Editor’s note: This article was updated on January 18 and February 4 to include new information released by OFT, then again on May 14 after opening weekend had to be cancelled due to a number of positive COVID test results.
The arrival of artistic director Lily Raabe to Olympia Family Theater (OFT) means big things for the family entertainment company in spring of 2022. Two mainstage shows open days apart, featuring new partnerships with local and nationally recognized artists. Then comes the long-awaited debut of a musical mystery by Olympia playwright Ted Ryle.
OLY ARTS spoke with Raabe as she finalized plans for OFT’s spring season. Those three shows mark the reopening of the company’s mainstage after its COVID pandemic hiatus. “The first show back,” says Raabe, “is going to be [The] Paper Moon, and this also corresponds to another exciting announcement: String and Shadow, the giant puppet theater company — They are coming in-house as our first company in residence.” She adds, “We are super excited. They do masks, they do giant puppets, they do wonderful costumes, they transform sets and shadow puppets and just do all kinds of really cool things. So we are joining together collaboratively for the next 20 months. We just cleared out our prop storage atop OFT to make room for a puppet studio. So as of January first, they’re gonna be building puppets and in our building all the time.”
Originally, String and Shadow produced The Paper Moon as a drive-in experience in the summer of 2020. As Raabe explains, however, that iteration “was cut short, unfortunately, because of COVID restrictions, so it never got its full run. String and Shadow’s association with OFT will, as Raabe says, “make sure everyone in the community wants to see it and also re-imagine it as a fully staged, mainstage production with the lights and, you know, just all of the magic that can happen in an indoor theater.” The partnership will allow for a new co-production in the full 2022-2023 season, plus puppet design and performance camps and workshops.
Originally, String and Shadow produced The Paper Moon as a drive-in experience in the summer of 2020. As Raabe explains, however, that iteration “was cut short, unfortunately, because of COVID restrictions, so it never got its full run. String and Shadow’s association with OFT will, as Raabe says, “make sure everyone in the community wants to see it and also re-imagine it as a fully staged, mainstage production with the lights and, you know, just all of the magic that can happen in an indoor theater.”
The partnership will allow for a new co-production in the full 2022-2023 season, plus puppet design and performance camps and workshops. The Paper Moon is an original show created by String and Shadow co-founders Emily McHugh and Donald Palardy III. Raabe describes it by quoting a moment early in the script: ” ‘Things got very strange when the moon fell out of the sky. … Of course, authorities replaced it right away, glued a flat, paper circle up there where the old moon used to be. But still, people noticed.’ ” Adds Raabe, “Citizens come together to get the moon back.” So is this anti-government propaganda? Raabe laughs and replies, “Yes, but as told through TYA [“Theatre for Young Audiences”] and puppets.”
This partnership isn’t the only new idea OFT is testing this spring. “Running in tandem,” Raabe continues, “in rep style with Paper Moon, … the CDC Foundation, as in the Centers for Disease Control, put out for the first time ever a call to arts organizations saying, ‘We are looking for community-based art projects that promote vaccine confidence in communities, and we can fund 30 projects and give each project $75,000, across the country.’ So we applied at OFT, and we got it. We’re gobsmacked … We are commissioning and then producing a statewide tour of three bilingual, one-act plays” on the subject of public health.” Collectively, these OFT plays will be entitled Fully Vaxxed.
Raabe continues, “The goal is not to judge people who have not been vaccinated or to be divisive, but rather to bring people together for heartfelt conversations. And if we can move the dial to get more people to be comfortable with taking the vaccine as a tool for building community safety and building community resilience and getting us all through this mess that we find ourselves in, aka the pandemic, that would be awesome. … We want these plays to get in front of people who have not been vaccinated yet, or whose children haven’t been vaccinated.” That’s why it’s so crucial these plays will be presented in multiple languages. “We’re also partnering with a bunch of really incredible Latinx- and migrant-serving nonprofits and community-based organizations across the state,” says Raabe, “including WashMasks and Nuestra Casa and Wenatchee CAFÉ and the L.U.C.H.A. club at Mount Vernon High School, and a couple local partners.” The plays will be written by a local, adult playwright, but OFT will “partner with youth across the state. So we’ll be putting together teams of teenage, youth writers from Olympia, from Sunnyside, from Wenatchee and from Mount Vernon.” Raabe hopes to offer storytelling clinics alongside the show and vaccine clinics at the theater. “We’re filming all the plays, making educational packets that are gonna be trilingual, actually, also translated into Spanish and Mixtec, which is an indigenous language that’s spoken by a lot of our farm workers in the state.”
As for the third show, The Alphabetastics! “was going to premiere in 2020, but then it was cancelled due to the pandemic.” (Addendum May 14: Sadly, the run has been delayed yet again due to COVID. After a number of positive test results, OLT elected to cancel the show’s planned opening weekend. The date below has been corrected.) Ted Ryle, husband of OFT co-founder Jen Ryle, wrote the show’s book, or scripted dialogue, and cowrote its music and lyrics with Miriam Sterlin. It “follows the story of this little girl, Halonah, [who] loves the alphabet. … All of her imaginary friend characters in her head are the letters of the alphabet, and they’ve formed this imaginary band in her mind called the Alphabetastics. And of course the Alphabetastics do a lot of the musical numbers … Halonah finds out that her mom is expecting, so she’s going to have a new sibling, and it’s about the little girl working through her emotions about … sharing her space and sharing the attention and the affections of Mom and Dad.”
OFT’s still working to determine its audience vaccination plan, but masking will be required for all guests. Raabe expects auditions for The Alphabetastics! in late January 2022, with all cast and crew members vaccinated unless they can prove medical exception. Actors will also be tested for COVID on a regular basis.
Photo credits: Jo Arlow, Nikki McClure, OFT, String and Shadow.
The Paper Moon, Fully Vaxxed and The Alphabetastics!
Opening March 11, March 18 and May 20 respectively
Olympia Family Theater,
612 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
Variable, as OFT is planning a sliding-scale program called “Access for All”