ArtSEA: Comedy, dance and bankruptcy, now showing on Seattle stages

Plus, Bumbershoot is back with more art than ever and SIFF announces its venue lineup for spring.

group of actors on stage in 19th century period costume surrounding an antique couch

Perhaps the calmest moment in “Revisor,” by Vancouver, B.C., dance-theater company Kidd Pivot, which brings precision and pantomime to the Paramount Theatre on March 1. (Four Eyes)

It’s been just over a week since the Super Bowl, and the person emerging as Most Valuable Player is not winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes, not halftime star Rihanna (though her dancers have spawned a thousand TikToks), but 20-year-old ASL interpreter Justina Miles.

The first woman to sign for a Super Bowl halftime show, Miles went viral for her full-body translation of Rihanna’s songs. Like millions on social media, I’ve watched her performance several times. I’m consistently awed by the way she conveys the beat, vibe and flow of the music, not to mention the lyrics, which she alternately mouths and signs. 

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

I’ve had Miles’ body language in my head as I anticipate the upcoming performance of Revisor by Vancouver, B.C., dance company Kidd Pivot. Led by choreographer Crystal Pite — whom regular readers know I’m a little obsessed with and who wowed crowds at Pacific Northwest Ballet with her piece The Seasons’ Canon in November — Kidd Pivot has created several of the most innovative and accomplished dance-theater pieces I’ve ever experienced, including Betroffenheit and The Tempest Replica

Doug Letheren in Kidd Pivot’s "Revisor." (Michael Slobodian)

In Revisor, Pite employs intense body language to convey a text, too. In her case, the words come from Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play The Inspector General, a satire about government corruption adapted by Canadian theater-maker Jonathon Young. Nine actors prerecorded their lines, which the dancers then lip-synch and perform with exaggerated, vaudevillian physicality.

When I saw Revisor at its 2019 world premiere in Vancouver, this visual trick was startling at first. There is no music in the first act; instead, the dancers use the actors’ voices as a soundtrack, twisting and slumping in a farcical pantomime — as if each word were a beat or a series of notes. They literally embody the dialogue, often to deliberately comical effect.

I won’t spoil what happens next, but we witness various visual edits to the story on stage, with a voice repeating, “I would like to make one small revision.” (Ultimately, it’s a performance that reveals the creative act of editing and revising.) As the choreography opens up, gorgeously, so does our understanding of each character. As with Miles’ ASL interpretation of songs, we experience the story more deeply, feeling it in our own bodies.

Lauren Weedman premieres her new one-woman show, "Blows," at The Triple Door, Feb. 25-26. (Lance Mercer)

Behind the scenes with Lauren Weedman

This week brings another opportunity to witness the creative act of editing on stage: Lauren Weedman’s new one-woman show, Blows (at The Triple Door Feb. 25 - 26, shows at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.). Not strictly “one-woman,” the cabaret-style show also features a live band led by former Seattleite Tim Young (of The Late, Late Show with James Corden’s house band), with local musicians Geoff Harper and Andy Roth.  

A comic actress, playwright, performer and memoirist (whose book A Woman Trapped in a Woman’s Body I edited in 2007), Weedman is known for her recurring and very funny appearances on TV shows including Hacks, Abbott Elementary, Reno 911 and Looking. She got her television start on KING 5’s long-running sketch show Almost Live.

Seattle is also where Weedman began developing her series of hilarious, touching and deeply personal solo  shows, starting with Homecoming (about being adopted). She has since moved to Los Angeles, but has often returned to workshop her live shows here. “I consider Seattle my home,” she told me during a recent rehearsal for Blows. “I want to collaborate with talented people here who respect me, who see my work as a commodity.”

In addition to middle age, money and relationships gone wrong, her new show touches on the difficulty of being what she calls an LA actress with “mid-level success,” forever limited to “three lines on a show here and there.” That challenge is multiplied by the lack of parts for women her age (she’s turning 54 next month) and the fact that she’s a single mother (her most recent show, Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, tackled her divorce). 

In Blows, she’s bringing her full self to the stage — including her self-deprecating humor, her constant self-editing, her funny impromptu asides, her shame, and several original songs. “I don’t want to talk about bankruptcy,” she says during rehearsal, and proceeds to tell a story about the humiliation of going bankrupt. “Well, I’ll see how it feels in the moment,” she decides. Each performance will be different depending on which true stories she decides to share. 

When I ask Weedman if the improvised aspect of her performance is daunting, she looks surprised. “I love that part!” she says. “It feels so alive, energywise. You get to discover things with an audience.” Plus, she notes, when she’s feeling beaten-down, “The only way to pull myself out is to make stuff.”

Bumbershoot is coming back. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

Seattle arts alerts

A couple of festival announcements came across the arts desk this week:

> Bumbershoot is bouncing back. After the pandemic foiled the event in 2020 in 2021, the beloved arts and music festival sat out 2022 for a major makeover. Led by new curatorial team Rising New Sun, the 2023 event (Sept. 2 - 3) reflects a return to the Bumbershoots of yore, when the emphasis was on participatory arts and local artists rather than mega music acts.

While Bumbershoot’s musical lineup has yet to be announced (stay tuned), the 50th-anniversary roster is already intriguing, from roller skating to remote-controlled sculptures; a new edition of the popular visual arts show “Out of Sight”; augmented reality installations; modern dance and a cat circus. Tickets — much cheaper now, with $50 and $85 options — go on sale tomorrow (Feb. 24 at 10 a.m.).

> The Seattle International Film Festival is getting ready for its close-up too. With former KEXP director Tom Mara now helming the organization, this year’s SIFF (May 11 - 21) marks the 49th event. Movies will screen in person (with select films streaming on the SIFF Channel May 22 - 28) at venues including the usual SIFF suspects (the Egyptian, the Uptown, SIFF Film Center), plus The Paramount Theatre, AMC Pacific Place, Ark Lodge Cinemas and elsewhere.

Which movies, you ask? The SIFF lineup is still under wraps (again, I’ll keep you posted), but die-hard cineastes can purchase those coveted passes right now. 

 > And some film news from inside the house: Crosscut and KCTS 9 have produced a new five-part docuseries called Refuge After War, which kicks off with a special screening at SIFF Uptown Theater on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

Created by Seattle filmmaker Thanh Tan, Refuge After War is a personal examination of the power, trauma and challenges of Vietnamese and Afghan refugees forced to flee and resettle in Washington after the falls of Saigon in 1975 and Kabul in 2021. After the screening, stay for a discussion with Tan and Crosscut’s director of videography, Sarah Menzies.

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