On an Underground Stage, Stories of Pioneer Square Through the Ages
A new musical, staged underneath the city, examines an old neighborhood’s storied past and vibrant present. People in the Square runs through 8/27 at The New Skid Road Theatre.
$14 cocktails. $2 overdose.
That line, perhaps more than any other, sums up so succinctly the disparity, dichotomy, and different classes of addiction in the haves and have-nots of Seattle’s modern streetscape.
Nowhere is it more stark than in Pioneer Square, Seattle’s original neighborhood, where one can perch in the wide-open window of a dark, tasteful bar drinking minuscule, impeccably crafted cocktails, which do indeed run $14, as the stench of summer piss whisks up occasionally from the street. Just a few feet away, people pushing shopping carts hobble by, hunched over so steeply there’s no face in sight. It’s hard to guess when they’ve last seen kind eyes, or when someone last saw theirs, or lingered more than a shameful glance at best.
Meanwhile — damn that cocktail’s good, the bourbon as smooth as the groove on the Black Thought & Danger Mouse track that pulses overhead.
This landscape of strained but effortless dichotomies is the Square that People sees, the canvas it spreads out as the backdrop for its varied vignettes. The after-work crowd wanders the galleries of America’s first art walk, oohing and ahhing over empty frames holding lovely depictions of who knows what; hours later, the day laborers emerge at the crack of dawn, looking for hard jobs for money to take back to their rooms at the mission.
At night, aggressive sports fans and aggressive catcallers share a corner. Unspoken but hanging over each of these sequences are the persistent questions of which of these is more socially acceptable, and why.
The show is a montage of eras, characters, and styles. History lessons appear in spoken chunks, a la Living Voices, in turns telling of indigenous Duwamish inhabitants, Gold Rush passers-through, and a booming logging industry. Talking (and arguing) buildings feel a bit odd at first, like a diorama crossed with a childhood talent show, or that pageant bit with Tess’ uncle’s world’s largest ball of twine in Drop Dead Gorgeous. But the living structures are cool looking, detailed, endearing, and unexpected. They give personality and life to the easily-ignored.
And that’s really what People in the Square is about. The show gives life, personality, and context to the overlooked, the taken-for-granted, built upon what’s perhaps Seattle’s most storied neighborhood, where the city’s loudest modern attributes (the record-breaking noise of BeastQuake crowds, the stadium concerts, developers, decision-makers and bureaucrats) also reign.
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Playwright and director Rose Cano, who also wrote the show’s lyrics accompanying David Nyberg’s musical compositions, envisions this as the beginning of a new life for an old performance space. Dubbed The New Skid Road Theatre, the space has held a few previous theatres in earlier times, and is now home to Beneath the Streets underground tours. (Read more about the building’s history and show’s creators in Crosscut, here.) This opening run — performed by actor-singers Lorena Del Pino, Viviana Garza, Robert McPherson, and Jack Mozie, and musicians Brandon Peck (also musical director), Josh Green, and Matthew Kusche) — goes through this Saturday.
Just upstairs and around the corner, Bad Bishop Bar is a nice place to take in the above-ground life of the Square. (The simple and delicious burger, refined cocktails, and well-thought-out draft beer lineup are all good bets.) After the show, it’s a stark vantage point to think about people and privilege in a city of pronounced haves and have-nots.
People in the Square from Creative Hiatus Productions runs through 8/27 at The New Skid Road Theatre (at Beneath the Streets) in Pioneer Square. Tickets are $45, here. Accessibility note: performance is located down a steep stone staircase in a historic building and is not accessible by wheelchair or easy to reach with any mobility devices.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.