MISSION Strawberry Jam is a five-week arts festival dedicated to providing local directors with the opportunity to grow their craft through practice. Motivated by an observation that Seattle's outstanding acting and playwriting communities are fueled by experimental forums not availabe to directors, SJAM was born in 2022 as a unique public workshop with the director at its center. Now in its second year, SJAM features veteran and emerging artists alike, working with texts ranging from classics to original works. For its audience, the event is a wide-ranging celebration of styles, visions, and voices packed into fifteen nights of relentless energy at 12th Ave Arts... All that makes a Strawberry Jam.
TICKETS Plays change weekly, and a $45 FESTIVAL PASS entitles patrons to admission (non-transferable) for any night of the festival. To attend SJAM à la carte, tickets can also be purchased for SINGLE NIGHT events at $15. Each evening includes at least two plays.
Examining Journalism through the Lens of Director Christie Zhao by TeenTix Press Corps Writer Raika Roy Choudhury Masterfully maneuvering the challenges of cultural and linguistic differences, Director Christie Zhao is dedicated to shining light on “essential truths” about our social and political realms through theater. Stumbling upon theater classes whilst pursuing, and soon achieving, a degree in computer science, Zhao unexpectedly “fell deeper and deeper” into its activist potential and culture. In March of 2022, after working in a software engineer role, Zhao even founded Yun Theatre, a nonprofit dedicated to building a multilingual theater community and creating radical theater in the Pacific Northwest.
To Director Zhao, “Journalism is a form of theater.” And theater, she notes, is “a space to bring people together to embody a story… either far or close to us,” where everyone can “reflect and experience at the same time.” Theater is important because it forces proximity to heavy issues, calling the audience’s attention and care to them. It is a medium that “embraces the subjectivity of journalism,” reflecting the “essential truth” of life. For Zhao, her genre of theater is a way to “reclaim the agency of [her] own language,” truly speaking to the versatility of the art form.
“For me, from China, I didn’t really have a space to talk about any social issues. We didn’t have the agency to care about society. It was all about studying hard,” Zhao describes. Theater was an avenue for her to “express and feel [herself]” where she “learned to build a space where people feel safer to talk,” something she described to be incredibly important, especially for her Chinese immigrant community. Zhao’s past style of theater, though diversely executed, has all been motivated by and responded to real-life upsets in China, acting against censorship and capturing the feelings and reactions of the Chinese community to those events. Zhao intended these works to connect to a Chinese audience, and, to artfully honor the experiences involved and uphold Yun Theatre’s inclusivity mission, they were also delivered fully in Mandarin but subtitled in English. However, because these plays were shown in America, Zhao encountered the dilemma of having “a different audience that has a different lens to look at things” with. That is where Caught came in, showcasing the nuances of certain aspects of Chinese culture through an American lens.
Caught happens “outside of the traditional theater plays… break[ing] the boundary of what is theater.” In Zhao’s words, it explores the “American perception of what China is.” It’s a puzzle, where all “definitions have a contour and you have to challenge what people tell to be the truth.” There’s more than just a story to take away, it matters most to look beyond and understand the bigger picture.
As an elementary school student, Daira Rodriguez remembers being excited to go on a field trip to a show of Annie the Musical. However, when a sudden thunderstorm led to plans being canceled, the theatre team decided to come in and perform in the small gym inside the school, with nothing but costumes and props. Something about the gesture struck a chord with Daira, which it seems, never stopped resonating. A professional director, Daira recounts: "Honestly, I don’t know what it was about that grand gesture that made me beg my mom to sign me up for a youth theatre immediately afterwards—but I did. It was the first community I felt part of and the one I’ve consistently sought since. Something stuck I guess!"
Having decided to make a career in theatre, Daira admits that it has not always been easy, nor would it be, especially if you are not a male director. "For my family, it was about showing them that I was committed and that I could do it…And a responsible amount of lying—I was supposed to double major in something practical!"
Directing, Daira says, is "not a financially forgiving career." She further shares that family might not always be around as support, "but you can certainly find a supportive community in mentors and in your peers that have undoubtedly gone through something similar. My fellow first-[generation] friends have done a lot to show me the way."
Even in the professional space, it takes a lot to be able to carve out a space for oneself, especially since, "Theater spaces have also been a ground for many people to be taken advantage of for things like class, race, and gender that often went unchecked, until very recently, in the name of creating ‘art.’" Daira feels fortunate to have worked with directors of varying gender identities over the years, "but I’ve always felt like I have to prove myself because I am not a man," she says. While, on one hand, working with people from different backgrounds meant greater exposure and a more culturally rich experience, gender identity related struggles continued.
Daira will be directing Elyse and Mae Play the Most Epic Game of Life Ever, by Kandace Mack at the Strawberry Jam Festival. "Kandace has a talent for hilarious and realistically flowing dialogue that captures the truth of childhood friendship," says Daira. What specifically drew her to directing the play was how it uses The Game of Life as a way to introduce scary, adult concepts to these young characters while also relieving the adults in the audience who continue to be affected by the actual game of life in some very real, unfair ways."
As Daira prepares to present the play at the SJAM festival, directing, she says, is more about being a part of a collaborative process than taking control of every aspect. "Being a director means giving control over to some very talented people and making sure all the work is cohesive—I promise your piece will be better for it. You create the skeleton and the team will bring it alive! It also means not knowing everything and being able to ask for help. If you have made every decision in a process, you haven’t allowed the piece to reach its full potential through the act of letting every person on your team influence it."
Daira tries to experiment and diversify with every show that she directs. Even at the SJAM festival, she plans to bring on stage aspects she has not attempted before.
Hannah Votel & Caro Wilcox
The Boxes We’re Kept In: Humanizing the Mythical Feminine by TeenTix Press Corps Writer Esha Potharaju Told for thousands of years, ancient mythology seems intransigent. How can one alter something so long standingly accepted? Enter Carolynne 'Caro'' Wilcox and Hannah Votel: two playwrights who’ve built their careers on challenging rigid narratives. Together, they’ve combined forces to write and direct The Boxes We’re Kept In, which retells—and completely subverts—three Greek myths that each follow a woman who appears to succumb to a unique form of temptation.
There’s Persephone, who eats a pomegranate that traps her in the Underworld despite the fact that she was warned against it. Psyche, who was instructed by the god of love, her husband, to never look upon his face (spoiler: she did anyway). And finally, Pandora, who is said to have been the first woman on Earth. Gifted a box that she could never open, Pandora gives in to her curiosity, only to realize that she’s released every plague on humanity that one could imagine.
“The common thread in these three pieces is these women aren’t necessarily told what would happen if they did the thing. They just expect you to make the right choice,” said Wilcox. Describing how these mythical women are typically vilified or infantilized for their choices, Votel said, “People have these preconceived notions of these characters.” Their goal with the play is to challenge such notions. Rather than painting a picture in black and white, Wilcox and Votel chose to represent them as complex, relatable characters who possess flaws, strengths, and desires.
Plays in this style aren’t new to Wilcox. Greek theater captivated her early in her life, which led to her decision to do something from Ancient Greece for her graduate school performance thesis. But there was one pitfall: “The thing that’s really annoying,” said Wilcox, ”is that so many of the Greek female characters are so passive and unresponsive. They’re often not the protagonists in their own stories.”
Wilcox knew that instead of following a preexisting Greek story, she had to write one of her own. The result was Loom, which casts the three Fates of Greek myth as its protagonists. Loom explores the agency of these female figures, a theme which is also prevalent in The Boxes We’re Kept In. “With a snap of the fingers,” said Wilcox, “a woman can be deemed as somebody who made a terrible choice that destroyed the entire world and all of its creations because she dared to open a box. Or she dared to follow an intriguing man down into the underworld. Or she dared to have the desire to look upon her husband’s face. These are all very simple choices that anybody could have made. And I think that these stories and these characters would be looked at in a very different light if they were men.”
In addition to subverting mythos of the female archetype, The Boxes We’re Kept In also challenges the notion of what theater can look like. The play is fully relayed in audio format. A singular actor plays a variety of roles through the usage of voice modulation technology. “Theater doesn’t have to look like a proscenium stage where the audience sits in the back and claps their hands and then leaves,” said Votel, who has been acting since the fourth grade. Their desire to overcome “this Eurocentric and able-bodied norm that we have right now” stems from their personal experiences as someone who is physically disabled. “Theater still exists--it’s valid and valued--even when it’s not big and everyone is doing high kicks and twirling around…Just because we don’t usually see [voice modulation], it’s not necessarily lesser than. Part of the goal is to put out a piece of theater that’s unlike something that some people have seen.”
Wilcox and Votel’s commitment to breaking the molds of myth and theater shines in this fresh new piece. The plights of Persephone, Psyche, and Pandora, while immortalized, have never before been told in this way. By pushing the boundaries of storytelling, the two playwrights demonstrate that imagination will allow them to dismantle established narratives and reshape them into meaningful, resonating tales.
STRAWBERRY JAM Listing Information Title: Strawberry Jam: Directors Festival Opens: Thursday, Jun 8, 2023 Plays: Thu-Fri-Sat, 7:30 pm Venue: Mainstage Theatre at 12th Ave Arts Address: 1620 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, Seattle Ticket Prices: $45 Festival Pass (all plays), $15 General (one night) Phone Sales: 1-800-838-3006 Online Sales: sjam.bpt.me
graphic design by Melanie Wang 12th Ave Arts 1620 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, Seattle 98122 Map