneous

Written by Teen Writer Valentine Wulf and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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Paramount Pictures’ Spontaneous (2020), directed by Brian Duffield, starts off with a bang. Mara Carlyle (Katherine Langford), a high school senior, is in class when the girl sitting in front of her explodes. Not like a bomb, but “like a balloon,” Mara explains later to her friend Tess McNulty (Hayley Law). Soon, more and more students begin exploding out of nowhere and the phenomenon is dubbed, after the high school where it occurred, “the Covington curse.”

Only a few days after the explosion, a boy named Dylan Hovemeyer (Charlie Plummer) suddenly confesses that he has a crush on Mara, and just as spontaneously as children began exploding, the movie takes a jarring shift from a blend of dark comedy, horror, and mystery into coming-of-age rom-com territory. This isn’t the first shift in genres, as the movie swings between horror movie, science fiction, action, and teen drama in a truly bizarre mashup that doesn’t work with the plot.

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It Can’t Happen Here Celebrates the Struggle

Review of It Can’t Happen Here at Berkeley Rep via ACT Theater

Written by Teen Writer Rosemary Sissel and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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Berkeley Rep's It Can't Happen Here is a celebration of hope amidst dark times. Fighting through the pandemic and revitalising an old form of storytelling, this radio show sends out a message to uplift our spirits.

Based on a 1935 novel written by Sinclair Lewis to warn about a possible American Hitler, this radio show centers around the authoritarian rise to power that we’re all very tired of by now. The first episode pelts listeners with nameless voices, all spouting different, but equally divisive, views of the (arguably) charismatic populist, Buzz Windrip. Revered by some, mocked by others, feared by the smartest, Windrip (played by David Kelly) cavorts into the Oval Office through a series of lies and mirage-like promises. But we are told by the creators of the show in a free pre-show introduction not to take these similarities to our current times too seriously, and I certainly don't.

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This November, Let’s Give Thanks to Art

Teen Editorial Staff November 2020 Editorial

Written by Teen Editorial Staff Members Eleanor Cenname and Mila Borowski

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We’ve made it to November, and we’ll need thirty more chicken scratches drawn on the wall before we can say we’ve made it to December. Between now and then, our calendar is full of activities—all of which will be happening in the confines of our own homes. If you, like us, need an escape from the same, familiar backdrop of wherever you Zoom from, we suggest going on some audio adventures.

This month, as we brace ourselves for the election, check out It Can't Happen Here, a satirical audio drama written in 1935 about a president promising to return the country to greatness; can it get any more relevant than that? Mustard Seeds, part of Pork Filled Production’s Unleashed Festival of pulp stories, explores the Underground Railroad through a staged reading. Explore a different underground phenomenon through Northwest Film Forum’s Newcomer, described as “A Seattle Hip-Hop Mixtape.” Newcomer packs in hundreds of local performances from Seattle’s vibrant hip-hop underground into 82 minutes.

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I Dream Of COVID-19: The Evolution of Theatre in the Age of Coronavirus

Review of COVID Dreams at 18th and Union

Written by Teen Writer Audrey Liepsna Gray and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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On March 23, 2020, Governor Jay Inslee issued the first stay-at-home order for Washington state in response to COVID-19. Plans were canceled, events were rescheduled. Inslee tentatively scheduled the first shutdown to last at least two weeks, but now self-quarantine and social distancing have been going on for seven months with hardly any sign of stopping. Being alone with ourselves has made things bleak and dire, and for artists all across the country, COVID-19 has signaled a substantial shift in the way we direct our creative energy. Forced out of venues but fueled by the crises of our day, a brilliant example of the adaptability of art has been revealed by the quarantine. Out of the ashes of the on-hold artistic scenes across the country, new art has emerged with new formats made for safety and perfected for the current age. COVID Dreams, a new play from Radial Theater Project and 18th & Union Seattle, is a perfect example of the evolution art has gone through in the one-of-a-kind time we’re living in.

COVID Dreams, directed by Merri Ann Osborne and written by Jacqueline Ware, is a part of a new era of innovative theatre that’s emerged during quarantine. It combines the necessary precautionary measures now needed to produce art with the easy intimacy and emotion of live production, despite the lack of an in-person audience. The play follows the conversation and personal connection between two college students as they wait for their professor to arrive for class and find themselves the only ones there. During the wait, they engage in lively talks about their lives in the age of coronavirus and impromptu a cappella performances about the stresses that consume their days. I had the amazing privilege to be able to talk with Osborne and Ware about COVID Dreams and gain insight into the world of play production and inspiration in quarantine. I quickly realized it’s been very strange and very, very limited.

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The Dance Must Go On: Pacific Northwest Ballet Returns with Online Performances

Review of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Rep 1

Written by Teen Writer Carolyn Davis and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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Ballet is a raw expression of emotions. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Rep 1 includes excerpts from Jewels, inspired by iconic choreographer George Balanchine’s trip to Van Cleef and Arpels, the elegant and romanticized story of Swan Lake, a story of forbidden love between a man and a black swan, and Mopey, a ballet I had never seen before that transcended the constraints of typical ballet, offering a contrast in performances. Anyone can appreciate Rep 1, which offers a complex mix of divergent emotions that keeps you on the edge of your seat and is enjoyable both for ballet newcomers and veterans.

What intrigues me about ballet is its artful conveyance of emotion and message through movement. Most of us think of it as a structured dance form because it is commonly formatted the same way, but costumes, movement, and music can vary, producing different emotions in the audience. In Jewels, dancers embodied different types of gems through costumes and acting. Emeralds had one dancer with a flowing dress, elegantly dancing to the music. Rubies was performed by two dancers, dancing with a fiery passion to quick-paced music. Diamonds features two main dancers who, along with background dancers, dance around the stage gleefully and innocently. In all three of these performances, dancers kept their weightlessness and intention, each provoking a specific emotion for the audience to enjoy.

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Art as Activism Fall Workshop Lineup

Join TeenTix for a series of workshops on how art can be an act of activism.

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Join us for a series of FREE online TeenTix workshops exploring how art is a powerful tool for activism and the fight for racial justice. Each workshop will focus on a different genre of art including film, music, visual and performing arts. You’ll learn about the history of social justice movements and how art has played a role in both the past and present movements.

Use the links below to sign up for individual workshops, or all three! Arts Collaboration For Social Change: Using The Visual & Performing Arts as Tools For Cultural Resistance with David Rue

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XALT: Unraveling Distanced Chaos Reveals Self-Identified Truth

Feature on Whim W'Him's XALT

Written by Teen Writer Sumeya Block and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

Whim W Him Pop up 2

Pandemic life is nothing new: it’s in the headline of every arts event, and it’s the center of every news story, hashtag, and home. It is shocking how rapidly a single word can trigger dread and create a sense of isolation, or even mania, within an entire population. In these many months, the world has faced a great deal of change, and while isolation has proven to be one of the biggest challenges, we all have found ways to create the personal interactions we so intensely crave. Art has been a surprisingly integral part of these interpersonal interactions—watching a live stream from your favorite singer can be just as engaging as a phone call with a friend, and viewing short films on Zoom together brings us that much closer to the ones we care about. The opportunity to become invested in art and creativity is, in many ways, more accessible than ever. Arts organizations have adapted to COVID-19 by utilizing their websites to increase interactivity with hope of adding the personal touches that help thaw the loneliness of their audiences and supporters. Theater and dance companies have faced the same challenge: how can a theater bring audiences the gift of a show and continue to offer cherished community spaces when they aren’t physically open? This summer season, the artists of local dance company Whim W’Him had to find that answer for themselves.

“We decided to pivot into making dance films” says Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers. Before COVID-19, the dance company’s summer season XALT was set to consist of two live shows—MANIFOLD and The Way It Is. These pieces intended to explore the human journey and bring the audience into an intimate storyline, latching onto the personal, yet universal, emotions of the audience members and artists alike. But COVID-19 spun the arts world on its head, leaving many dance companies unprepared and in search of new ways to reach audiences. XALT’S MANIFOLD, choreographed by Penny Saunders, and The Way It Is, choreographed by Wevers, use dance to perfectly capture the loneliness of quarantine. It is strangely comforting to see the socially distanced dancers in these performances tread carefully, so as not to step into each other’s space. Whim W'Him dancer Andrew McShea and company dancers performing Olivier Wevers' The Way It Is during a pop-up appearance at Myrtle Edwards Park in Seattle. Photo by Stefano Altamura.

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Bite-Size Shows from Rising Star Project’s RadioActive Musicals

Review of the Rising Star Project's RadioActive Musicals, presented by The 5th Avenue Theatre

Written by Teen Writer Frances Vonada and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

RSP 2020 Full Company Behind the Scenes

Theater is characterized by careful rehearsal, yet there is a reason for the saying “the show must go on”: surprises always crop up, requiring creative problem-solving. A week before rehearsals for The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Rising Star Project were supposed to start, Governor Jay Inslee issued the shelter in place order, requiring the students and mentors to adapt quickly. Their solution was to live-stream the musicals on Facebook.

This year, the musicals are inspired by a true story from KUOW’s RadioActive podcast. Each production explores a different issue in the modern world. Beyond Boundaries, with book and music by Lydia Hayes, utilizes a science fiction premise to create an insightful allegory about the significant link between one’s name and one’s identity. The Pen With Four Colors, with music by James McGough and Lucas Oktay and book by Morgan Gwertzman, is a testament to the healing power of art. However, I felt most strongly about the shows Bad Trip and Gut Feeling, which I have expanded on below.

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A Celebration of All Things Verse

Review of Spotlight Poetry livestreamed by the Hugo House

Written by Teen Writer Bayla Cohen-Knott and edited by Teen Editor Mila Borowski

2 Opening Screen with writers

It just wasn’t fitting for such an event to end with the Zoom window closing. More fitting would have been a standing ovation before reflecting in a dim lobby while eating scones. Instead, I closed my laptop, left alone to contemplate the words of visiting poets Tess Taylor and Julia Guez, who joined the three hosts of The Poet Salon podcast, Gabrielle Bates, Luther Hughes, and Dujie Tahat. The event was described on the Hugo House website as “a celebration of all things verse.” It truly lived up to that.

Gabrielle Bates, who started, showed us the immersive side of verse. She admitted to us that she was quite nervous, as it was her first virtual reading. Often I assume that professional writers are comfortable with vulnerability, so I appreciated her candor. Bates’ openness set the stage for a genuine atmosphere where she delved into spooky fall feels. The first poem she read was entitled “How Judas Died.” Her voice softened and she won us over with her haunting imagery. She continued with “Conversation with Mary,” where she tells us of a nightmare in which she was impregnated by God. Her language was so certain, I was itching to have the lines in front of me to re-read and explore. During her reading of her poem “Pre-Elegy for Dad,” in response to the line “He is my mother,” the Zoom chat was flooded with awed remarks. She finished with “The Mentor.” My favorite line from this poem was “keeping language close to my mouth,” which evoked thoughts of a certain tug-of-war between speaking and voice. Her surreal images and thought-provoking lines threw me right into the deep end, where I would stay for the entire evening. Gabrielle Bates reading at Spotlight Poetry hosted by the Hugo House. Photo courtesy of Hugo House.

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How the Company You’ve Never Heard of Made Technology What It is Today

Review of Simulmatics and the Advent of Data-Mining livestreamed via Town Hall Seattle

Written by Teen Writer Leyla Richter-Munger and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

Event image jill lepore

It’s easy to look at the issues of modern technology— privacy, property, misinformation—and assume it’s all a product of the last ten or so years. Before then, it was all clunky computers and waiting for hours for a single file to download, so it’s logical to think many of the philosophical conversations we’re having about our current technological state must be solely unique to this very moment in time. Right?

That’s what Jill Lepore thought too, before she discovered the secret beginnings of all of this “how far is too far?” technology controversy with roots far earlier than she’d imagined. In her new book If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future, the author and acclaimed professor of American history delves into the complex tale of the Simulatics Corporation of the early sixties and how it laid the groundwork for much of today’s technological and political landscapes. Through Town Hall Seattle, she and fellow historian Margaret O’Mara sat down over Zoom livestream to discuss her findings and further unpack just how influential this virtually unknown company truly was. Now, I went into this livestream having never heard of Simulatics, or the book, or even Lepore herself, and yet, I was hooked from the get go.

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