There’s big news for Olympia’s arts lovers: Though COVID-19 continues to require theaters to be prepared for all possibilities, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts has unveiled a 2021-2022 season. The season, kicking off Sept 16, offers music, comedy, theater and even performing dogs.
“I’m just so excited to have people back in the theater,” said center executive director Jill Barnes. “It’s begging to be used. We installed all this amazing audio and lighting equipment, and I can’t wait for our community to experience that and to feel the joy of live events.”
The audience will be masked, but once again, people can sit side-by-side with strangers and friends-to-be, and concessions will be available. At least, that’s the plan at the moment. “I feel like we are standing on a paddleboard, so we have a little bit of a foundation, but everything is moving around us and we need to make little adjustments,” Barnes told OLY ARTS.
Unlike some other theaters across the country — and on Broadway — the center is not requiring audience members to be vaccinated, although it’s something that has been under discussion. “While we aren’t requiring vaccinations right now, that might be a requirement in the future,” Barnes said.
Because the season was planned quickly, and because the center is in the middle of hiring additional staff, tickets are going on sale gradually over the next month, and there will be no subscription packages. (Those who subscribed in 2019-2020, along with center donors, will get access to pre-sales a few days before each show goes on sale.)
What will actually be on stage, though, feels a lot like past center seasons, with concerts and shows intended to appeal to all kinds of arts aficionados. “The season feels complete — just a little bit smaller,” Barnes said.
For those who love music, the options span a range stretching from Judy Collins (Feb. 25) and The Temptations (June 9) to the innovative Ensemble Mik Nawooj (Feb. 3), which combines a chamber orchestra and a lyric soprano with funk and hip-hop. Barnes said that when she heard the ensemble play, “there was such an energy in the room that I hadn’t really felt before. It was electric.”
For dance lovers, there’s the return of Koresh Dance Co. (April 16) and the first Olympia appearance of “Hip-Hop Nutcracker” (Nov. 15), a mashup of Tchaikovsky’s music with contemporary dance spectacle. “I’m excited to bring ‘Hip Hop Nutcracker’ to the Washington Center,” Barnes said. “It’s done really well in our region in previous years.”
There’s comedy on tap throughout the season, too, with stand-up shows including the Seattle International Comedy Competition (Nov. 18), “The Daily Show” Writers Comedy Tour (Feb. 12), Ladies of Laughter (March 11) and the Comedy Underground series (formerly known as Comedy in the Box), happening Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 24, April 21 and June 23. For the fan of more literary laughs, David Sedaris is returning to the center on May 10.
There is no major Broadway tour on the schedule, Barnes said, adding, “That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. We’re working on confirming additional events.”
But it doesn’t mean there’s no theater. The season includes the one-man “God Is a Scottish Drag Queen: A Christmas Special” (Dec. 3), the one-woman musical comedy “Perk Up, Pianist” (May 21) and the puppet parody “That Golden Girls Show” (March 25), which premiered Off-Broadway in 2016. And “Bessie, Billie & Nina: Pioneering Women in Jazz” (March 15) is part concert, part theatrical, paying tribute to the legacies of Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday and Nina Simone.
“I’m equally excited about the artists on stage and about inviting our community back into the theater,” Barnes said. “I’ve missed it.”
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts’ 2021-2022 season
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia
Individual tickets: Prices vary. Some shows are on sale now, while tickets to others will be released Fridays through Sept. 3.