8 things to do in Seattle

The Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration showcases Native traditions throughout four days of Folklife. (Photo by Christopher Nelson, courtesy of Folklife Festival)

Ahamefule Oluo in Thin Skin
Seattle musician and writer Ahamefule J. Oluo stars in ‘Thin Skin.’ (Courtesy of SIFF)

Seattle International Film Festival picks

We're seven days into the Seattle International Film Festival and already overwhelmed by cinematic excellence. This week’s picks for films by and about Northwesterners include Banana Split (May 23), a smart teen comedy with a twist by first-time director Ben Kasulke (a former Seattleite and cinematographer on many Lynn Shelton movies); Enormous: The Gorge Story (May 25 and 28), a documentary about Washington’s epic live music space, featuring many past performers; Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife, May 25 and 26), the first feature film made in the swiftly disappearing indigenous Haida language of coastal Northwest Canada; and a special Thin Skin event (May 27), offering a sneak peek of the forthcoming autobiographical film by Seattle musician Ahamefule J. Oluo, who will be in attendance with director Charles Mudede. –B.D.

If you go: Seattle International Film Festival, through June 9, times, prices and venues vary.

The Call

Portland-raised playwright Tanya Barfield’s forceful, candid play is ostensibly about a couple who tries to adopt a foreign child. But there’s much more to The Call than that. Seattle Public Theater’s persuasive production moves through many other states of modern concern: cross-racial friendships, hidden AIDS stories, artistic competitiveness and the strain an unfulfilled desire to raise kids can have on a seemingly strong marriage. The five-member cast is accomplished under Annie Lareau’s direction, with a particularly on-point turn by Brenda Joyner as a woman whose ambivalence in her quest to adopt is keenly believable. –M.B.

If you go: Seattle Public Theater, through June 9 at various times. ($17-$34)

Brad Holden and Seattle Prohibition book
Seattle writer Brad Holden and his new book. (Courtesy of Third Place Books)

Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners and Graft in the Queen City with Brad Holden

During Prohibition, Seattle was awash in rumrunners delivering hooch to blind pigs — not to mention the many swampers and highbinders who helped bootleggers evade stool pigeons and dry agents. There’s more slang where this came from (in addition to fascinating city history) in the new book, Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners and Graft in the Queen City. Local author and historian Brad Holden vividly illustrates this rough-and-tumble time in Seattle, when a police officer could become the “King of the Bootleggers,” a restaurateur could found a statewide moonshine operation, and a fast-paced rumrunner from Canada could disrupt the speedboat industry. Talk about innovation! Hear Holden share more stories of Seattle’s seedy past when he reads at Third Place Books in Seward Park. –B.D.

If you go: Brad Holden at Third Place Books in Seward Park, May 23 at 7 p.m. (Free)

Contra dancers at Folklife Festival
Contra dancing is a hugely popular part of Folklife. (Photo by Christopher Nelson, courtesy of Folklife)

Northwest Folklife Festival

Apparently the organizers of the Northwest Folklife Festival haven’t gotten the memo about new Seattle because this massive four-day celebration of music, from Aztec to Zydeco, is still free. In addition to the customary mix, watch for a Pete Seeger centennial celebration, the Circle of Indigenous People’s Celebration (traditional music and dances all weekend long at the John Williams Memorial Totem Pole) and a contemporary update to the beloved contra dance sessions in the Fisher Pavilion. Usually, the “caller” for these square-dance style gambols uses the terms “gents and ladies” to direct participants on which moves to make. But this year several sessions will replace those words with “larks and ravens” (larks are on the left, ravens on the right), directing dancers by position rather than gender. Fly free, contra dancers! –B.D.

If you go: Folklife Festival at Seattle Center, May 24-27, times and venues vary. (Free)

Jump Session show
Camp Jitterbug is in its 20th year. (Photo courtesy of Town Hall Seattle)

The Jump Session Show

The American explosion of jazz, tap, lindy hop and swing that lit up dance floors in the 1940s is still reverberating today, as lovers of the art form learn to bust a move from experts. In this high-octane show presented by Seattle’s annual Camp Jitterbug, top dancers and musicians from around the country show how to do that thing if you’ve got that swing (to paraphrase the great Duke Ellington) in an electrifying evening program in the newly revamped Great Hall at Town Hall. –M.B.

If you go: Town Hall Seattle, May 25 at 7 p.m. ($30)

Author Domingo Martinez
Seattle author Domingo Martinez. (Photo by Nicole Rule, courtesy of Hugo House)

Hugo House Literary Series: Stranger in a Strange Land

If you’ve never been to a Hugo House Literary Series event, it’s high time. The evenings are all based around a prompt — this year it was famous books — which three writers and one musician use to inspire a brand new piece of work. These can turn out to be big deals in the vein of you-heard-it-here-first, such as when fiction writer Lauren Groff participated along the theme “Diving into the Wreck” (based on the Adrienne Rich book). Groff came up with a story about a swim meet, which appeared in The New Yorker earlier this month (she spoke about its Hugo House origins here). For the latest installment, the theme is “Stranger in a Strange Land,” based on the sci-fi classic by Robert A. Heinlein. Participants are Seattle favorite Domingo Martinez (The Boy Kings of Texas), Native American memoirist Terese Marie Mailhot (Heart Berries), fiction writer Margaret Malone, and local singer songwriter Bryan John Appleby. No pressure, but all these folks should show up in The New Yorker someday soon! –B.D.

If you go: Hugo House, May 24 at 7:30 p.m. ($20-$25)

Take Me Out

The justified recipient of the 2003 Tony Award for Best New Play, Richard Greenberg’s beguiling comedy-drama explores the lure and lore of the Great American Pastime — and how a curveball shakes up the game when a celebrity baseball player comes out as gay to the public. In Take Me Out, the funny and endearing new fandom of one character plays neatly off the locker-room posturing and homophobia of the big leagues. Greg Carter directs for Strawberry Theater Workshop, and the cast includes Gregory Award winner Lamar Legend as a slugger who comes out of a closet no baseball superstar has yet vacated. –M.B.

If you go: Strawberry Theatre Workshop at 12th Avenue Arts, May 23 -June 22 at various times. ($24-$36)

Jaune Quick to See Smith
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's 'King of the Mountain.' (Courtesy of TAM)

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: In the Footsteps of My Ancestors

One of the country’s most well respected Native American artists, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Salish-Kootenai) creates paintings that squirm and shimmer on the canvas. Working since the 1970s, she creates abstract but vivid images that tackle identity, consumerism, peace, conflict, gender disparity and the life cycle. For this show, Tacoma Art Museum presents more than 40 of Smith's paintings, monoprints and lithographs, which reveal her clever use of collage and color. Skulls, animals, corporate logos and newsprint — the cooped-up energy and movement of her work can make it feel dashed off, as shorthand, but closer examination reveals the layered stories and meanings. In this way the artist truly embodies her name. –B.D.

If you go: Tacoma Art Museum, through June 30. (Free)

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About the Authors & Contributors

Misha Berson

Misha Berson

Misha Berson was the chief theatre critic for The Seattle Times for 25 years, now working as a freelance writer and teacher.