NWTheatre Awards: Companies, Trends, & Touring Shows of 2022

All around the region and all year long, theatre and dance companies treated viewers to great performances in 2022.

Last month, NWTheatre’s editor recognized a list of locally crafted Shows of the Year, featuring 13 standout productions from Puget Sound-area stages of all sizes. This month, on Valentine’s Day, NWTheatre extends the love to some companies, touring shows, a trend, and even a single scene that made 2022 a year to remember. 

See NWTheatre Awards: Best-Loved Shows of 2022 here for general methodology and to read what stuck with NWT’s editor as the most powerful, most memorable, most spectacular locally produced shows of 2022. Read on for company and touring recognitions. 


Season of the Year 

Pacific Northwest Ballet 

Power. Precision. Playfulness. 

If someone had said my top slate of performances for 2022 would be ballet, I would’ve laughed in their face. And yet, here we are — and it’s not even close. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2022 show lineup not only looked grand, it delivered on (and often exceeded) that promise.

Several of PNB’s productions this year could, individually, have landed on the “Shows of the Year” list. Some performances were breathtaking. And the variety of works the company put up this year was exceptional.

Among the best of the best:

The Seasons’ Canon. In a crowded field, this triple-bill, featuring an exquisite Crystal Pite work as the headliner, was PNB’s best show of the year and one of NWT’s Shows of the Year. (You can read more about it on that list, here.)

Season Encore. In a one-night-only annual closer, PNB company members dance exhilarating segments of some of the greats. It doesn’t get much more showing-off than this, and I can’t knock them at all for that — it’s a blast to watch. (Pro tip: Make a plan to attend this hot-ticket show. Tickets aren’t yet available, but it’s expected to be the night of June 11, following the season’s closing performance.)

Plot Points. Like The Seasons’ Canon, this is another multi-choreographer slate anchored by a Crystal Pite masterpiece. I didn’t love the Justin Peck work that closed it out, but Pite’s Plot Point is a cinematic wonder, David Parsons’ groundbreaking Caught is an enthralling burst, and Robyn Mineko Williams’ world premiere, Before I Was, is an endearing and playful return to childlike curiosity. See NWT’s review (by Melody Datz Hansen) here.

Carmina Burana. A giant wheel, a choir in the sky, and a sprawling stage crammed with barely-clad dancers. Yeah, this one’s showing off too. And it’s divine. See NWT’s review here.

Among the rest of PNB’s 2022 offerings, Next Step, held at the much more intimate venue of On the Boards, gave company dancers the chance to flex their choreographic muscles in an enjoyable series of short works; All Tharp was a lively retrospective of (or introduction to) works from Twyla Tharp’s decades-long catalog; and while the classic Swan Lake is a little snoozy for me, a few scenes were stunning and, throughout, the precision here was undeniable. (I skipped Romeo et Juliet, since my annoyance with star-crossed lovers usually occurs quickly, but I imagine it would be in the same boat.)

The perennial holiday classic The Nutcracker is always a lush wonderland, but standout this year was the recently promoted soloist Amanda Morgan, jaw-dropping as Dew Drop (and no doubt in her Sugar Plum Fairy debut, too); her en pointe impossibly spear-like, even as her leaps remain playful, light and nimble. The sensory friendly matinee of PNB School’s Beauty and the Beast was among the most fun I’ve had all year, thanks to the “relaxed environment” (a major plus!) in which kids decked out in fancy costumes occasionally took to twirling along in the aisles or, like the junior in front of me, play with race cars (quietly) instead. And the pay-what-you-choose ticket night (Thursdays, along with $5 beer) for most productions means that more people than ever can come in to enjoy the show.

In 2022, PNB strode with purpose, like it’s determined to prove ballet is for everyone. And it did a mighty fine job of it.

Read more: NWT’s coverage of Pacific Northwest Ballet here; info on financially accessible shows on the company’s website here; and a recent piece on Black dancers’ experiences at PNB here (Seattle Times).

Next pick: Boundless (March 17-26), a triple-bill of modern works: world premieres by Alejandro Cerrudo and Jessica Lang, and a piece by Penny Saunders that “pays homage to the marvel and magic of live theater — a love letter to the immense power and delight one finds within those walls.” Tickets and info here


Related picks: Fans of playful, professional-level ballet should catch Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, presented by Tacoma Art Live (March 9, Pantages Theater in Downtown Tacoma). Fans of Crystal Pite should catch her company, Kidd Pivot, co-presented by Seattle Theatre Group and On the Boards (March 1, Paramount Theatre in Downtown Seattle). See info on those and more in NWT’s early-2023 dance picks here



Trend of the Year: Financial Accessibility   

Lowering the barriers to experiencing great art. 

Without a doubt, the widespread expansion of pay-what-you-choose (PWYC) and sliding-scale tickets, providing a new level of accessibility to the arts, is the most welcome show-going development of 2022.

Theatre is expensive. It’s expensive to produce, and it’s expensive to attend. But as values shift and organizations no longer wish to be exclusive domains of wealthier patrons, they’re figuring out how to make the finances work while opening up the doors.

A year ago, NWT talked with companies who were leading the charge (no pun intended) toward accessible pricing, including a few who had long offered shows on a fully pay-what-you-choose basis. Other companies offered sliding-scale pricing at designated price points, provided a batch of free or reduced-cost tickets at each show, or offered PWYC tickets at select performances or previews. Read NWT’s feature, including arts leaders discussing their motivations and findings, here.

During 2022, that list grew dramatically. With some exceptions (touring shows and cabarets most common among them), nearly every theatre and dance company in the region makes fully pay-what-you-choose or sliding-scale tickets available for at least some of their performances.

You can find shows with financially accessible tickets (including both PWYC and sliding-scale or reduced-price options) on NWT’s extensive Performance Calendar with this filter. (You can also narrow those down further to include only the shows with free or fully PWYC tickets, using this filter.) Tickets must be available to all, not just students or other designated groups, to appear on these filters.

The list keeps growing, with the opportunity to see great performances becoming feasible for more people than ever, and it’s exciting to watch.



Company Recognitions: Cultivating Community   

The 14/48 Projects
As If Theatre Company
Sound Theatre Company

Fostering conversations and connections as part of their core being.

Some companies seem uniquely able to craft connections and community just as deftly as they create what’s on stage. Three companies stand out by cultivating connections in distinct ways.

At relative newcomer As If Theatre Company, the warmth is obvious just past the door, where some affable volunteers are apt to assail you with homemade cookies and what appears to be an entire Costco van-load of concessions. You might get greeted by name if you’ve been there before or are active in theatre-going or -making circles — the company’s three founders do theatre work all over town in various capacities. But the company’s desire for connectivity shows up in its programming as well: to its geographic community in Kenmore, with annual short play festivals dedicated to the town’s lore; and to its artistic community more broadly, inviting artists across experience levels to write, direct, or act.

Next Up: Suite Surrender at Kenmore Community Club (March 16-April 2); info and tickets here

Community is ingrained into The 14/48 Projects‘ entire slate of programming. It’d be hard not to be: the signature program — in which playwrights, directors, designers, and actors create and fully stage 14 plays in 48 hours — sounds something like a sleepless, mutually-reliant theatre boot camp. But the festival is all about fun, celebrating new works, and seeing a ton of familiar faces which, after the pandemic isolation, was even more of a salve. The annual Theater Anonymous show — a mashup of a food-filled Christmas party, a family reunion, and a Hallmark movie for the stage — is a mandatory holiday tradition.

Next Up: It’s hard to say. 14/48 generally announces shows on a more ad hoc basis than other companies, but usually has an outdoor summer festival among its offerings. View the most recent show listing here

Sound Theatre Company has always been tenacious. In its earlier days, the company brought home a string of Gregory Awards for Theatre of the Year, cultivated a network of rising-star artists, and put up shows that both centered artistic excellence and were seriously challenging to put on — big casts, tricky content, specific casting needs, and difficult-to-stage concepts were all things Sound reliably bounded to, not away from. These days, Sound is just as firm in centering underrepresented voices, on-stage and in power positions, while expanding its reach into new projects: among them, an artistic ASL film featuring Native and Deaf actors (see info here), and a season of new-works readings interspersed with its full productions and an inaugural playwright residency. Now under co-Artistic Directors Teresa Thuman and Shermona Mitchell, Sound’s artistic web continues to reach outward and onward.

Next up: 11th and Pine, a commissioned play by Nikki Yeboah examining Seattle’s protests of 2020 (March, dates TBA). See season info here.  



Touring Recognitions 


Dynamic Season of the Year: Meany Center for the Performing Arts 

It’s hard to think of a more exciting season than what the Meany Center, located on the UW’s main campus, put up last year. Taking advantage of its huge stage and towering ceilings, Meany kicked off 2022 with Streb Extreme Action, dancer-daredevils who propel themselves through the air and on enormous contraptions. Following them on the year’s lineup were the legendary Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble, with a night of modern dance and live music; MOMIX, with a very strange, very cool Alice in Wonderland-themed series; and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, with a locally generated spin on Jones’ text-based work, What Problem? In a unique partnership, the New York-based Jones also guest-curated the current season.

Along with its dance series, the Center brings in concerts from percussion groups, pianists, and more. If you want to foster a budding taste in the arts with big and varied programming, give Meany’s lineups a serious look.

Next up: Camille A. Brown Dancers: BLACK GIRL – Linguistic Play (March 16-18); “a story of Black female empowerment” in which Brown draws on “African American vernacular forms — social dancing, Double Dutch, hand-clapping games, ring shout — to evoke the self-discovery and playfulness of childhood.” Tickets and show info here


Later in the season: The Motherboard Suite – with music by Saul Williams and direction by Bill T. Jones, seven choreographers explore intersections of technology and race (April 1); Step Afrika! – the first professional dance group dedicated to step (April 20-22); numerous musical performers; and free events and a culminating performance by Daniel Alexander Jones (throughout April and May, schedule TBA). View upcoming shows here



Touring Show of the Year: Hadestown 

It’s hard to overstate how much of a game-changer Hadestown is, both in its creators and its craft. It’s written and composed by a woman (Anaïs Mitchell) and directed by a woman (Rachel Chavkin), where Broadway musicals are nearly all by men. Its fierce, otherworldly set was designed by a woman (Rachel Hauck). All three of them won Tony Awards. Mitchell, the writer and composer, is a folk singer-songwriter who hails from Vermont, even as the show’s music is a nearly uncategorizable blend somewhere in the realm of soaring ballads, pop-rock, and blaring Big Easy horns.

But that finely tuned, detail-driven folk storyteller behind the music is plenty evident. The show’s lyrics construct an epic with well-defined characters, fractured worlds, palpable losses, and a quest packed with both adventure and emotion that’s all conveyed, somehow, in the structure of a sung-through musical. Hadestown makes the old, much-done story of Orpheus and Eurydice truly new again; and it ends the epic tragedy with a door open just enough to evoke some hope for them still.

If it’s possible to win Best Musical and seven other Tony Awards (among 14 nominations) and still be underrated, that is Hadestown. It’s magnificent.

Next up: Hadestown returns to the Paramount Theatre late in the year, for one week (October 31-November 5). Tickets and show info here. Before that, Broadway at the Paramount brings short runs of Dear Evan Hansen (March 7-12) and Hairspray (April 4-9) before kicking off its new season in the summer; view all shows here.



Moment of the Year: Jagged Little Pill, “Uninvited” 

Everyone talks about “You Oughta Know,” and that was indeed great. But the scene that gave me chills then and haunts me now is “Uninvited”: a dream-like, nightmarish sequence in which Heidi Blickenstaff (as lead Mary Jane) tries unsuccessfully to fight off her demon — a hollowed-out, drug-addled version of herself, played by Jena VanElslander — all while a student she’s effectively betrayed, by encouraging her to protect a fellow student who sexually assaulted her, looks on. There’s nothing that better captures the tension of this story than that moment. The song itself, from Alanis Morissette’s iconic early work, has always been haunting, but the musical’s version cranks it up. And the scene’s incredible, creepy visual construction is unforgettable. Read NWT’s review here.

Next up: Broadway at the Paramount announced its new season and it’s full of icons, including Six (July 12-23), and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (September 12-17). See show lineup here



What’s next? Tell people about your own favorite companies! Social media is a powerful tool for you to help theatre and dance companies, along with other artists, get the word out. Pipe up in your networks and your own pages if you want to recognize their work from 2022 or are excited about things happening in 2023.


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