Stretched between newborn spring and mature fall, summer is the adolescence of the seasons. In the latest installment of the quarterly series Seattle Confidential, Unforgettable Summer, presented at ACT, it is a distinctly female adolescence, ripe with blooming breasts, blossoming sexuality and disillusioning discovery of the thorns that lurk beneath new buds.
Seattle Confidential is the social theatre experiment of curator and host Ian Bell, who conceived of the series as a way to take snapshots of the collective Seattle psyche. Each show is built around a theme chosen in advance by Bell, who curates the evening’s entertainment around a half-dozen or so personal stories and poems submitted by Seattleites under pseudonyms and read aloud by local actors.
Seattle theatre talents Emily Chisholm, Erin Stewart and Kimberly Nyhous were the readers in an evening of stories written by women, who for the first time made up 99.9 percent of submissions. Over the course of the evening we experience summer—a season so often personified as a woman—come of age, from flowering to deflowering.
One of the more lighthearted and cleverly written stories, Judy Blume Owes Me, (submitted by Broccoli Babe and hilariously delivered by Nyhous) recalls agonizing pubescent summers waiting to grow breasts, finally finding flat-chested acceptance with an older boy in the summer camp’s rifle range. Temptation, submitted by R.B.L., is a woman’s lyrical recollection of a summer affair with a fellow actor—a married man twice her age.
To paint a complete scientific portrait of the Seattle summer, Bell intersperses survey data gathered in the months leading up to the show, projecting bar graphs and word clouds onto a center stage screen. The resulting experience feels like a college sociology lecture walked into confessional hour at a slumber party.
Audience members are asked to keep their cell phones on and respond via text to polls throughout the show. During intermission the screen displays a steady stream of audience members’ most memorable summer jobs ranging from WASHPIRG canvasser to cow inseminator. Bell doesn’t miss an opportunity—even the pre- and post-show musical playlist is compiled from survey responses to “favorite Top-40s summer hit.”
Bell sits behind his laptop stage right like a gleeful professor, offering wry and insightful transitions between the stories. When one respondent’s ideal summer activity is “War and Peace in the shade with a pitcher of ice water,” Bell quips, “Oh Seattle. This is why they’ll never build a Disneyland here.”
Seattle’s reputation as a literary city certainly shows in this sampling. Seattle Confidential is testament to the theory that everyone is a good writer when it comes to drawing creative threads between the details of their own lives, and each person’s diary holds at least one line of genius. (In Fatamorgana’s somewhat callow White Turd Chicago it is undoubtedly, “I wanna save you like a coupon.”)
The stories’ less poetic moments—revealed in clumsy word choice, or even the inclusion of emoticons—are redeemed by the earnestness of the actors, whose participation distinguishes Seattle Confidential from story slams like the Moth. Through the actresses’ honest and nuanced deliveries stories as common as dandelion spores become shooting stars.
One after another the stories remind us that summer’s cocoon is transformative but it is also a container—we shut summer along with our suitcases, shake it from our clothes like sand, and pack it away in journals and letters; pages that yellow like August’s afternoon light. Seattle Confidential is in part an experiment in collective reminiscence: listening to the stories of others helps us to brush the dust from our own. It is a quarterly bowl of chicken soup for the Seattle soul that will leave you feeling soothed, invigorated, and hungry for another helping.
The next installment of Seattle Confidential will take place on Dec. 3. The theme is “Ghost Stories (or the Afterlife).”