A few weeks ago, George Mount, artistic director of the Seattle Shakespeare Company, went to a rehearsal room to start work on the production of “The Comedy of Errors”. When he entered he started to cry.
Almost a year and a half ago, Mount was in that same rehearsal space, about to start the tech for a production of “Troilus and Cressida” that an audience would never see. A week before the scheduled opening on March 20, 2020, Seattle Shakes canceled the remainder of its season due to COVID-19.
After such a long absence, a cathartic return was inevitable.
âIt felt like home,â Mount said. âIt felt like the goal had been brought back after 15, 16, 17 months not knowing what to do. Appreciating all the effort and the experiences and the new directions we took, but felt like I was back on solid ground again. “
Like most of the city’s theaters, Seattle Shakes has made some programming hubs during the shutdown, from ubiquitous Zoom events and readings to a new series of Shakespeare-themed digital scavenger hunts.
âEveryone was just trying to figure out how to reinvent,â Mount said. âFor me it was a little intimidating. I kept thinking, “I have spent over 30 years trying to get good at creating a 3,000 year old art form, and [I have] to reinvent it in three months.
But now, a return to performing arts is imminent. July 23-August. 8, Wooden O, the outdoor theater arm of Seattle Shakes, will stage “The comedy of mistakes. One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, the silly, burlesque farce will be seen in Seattle-area parks. Admission is free, donations are welcome.
The production of the show made Mount reflect on this 3,000-year history.
âWe come back with our outdoor shows, [and] it puts him in this continuum of what I love about classical theater, âhe said. âIt connects our theater to what the Elizabethan troupes were doing at a time when they couldn’t perform in cities. They went to the provinces because the cinemas were closed. [It connects us to] the real origins of the art form itself: being performed in open-air theaters at the foot of the Parthenon. “
âThe Comedy of Mistakesâ was slated for production in Wood O last summer, but it looks especially timely now that the theater is starting to emerge again, Mount said.
“[Itâs] a story of confusion and reunification, of being lost and inadvertently finding the way back to your community, your people, your family, âhe said. âIt all started to really resonate as the [show] to come back with.
That said, he’s a ânon-thinkerâ at a time when âit would be nice to have fun,â as Mount nostalgically puts it.
Seattle Shakes’ Wooden O productions are generally a mass-market business with substantial sets and costumes. It’s going to be a much leaner comeback, with a five-person cast of Seattle theater veterans (Kate Witt, R. Hamilton Wright) and new faces (MJ Daly, Kelly Karcher, Rico Lastrapes) bouncing between characters.
“[We were] looking for people who had a little different kind of triple threat, âMount said. âGood to Shakespeare. Good at comedy. But also, more precisely, good at improvisation, because part of this show is inspired by long narrative improvisation, where we have the impression of inventing it as we go.
Mount predicts that smaller casts will be part of his company‘s new normal for a while, as they easily return to indoor performances. And while the stages remained empty, there were plenty of behind-the-scenes talk about what the lineup will look like, both in the wake of a pandemic and a racial calculation that led to the creation of Seattle. Theater Leaders, a coalition formed to fight institutional racism in arts organizations.
âI think about who the storytellers are, what stories are being told,â Mount said. âWe work internally to develop in areas of classical theater that are not Eurocentric or English-speaking.
Mount acknowledges that some of the Seattle Shakes’ upcoming season shows will likely be familiar titles. It remains to be seen how many Seattle theaters will follow declarations of diversity, equity and inclusion with productions of under-represented voices, especially when dire financial difficulties could tip the scales towards conservative programming.
For Mount, the future might look like a redefinition of the kind of shows a classic-focused company produces.
“So many people have been historically excluded from theatrical creation, that it is only in the last decades that other voices have felt empowered to engage in classic stories in a reimagining,” he said. -he declares. âIf we want those voices to be there, we’ll have to look to more recent work. “