Things to do in Seattle: Sept. 12 - 18

Whim W’Him dancers rehearse a new piece by guest choreographer Yoshito Sakuraba

Whim W’Him dancers Karl Watson, left, and Cameron Birts rehearse a new piece by guest choreographer Yoshito Sakuraba. (Photo by Stefano Altamura)

Kathy Acker in Seattle
Kathy Acker in Seattle (Photo courtesy of Randy Eriksen)

Kathy Acker in Seattle Symposium

You might not recognize the name Kathy Acker, but if you’re familiar with third-wave feminism, sex-positive blogging and/or Riot Grrls, you’re aware of the cultural movements she influenced. Mostly known as a New Yorker, Acker spent a few pivotal years in Seattle. In 1980, she hung out with the edgy Belltown arts crowd while finishing her iconic autobiographical novel Blood and Guts in High School and embarking on Great Expectations (which features some Seattle scenes). She came back in 1989, for a residency at the Center on Contemporary Arts (CoCA), where her writing helped launch the Riot Grrrl movement. Though she died in 1997, her long Northwest legacy is reflected in the wide range of speakers and exhibits in the Kathy Acker in Seattle Symposium. On display will be photographs from her fecund Seattle days, including by noted grunge photographers Alice Wheeler and Charles Peterson, plus comix by Megan Kelso and artwork by Jim Jones. Writers Stacey Levine and Paul de Barros will read and reminisce, along with rocker Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill (by video). –B.D.

If you go: Kathy Acker in Seattle Symposium, Sept. 12-14 at Fantagraphics in Georgetown and Goethe Pop Up in Chop House Row on Capitol Hill. (Free)

Learning to See author Elisa Hooper
Learning to See author Elisa Hooper. (Courtesy of Seattle Public Library)

Learning to See: Dorothea Lange

Intrepid photographers have helped immeasurably in telling the story of America, and Dorothea Lange ranks high among them. “The camera is an instrument,” Lange said, “that teaches people how to see without a camera.” While documenting the Great Depression for a federal government program, her images — of a haggard “Migrant Mother,” Dust Bowl refugees, desperate men on a San Francisco bread line, workers toiling in fields of plenty — were not only beautifully composed but hauntingly compassionate. Her images of children being shipped off to Japanese internment camps have had similarly lasting social impact. Local author Elisa Hooper (The Other Alcott) will read from her new novel, Learning to See, which is based on the story of Lange’s fascinating career and personal life, at this event co-sponsored by the Seattle Public Library and the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. —M.B.

If you go: Learning to See at the Seattle Public Library Southwest Branch, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. (Free)

Say Amen, Somebody

One of the very best documentaries ever about gospel music (along with Aretha Franklin’s sublime Amazing Grace), this 1982 release is a treasure trove for lovers of the genre and a lesson in how much it helped shape modern popular music. And, hallelujah, Northwest Film Forum is screening the recent, welcomed restoration of the film. It traces the fundamental influence of two Chicago pioneers in the field: musician-composer Thomas Dorsey and singer-educator Mother Willie May Ford Smith. Dorsey penned such gospel standards as “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” and Smith, a charismatic vocalist, regaled her church in song and spirit into her 80s. George T. Nierenberg's documentary captures both of these colorful titans (who passed away in the early 1990s), sharing their personal stories and the story of their music. There are plenty of church and concert performances on display here, too, including exciting numbers by contemporary gospel artists such as The Barrett Sisters (who appeared live at some early showings of the film) and the O’Neal Brothers. Even if you don’t answer the call with an audible “Amen,” Say Amen, Somebody will set your spirit soaring. –M.B.

If you go: Northwest Film Forum, Sept. 13-19, times vary. ($9-$12)

Whim W'Him: Choreographic Shindig V

Olivier Wevers never stops pushing the envelope when it comes to how dance companies “should” work. The former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer made a grand jeté out of PNB to start his own company 10 years ago. Since then, he has committed to presenting new works by choreographers with a truly global reach — from Columbian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa to Israeli choreographer Danielle Agami to Seattle’s own Mark Haim. He also regularly upsets the apple cart by allowing his troupe of dancers to select three emerging choreographers whose work they’ll perform on the opening program of each season. For this year’s Choreographic Shindig, the chosen choreographers are Kyra Jean Green (of Trip the Light Fantastic), Yoshito Sakuraba (of Abarukas dance) and Joshua Manculich (who has worked with multiple companies). Each has created dynamic new works specifically for the innovators in the Whim W’Him crew. –B.D.

If you go: Choreographic Shindig V, at the Erickson Theatre off Broadway, Sept. 13-21 at 8 p.m. ($15-$60)

Musician SassyBlack
‘Ancient Mahogany Gold’ is SassyBlack’s third album. (Photo by Texas Isaiah, courtesy of SassyBlack)

SassyBlack: Ancient Mahogany Gold

A multi-instrumentalist, soulful singer and self-proclaimed Black Mirror binge watcher, SassyBlack (aka Catherine Harris-White) first came to fame as half of the acclaimed Seattle duo Thee Satisfaction. She’s gone on to be a regular collaborator with trip-hop outfit Shabazz Palaces, and also created a tremendous amount of solo material. Her first two albums were largely about romantic love, dating and the trials and tribulations therein. But with her new album, Ancient Mahogany Gold, she takes a turn. The sultry vocals and cosmic vibes still abound — think sci-fi meets jazz singer Sarah Vaughan — but instead of looking outside for love, she’s looking within. In her interview with Crosscut reporter Agueda Pacheco Flores, she explains: “I’m just hella weird, hella fine and Imma do it my way.” –B.D.

If you go: Ancient Mahogany Gold release party at Everyday Music on Capitol Hill, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. (Free). She'll also play the Soul Selections Showcase as part of the Bellwether Festival, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. (Free)

Haruko Crow Nishimura of Degenerate Art Ensemble
A selection of elaborate costumes from Degenerate Art Ensemble performances are on display at BAM as part of the Bellwether festival. (Photo by Bruce Clayton Tom)

Bellwether arts festival

For 25 years, Bellevue’s Bellwether arts festival consisted of a series of outdoor sculpture installations that made a three-month run downtown. It was as an artful interruption to the landscape, if a bit static. But last year, with the help of Seattle-based arts collective SuttonBeresCuller, the festival underwent an extreme makeover, offering 10 action-packed days of live performances, dance, interactive art installations, workshops and artist talks. (Read our story.) In addition to the events, the Bellevue Arts Museum filled its galleries with new works by contemporary Northwest artists (including a giant replica of a pink toilet paper pack that loomed in the lobby, in case anyone started getting too snooty about art). The revamped fest was such a hit that they’re doing it all over again this year, with more than 50 artists participating in the arty suburban party, including Degenerate Art Ensemble, Sandy Cioffi, Jennifer Zwick and Priscilla Dobler Dzul, plus live music by SassyBlack, Filthy FemCorps and Terror/Cactus. –B.D.

If you go: Bellwether arts festival: Opening night Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m. at Bellevue Arts Museum. Events continue throughout downtown Bellevue through Sept. 22. (Free)

Susan Robb's Cascadia flag made entirely from plastic bags
Artist Susan Robb wove this large-scale Cascadia regional flag on a loom using only plastic bags she scavenged at the recycling center in SoDo. (Photo by Matt McKnight/Crosscut)

Recology Artists in Residency: Final Exhibition

Once we’ve put recyclable items in the designated blue bins, they’re off to greener pastures, right? Eh, not quite. The truth is we’re creating waste far faster — and in much larger quantities — than can be put to re-use quickly. That’s why the Recology CleanScapes recycling facility in SoDo started its Artist in Residency program, in which two King County artists are given free rein of the facility for five months, allowed to pick through the trash and gather whatever they like for art supplies. (Read our story.) At the end of the residency, Recology holds an exhibit of the artwork forged from debris — to get people thinking more actively about what we throw away. This year’s artists in residence are longtime Seattle multimedia artist Susan Robb and recent transplant from Argentina, Hernan Paganini. Robb focused her project on plastic bags (she’s particularly obsessed with the double entendre of Forever 21 bags), which she has woven on a loom into remarkably soft textiles. Paganini limited himself to metals, which he Frankensteined into trophylike sculptures to illuminate our capitalist obsession with material things. Both said it was the best residency they have ever done. Hear them speak about their experience at the dump — and see the completed works — in Pioneer Square this Saturday. –B.D.

If you go: Recology Artists in Residence Exhibit, housed in a vacant gallery at 109 S. Washington St. in Pioneer Square. Open Sept. 14, noon-4 p.m. with an artist talk at 1 p.m. Show continues through Sept. 19 by appointment.

Author Caitlin Doughty
Author Caitlin Doughty answers the tough questions in her new book. (Photo courtesy of Town Hall Seattle)

Caitlin Doughty: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

Writer Caitlin Doughty is one of the founders of the burgeoning “death positive” movement (read our story), whose mission is based in the radical notion that death is a part of life. As a licensed mortician, funeral director and star of the YouTube series Ask a Mortician, Doughty espouses the belief that talking about death (even before it happens) can lead to a healthier culture. Having penned two smart, funny books (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; From Here to Eternity), she’s releasing a third, based on questions about death she gets from kids (spoiler: adults have the same questions, but are afraid to ask). What happens when cemeteries get full? Why do most bodies create the same amount of cremation ash? Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? offers scientific, historical and reassuring answers in Doughty's signature style: frank and fearless, with witty asides among the gory details. As she writes in her introduction, “Death is science, it’s art, it’s literature. It’s learning about other cultures. It’s the history of humanity!” –B.D.

If you go: Town Hall Seattle, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m. ($5)

Actors Monika Jolly and Quinlan Corbett in "People of the Book." (Photo courtesy of ACT)
Actors Monika Jolly and Quinlan Corbett in ‘People of the Book.’ (Photo courtesy of ACT)

People of the Book

Born in Egypt, schooled in England and a longtime resident of Seattle, Yussef El Guindi has steadily carved out a prolific career as an important playwright with an American and international following. His scripts often reflect on attitudes from and about the Middle East, but for this writer the political is always personal — in plays that consider the literary life, sexuality, romance, Hollywood action films, teenage suicide and a broad range of other concerns. And while the themes may be heavy, the dialogue tends to be nimble, witty and unpredictable. Reason enough to check out El Guindi’s latest play, People of the Book, in its world premiere production at ACT Theatre. It depicts a solider who has returned to the U.S. and written a bestselling memoir about his wartime heroics — including how he saved his now wife, an Iraqi woman. But as in every El Guindi play, nothing is quite what it seems. During a reunion with old friends, the veteran is challenged with questions about whether his celebrity (and our foreign policy) is based on facts or lies and half-truths. ACT artistic head John Langs directs. –M.B.

If you go: ACT Theatre through Sept. 29, times vary. ($27-$47).

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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.