Olympia Family Theater’s Fully Vaxxed, opening March 18, is much more than a theatrical production. The trio of bilingual, one-act plays — which will tour throughout the state and be available for streaming — is part of a public health campaign harnessing the power of art to inspire people to get vaccinated.
The Vaxxed plays, being created in collaboration with Latinx youth from across the state, are intended to offer information and spark conversation about vaccination, particularly in Latinx and migrant communities — communities that have been especially hard hit by COVID-19 and that have relatively low vaccination rates.
“A big part of it is access, and then there is misinformation,” said Ana María Campoy, the project’s principal organizer and producer and the founder of WashMasks, a nonprofit launched in May 2020 to support migrant farmworkers. “At the start of the pandemic, a lot of farm owners were in denial of the disease.”
The project is part of a $2.5 million effort by the CDC Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Olympia Family Theater, which received about $75,000, was one of 30 arts and cultural organizations awarded a grant.
“This project sits at so many intersections: art and public health, creativity and social responsibility, relationships both old and new, and so much more,” said Lily Raabe, the theater’s artistic director, who worked with Campoy to apply for the competitive grant.
“The arts and culture can be crucial tools in public health communication,” according to a press release from the foundation. “Because local artists have long served as trusted messengers and translators of vital information in their communities, they can support vaccine education and acceptance in ways that cut through cultural barriers, skepticism and misinformation.”
“We are excited to bring the arts and science together in a really powerful way with these partnerships,” said Dr. Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the foundation. “Through their chosen art forms, these organizations will be able to create accessible and inspiring work that communicates essential health information about the safety and importance of vaccination in protecting communities from COVID-19 and influenza.”
Raabe hopes the Vaxxed plays will strengthen community and heal divisions, too. “It’s an opportunity for us to come together — without shame or judgment — to talk about safety and responsibility and how we’re really doing in the face of the pandemic,” she told OLY ARTS. “True community health isn’t just about getting the vaccine; it’s also about listening to one another, getting to know people who think differently than you and opening yourself to the possibility that you have room to grow and change.”
Olympia filmmaker Miguel Pineda and playwright-educators Ramón A. Esquivel and Mabelle Reynoso are writing the plays in cooperation with Latinx middle- and high-school students from across the state. Like the others working on the project, the students are being paid for their efforts. “They’re getting their first paid artist gig,” Campoy told OLY ARTS.
Pineda, co-founder of Porcupine Media, said he feels privileged to be working with the students and hearing about their experiences. “Each one of them is so different,” he said. “It’s been nice to be able to share a space where all of these ideas can exist. That’s not typical. This is a very polarizing subject. We do a lot of listening,” he said. “It’s important to understand what they are thinking about the subject matter and what their families are thinking and what their peers are thinking. These young folks are essentially doing the work in the field to inform our plays.”
The project will also amplify the voices of people around the state. Touring events, set to happen in Wenatchee, Mount Vernon and Sunnyside as well as throughout the South Sound, will include theater workshops. The theater is also creating resource kits with scripts and educational activities, all available in Spanish and Mixtec, for communities choosing to host events centered on the filmed plays.
Though the plays will be rooted in the experiences of Latinx communities, Raabe envisions the Vaxxed project having a broader impact. “These plays are truly meant for anyone,” she said. “I hope that people from all backgrounds will take this as an incredible opportunity to see the pandemic through someone else’s lens and explore how that might change their own perception. Our community will be strengthened by our ability and desire to see the world through the eyes of people whose lived experience is different from our own.”
7 p.m. Fridays, March 18 and April 1;
3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays, March 19 and April 2;
3 p.m. Sundays, March 20 and April 3
Olympia Family Theater,
612 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia