By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Even before the lights went up, ArtsWest managing director Laura Lee was already imagining how emotional a moment that would be.
It’s been a long 20 months, even more uncertain and unnerving for the arts than for some other disciplines and businesses. ArtsWest was about to open “St. Joan” in March 2020 – had just presented the preview, in fact – when pandemic-safety orders shut down many businesses and venues, including theirs.
“St. Joan” never opened, and ArtsWest stayed closed. They thought, Lee recalled, that the shutdown might last “a few months, and then we’ll get going again.”
Instead … 20 months. But the light shone at tunnel’s end a half-year ago, when they were able to make the decision to proceed with a full six-play season, announced in June.
And now – after three weeks of rehearsals – the world premiere of “We’ve Battled Monsters Before” takes the stage. Pandemic theater is a little different, of course. No food or drink in the seats, so face coverings can stay on. (You can have a pre-show drink in the gallery.) This show, and most of the others this season, are performed “in the round,” which maximizes theater space and openness, You can choose to access the program on your phone via a QR code if you prefer not to have a printed copy. And it’s a two-person musical, which makes it easier to carry out appropriate distancing onstage, between the actors and between them and their audience. The actor-musicians are playwright Justin Huertas as Diego and Rheanna Atendido as Adarna, brother and sister in a truly legendary family. Both are ArtsWest regulars. The story is described as “loosely adapted from the 16th century Filipino epic poem ’Ibong Adarna’,” and Lee says Huertas, who is Filipino-American, is excited to finally play a character who is too.
To get to this point – how did ArtsWest survive the long closure? “Amazing donors,” Lee says. Federal help, too. But also, some difficult belt-tightening. She and artistic director Mathew Wright had to lay off the rest of the staff. (They started rehiring in September.) And they cut expenses. It also helped that ArtsWest owns the building free and clear, no debt. “No one can kick us out,” declares Lee, who’s been managing director for nine years.
She says they worked not just to come back, but to “come back stronger.” In fact, Lee adds, subscriptions are outpacing where they were pre-pandemic. But all in all, she exults, “It’s just great to have art back in people’s lives.”
“We’ve Battled Monsters Before” opens Friday (November 26), and performances are scheduled through December 26th, running Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm (with a slightly different schedule Christmas week). You can get tickets online. If you’re not comfortable yet with in-person theater, Lee says a professionally recorded performance of the 90-minute musical will be available online soon.