Theatre is a Two Way Street at Public Works

Written by TeenTix Alumni Cordelia Janow

Bronwen Houck Photography

Public Works, a program at Seattle Rep, is dedicated to bringing theatre to everyone. Through partnerships with community-based organizations, Public Works brings free theatre classes, productions, and performances to people in the greater Seattle area. This August 25-27, The Public Works Team will be putting on The Tempest, completely free of charge.

I sat down for a conversation with Ally Poole, Public Works Manager, Talia Colten, Public Works Assistant, and Donovan Olsen, Public Works Associate, to speak with them about their work and the importance of the Public Works Program.

What is Public Works?

The Public Works program offers classes 3/4ths of the year, with a show performed in the summer. The classes cover a wide range of disciplines and are offered completely free of charge to participants. The Tempest will be the first Public Works live production since 2019, due to the pandemic, and there is a huge sense of excitement about bringing Public Works back to the stage. Donovan mentions that “there really is like a life cycle of the program where people are engaging in classes for most of the year out in the community”, noting the importance of community building within the Public Works program.

The core values of Public Works are equity, imagination, and joy, which are brought to everyone involved in a myriad of ways. The program is dedicated to making theatre accessible to all, by making all aspects, including tickets, free for all, allowing a wide range of people to participate. The cast of The Tempest is “just a melting pot of wonderfulness”, according to Ally, who emphasizes the diversity within the cast. The dedication to these values extends beyond free classes and also includes free meals for participants and a mobile box office.

This community-building aspect of Public Works is exceptional, as it brings people together through the creation of theatre. Donovan tells me that the team is ”very actively bringing people together and building community because the public works program believes that like we, we all when we come together, we just make better art”. This dedication impacts participants who “come out of their shells, whether that is through the performance or something like The Tempest or through weekly classes and gaining confidence into what it means to be a person on a stage”, or people who find [themselves] through other people and through other opportunities” according to Ally.

Why Public Works?

Though this model of theatre differs from others, it is incredibly valuable to the people involved. Talia explains that they enjoy “really getting to dive into the community building aspect of it and what that really looks like on its feet versus talking about it more theoretically”, and Donovan adds that “Seattle Rep’s mission and vision is theater at the heart of public life. And public works is a very active embodiment of that mission wherein we view theater as a two-way street, not something transactional”. Public Works is for everyone, and it brings the most joyful parts of theatre and collaboration to an even greater level, which everyone involved is excited about. This kind of collaboration brings more creativity and innovation to the table, and Ally says that she “didn't expect every production to be the same, not just because of the size of people or the scope of the play, but because there is so much room to play and to make things our own”, which is exciting for all theatre makers.

Though they are excited for people to come to see The Tempest, and for audiences to love the show, the team is deeply invested in the personal outcomes for participants. When I asked the team what they hope for participants to walk away with, Ally said “I would hope that every person who participates enjoyed themselves,” Donovan said “I really hope that everyone can walk away, having built a new relationship with somebody as part who is part of this process, who possibly they wouldn't have met otherwise,” and Talia Said “I hope, folks feel a sense of ownership and that they also feel that guiding sense of collaboration, they walked away and, and felt that they've had a, you know, they see their own contribution to the work as a whole”.

The Tempest
plays at Seattle Rep August 25-27, 2023.

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