(What to Watch) January 2020 Edition

It’s the perennial question avid arts-goers get from friends (and strangers): What should I see? 

This month, it’s tough to decide but hard to go wrong, with so much to see across many different genres — more recommendations than days left in the month, in fact. Here are my personal picks for January. 


Experience Black Joy & Imagination 

Two exceptional artists who put out unique and timely work have book talks this month. At Elliott Bay Book Company on January 16, Gabrielle Civil will talk about Wild Beauty, her current collaborative work at Velocity Dance Center, and her latest book, Experiments in Joy. And on January 24 at the new Hugo House, interdisciplinary artist Natasha Marin will talk about her new book, Black Imagination. I don’t usually do book talks — but both of these are enthusiastically recommended. Tickets not required; info here (Civil) and here (Marin).

Civil is also in residence this week at Velocity with three local queer Black dancers — Randy Ford, Neve Mazique-Bianco, and Fox Whitney — creating new work. The group performs Wild Beauty: What happens if we take our time? on January 20. Tickets not required; info here.

In the Central District, Wa Na Wari — a relatively new home for Black arts, founded by established artists and curators — opened a new exhibition this week. In the homey environment, three diverse exhibits (by Amir George, Shurvon Haynes, and Jaleesa Johnston) inhabit the upstairs rooms, while multilayered paintings by Ronald Hall adorn the downstairs walls, begging viewers to pore over their conflicting imagery. Tickets not required; info here. Also look for the premiere of the Vanishing Seattle film series at Wa Na Wari, on January 16 (info here).

And while she’s in town directing Reparations at Sound Theatre, Jay O’Leary joins Porscha Shaw in a different type of performance, called Revive. In the intimate confines of 18th & Union, the two artists explore Black joy through song, dance and spoken word. “In a world where the dominant culture yearns for the silencing of Black and Brown communities, Revive disrupts the poisonous notion that we are a damaged people.” Runs January 13-14 only. (Tickets $12-$24 sliding scale for all, here.)


See Multi-Genre New Works at On the Boards  

There’s always new work coming through On the Boards, but this month brings two shows I’m particularly excited about. The quarterly Performance Lab series features several short new works selected by a different co-curator, and is always interesting, fresh, and low-key to attend. The installment on January 15, co-curated by HATLO with series co-curator Charles Smith, is a meditation on the future, with performances held throughout the building. (Tickets $10, here.)

And in the next full run at On the Boards, Jaha Koo: Cuckoo tells the story of a generation — one that’s often isolated socially by technological advancement and economic pressures — through conversations between himself and three rice cookers. Koo, a South Korean artist, presents his work in Korean with English subtitles. It runs January 23-26. (Tickets $32, here.)


Laugh a Little  

Comedic theatre isn’t always a slam dunk, but I have faith in the farce Noises Off — from Olympia’s Harlequin Productions — to get it right. One reason? Lisa Viertel’s comedic timing is always deadly. Other reasons to make the drive: Harlequin put on some of the best productions I saw last year; Corey McDaniel’s direction is consistently strong; the theatre feels so much friendlier than most in Seattle; and the BitterSweet Chocolates truffles at the lobby concessions stand are divine. Noises Off opens January 17 and runs through February 8. (Tickets $36, available here.)

Comedy shows abound, few of which appeal to me. A key exception: the Joketellers Union, which holds court almost every Wednesday at the Clock-Out Lounge. Hosts Emmett Montgomery and Brett Hamil bring in comedians from the local area and beyond for short sets, and most are pretty funny. If they’re not, you can always order another drink and load up on pizza from the Breezy Town Pizza window near the stage. The crowd is friendly, with many of them regulars; the atmosphere is one of (strange and lovely) community. Admission $7 at the door, or here.

Looking for more comedy? The Rendezvous has a friendly environment for it and plenty of good shows: the Comedy Nest (a womxn-focused sign-up show downstairs in the Grotto) is every Tuesday, and Seventy-Nine Cents: An All Womxn Comedy Show is January 17; plus the Magic Hat, every Monday in the Grotto, is hosted by Emmett Montgomery and tends to blend comedy, storytelling, and personality. (See the Rendezvous calendar here.) And I haven’t been there yet, but the Columbia City Theater has some shows this month that sound good, like Mixed ‘n’ Misidentified: The ‘What Are You?’ Show (January 18), and Model Minority: An Asian Womxn Comedy Show (January 30); see calendar here.


Watch New Dance  

Among a ton of new dance to choose from this month, two spring to the top of my list.

Showing Out: Contemporary Black Choreographers, curated by Dani Tirrell, features seven short new works from Saira Barbaric, Kyle Bernbach and Gilbert Small, Brian J. Evans, Keelan Johnson, Neve Kamilah Mazique-Bianco, Michael O’Neal Jr., and Markeith Wiley. This showcase, held January 17-18, is the continuation of a development and mentorship series in which the artists showed work in November, took audience feedback, and return with revised works. It’s presented by Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas at the historic Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. (Tickets $20, here.) 

And in Drama Tops, this is for you, trans-masculine dancer/choreographer Elby Brosch will tell his story through duets with dancers Jordan Macintosh-Hougham (non-binary) and Shane Donohue (cisgender male), using queer humor to splay open toxic masculinity. The performance aims to build up a beautiful vision of masculinity with tenderness and empathy. The performances run January 28-30 at Washington Hall. (Tickets $15-$25 sliding scale, here.)

Plus, catch the book talk on January 16 and performance of new work by Gabrielle Civil and local dancers on January 20 (see Black Joy section above). Civil’s written work is gorgeous, and her talk and performative work here shouldn’t be missed.

Not enough? On January 18, Seattle Dances presents an annual celebration of dance excellence, DanceCrush, featuring new works alongside the awards party, at the Erickson Theatre (tickets $20, here). And on January 22-26, UW Dance presents new works from Alethea Alexander, Rachael Lincoln, Adele Nickel, Dani Tirrell & “Majinn” Mike O’Neal Jr., at Meany Studio Theatre (tickets $20, here). 


Examine Incarceration Culture 

In its latest, Strawberry Theatre Workshop tackles a heavy piece: Our Country’s Good, a modern work set in 18th-century Australia, where everyone is either the jailed or the jailer. It opens January 25 and runs through February 22. (Tickets $36, $24 Mondays, or 10 $10 Gold Tickets available for every show — act fast for those, which are mostly available closing weekend; tickets here.) 


Watch Your Cake & Eat It, Too 

Anne Allgood really is a good baker. But you wouldn’t know it, to watch her fling pans and utensils comically around the makeshift kitchen on the Rendezvous’s Jewelbox Theater stage. Bon Appetit!: The Julia Child Operetta (with chocolate gateau and anecdotal icing) is an homage to the culinary character that was Julia Child, America’s original celebrity chef. Child’s grand-niece (Julia Child Prud’homme) shares stories before and after the comedy-operetta, Mark Anders plays piano, and the whole thing is washed down with a slice of rich chocolate cake from Child’s own recipe. Though it’s fun solo too, it’s especially good with a small group of friends, with dinner before and lingering after.

Tickets $28, including cake. See show dates and find tickets here

(Read NWT’s review here.) 


Catch Some High-Brow Arts 

Rarely would I find myself at the opera (it’s happened only once), but I recently discovered a love of Tchaikovsky thanks to an enjoyable Nutcracker overload last month. Fortuitously, Seattle Opera just opened a gorgeous Tchaikovsky opera — Eugene Onegin — this week, about (what else?) lost love. It runs through January 25. (Ticket prices range widely, up to $229, available here. Discount ticket information, including new community rush tickets, available here.) 

In a bit more casual environs, the acclaimed Bohemia — featuring the music of Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and others, plus some originals, with acrobatics and burlesque and absinthe and more woven throughout — will have its last run at the Triple Door. It runs January 16-26. Tickets $25 or $45 (VIP), here.


Hear New Plays in Development  

Readings of new works don’t have the dazzle of a production, but they’re a low-key way to hear emerging works, and a good place for adventurous theatre-goers to get together to hear and discuss them. The downside is its always hard to predict which scripts (and readings) will shine. The upside is they’re usually free or donation-based.

Three recurring series I particularly like are salon-style events held in comfortable, less traditional spaces, and all three have readings this month. On January 20, the Copious Love Plays on Tap series returns to Solo Bar, with Green Burial by Brendan Mack; info here. On January 23, the monthly Seattle Playwrights Salon reconvenes at the Palace Theatre & Art Bar in Georgetown for Olive and Camila, by Robin Brooks; info here. And on January 26, the occasional Akropolis Performance Lab Salon holds its annual New Year/New Play edition, with Ink, by Radmila Sarac. These are more traditionally salon-style than the others: held at a private residence in Lake Forest Park, with potluck-style food and drinks and in-depth response and discussion that can go for hours (but attendees can come and go as needed); info here.

Other readings later this month include Pacific Play Company’s The Adventures of Lulu, comprised of short plays by seven playwrights based on a Kelleen Conway Blanchard character, at 18th & Union on January 16 (info here); and Parley’s Finding Ruth by Jessica Andrewartha, on January 27 at University Heights Center (tickets here). Also keep an eye out for Albatross Theatre Lab, Sound Theatre Company, and Northwest Playwrights Alliance, which also hold regular readings (including some earlier this month).


Catch a World Premiere 

Sound Theatre won the 2019 Gregory Award for Theatre of the Year, its fourth. It’s well deserved. Few theatres put up work as exciting and well-produced as Sound does (see NWT’s reviews of two of their shows last year here and here), and they do it with a pronounced emphasis on equity and social justice. This season kicks off with the world premiere of Darren Canady’s Reparations, which Pork Filled Productions held a reading of last year. Jay O’Leary (Citizen, ArtsWest’s Skeleton Crew) directs, with Tracy Michelle Hughes, Aishe Keita, and more. It’s held at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Central District. (Tickets are sliding scale, starting at $5 for all, here.)

Later this month, Tacoma Little Theatre presents another world premiere: Shattering, by Pat Montley, selected and produced as part of the AACT’s NewPlayFest. It’s a heavy script, about a Black family shattered by gang violence and a mother’s attempt to put back the pieces. It opens January 24 and runs through February 9. (Tickets are $25, here; with a pay-what-you-can performance on February 6.) 


Get Thyself to a Museum

Two major shows close on January 26. At the Frye Art Museum is Donald Byrd: The America That Is to Be, a retrospective of the acclaimed choreographer/dancer’s many works (so far, that is — as Byrd is quick to point out, he’s not done yet). The exhibition combines photographs, costumes, video archive footage, and live performance from Spectrum dancers. It’s a must-see. (Admission to the Frye is free to all; info and performance schedule here.)

And at Seattle Art Museum, Flesh and Blood features Italian masterpieces, including a notable Artemesia Gentileschi work, Judith Slaying Holofernes. (The image was featured in Joy McCullough’s Blood Water Paint, which Macha Theatre Works recently produced.) Info here.


Discover the Seattle Music Scene Is Alive & Well & Living In … Well, Seattle

There are tons of small-venue rock shows around town, to help you feel like a teenager again — or perhaps way too old for all that racket. It varies. Cozy venues I favor for trying out new things include the Clock Out Lounge on Beacon Hill, the Sunset Tavern in Ballard, and the Funhouse by the freeway.

For shows this month, my top pick is the Art Martyrs Showcase on January 25 at the Sunset Tavern. It features a loaded and wide-ranging group of great acts — including Stephanie Anne Johnson (who left a lasting impression years ago on The Voice), drag artist Arson Nicki, and the odd-but-soothing Mantraband. (Tickets are sliding scale for all, starting at $8; find them here.)

Others I recommend, depending on your mood: the chill-sounding Vaudeville Etiquette January 17 at the Clock Out Lounge; rock band Rachaels Children (which includes theatre artist/drummer Jordi Montes) with Guayaba and others, at the humorously named Belltown Yacht Club — really the VERY LOUD back bar venue at the underground Screwdriver Bar — on January 18; on MLK Day/January 20, A Sensible Cabaret, with Kirsten Delohr Helland and Lia Lee at the Knife Room in Pioneer Square; and another great showcase at the Sunset Tavern on January 26, featuring Guayaba, Nic Masangkay, and others.


Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.