Bringing more voices to the theater

ACT in Seattle adjusting focus, mission

Bringing more voices to the theater

Bringing more voices to the theater

Just like other theaters in Seattle, A Contemporary Theatre had to adjust the way it did business during the pandemic.

Now, under the guidance of ACT artistic director John Langs and others, ACT is adjusting further to open the theater up to more voices.

During the shutdown, ACT closed its doors to audiences, but now Langs and administrators are welcoming community members back into the theater.

“We are building community through the art we make,” Langs said.

Before starting at ACT, Langs worked in theaters all across the country. In the Pacific Northwest, he has worked with Washington Ensemble Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company and ACT. He now resides in Magnolia with his wife and daughter.

“The national landscape of the theater is changing,” Langs said.

During the pandemic, Langs said ACT was thankful to have received critical federal funding to help buffer its recovery by pivoting to digital productions while remaining committed to developing new works. While the theater was closed, staff used the time to consider the makeup of their theater company, paying particular attention to marginalized voices and the stories that have yet to be told, Langs said.

When ACT staff returned to the theater, their first in-person production was “Hotter Than Egypt,” the world premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s play, which traveled to Marin Theatre Company in California after its run at ACT.

The show was well-received and an important part of the revitalization of downtown Seattle, Langs said.

“ACT is committed to being a part of the national recovery, as well as the downtown recovery,” Langs said. “The theater has the potential to bring 300 people downtown for each performance.”

Langs acknowledged that many Seattle restaurants closed permanently during the pandemic but said others are opening again, like Ethan Stowell’s Cortina.

To aid in the national recovery, Langs said ACT is expanding its repertoire and aims to include more audiences than ever before.

“Challenges are so different now than before,” Langs said, adding that social awareness and activism has made its way into the theater. 

This year, the company hired a new managing director from New York, Anita Shah.

Shah is a graduate of Emerson and has worked as a stage technician, production manager, producer and organizational leader at Lincoln Center, Blue Man Group, Good Morning America and numerous Broadway productions.

“I am very excited to partner with John as we re-affirm ACT as the home for contemporary theater in Seattle and in the Pacific Northwest,” Shah said. “Coming out of the pandemic is at once a challenging and hopeful moment as we re-examine not only the art we make, but the manner in which we make it.”

In recognition, ACT’s Board of Trustees engaged in a deep investigation to reevaluate who would have a place at the table. The trustees worked with Langs, Shah, the staff and core company members during the process.

In reference to their ongoing equity work, the statement on the website says they “stand in solidarity with and are grateful for those who have stood up for change and are honored to join the ongoing fight for racial justice in this country.”

To make room for more people and voices in the theater, the ACT trustees made an unprecedented gesture to create space for marginalized voices by collectively resigning, leaving only the three officers who were required for legal compliance. Langs said this decision came with “very little drama.”

“They were trying to create a better theater, more equitable, trying to move forward together,” he said.

ACT is now tasked with defining and finding its new board of trustees. Administrators are trying to recruit people who have strong skill sets to help ACT tackle the current challenges, with special focus given to connection to the community, as well as real estate, finance, legal, civic work, and a passion about revitalizing downtown Seattle.

Live theater is coming back and ACT has the opportunity to be more inclusive and exciting than before, Langs said, and Shah agreed.

“John and I are deeply committed to operating with great intention around what happens onstage and off,” she said. “I look forward to the work we will do together.”