A Short History of The Palace Theatre & Art Bar

Seattle Playwrights Salon volunteer Autumn Hjort sat down with Sylvia O’Stayformore, one of the proprietors of The Palace Theatre & Art Bar, to talk about Seattle’s historic Georgetown neighborhood, The Palace, and our thriving Seattle arts community.

When Margaret O’Donnell and Kate Danley founded the Seattle Playwrights Salon in 2016, they were fortunate to garner the support of the creative folks from The Conservatory, a lovely blend of coffee house and artists’ hub that existed in the building prior to The Palace. Since then, the Salon has enjoyed hosting monthly play readings in this unique and intimate space, and we have witnessed the transition from The Conservatory to the Palace Theatre & Art Bar, as the owners find a way to support the broadening artistic community in Georgetown and harken back to Georgetown’s early twentieth-century roots.

The Palace is part of the Fred Marino Building, which first opened its doors in 1903. The space that we know as our favorite local art and theatre bar was originally a hardware store, and the next-door neighbors operated the inaugural Palace Hotel and Bar. The hotel, which existed on the second floor of the building, offered approximately 40 basic rooms and catered to laborers in the area. But, everything changed for the residents in Georgetown during the Prohibition Era.

The community, which relied heavily on the Rainier Brewing Company for the majority its jobs, was decimated, and the Palace Hotel became a flop house out of necessity. I think it’s safe to say that the Georgetown neighborhood went through a bit of a rough patch in the decades following prohibition times. The space currently occupied by The Palace was used for everything from a brass works to a Hells Angels clubhouse, a brothel, and a wrestling venue.

In 1996, Virginia native John Bennett began revitalizing Georgetown and purchased the Fred Marino Building as part of this project. With revitalization came an increased awareness about the importance of community and the artistic endeavors of a refreshingly diverse Georgetown. We want to support and encourage artists to express themselves, and we want to give patrons space to enjoy and experience new art. To that end, we are lucky to have the Georgetown Art Attack, which happens on the second Saturday of every month. During Art Attack, guests can view the original Palace hotel rooms that are now being used as gallery spaces.

Sylvia O’Stayformore and her business partners, Carlos Paradinha Jr. and Maria Paradinha, are passionate about keeping art alive in Georgetown; they schedule a tantalizing array of programs at The Palace Theatre & Art Bar, from the monthly Seattle Playwrights Salon readings, to the Bacon Strip drag queen show, Sunday Tea Dances, and the Hilltop Jazz Project. I’m looking forward to stopping by The Palace for Larry Knapp’s piano sing along night and the Rise and Dine Drag Puppet and Waffles on a Stick Brunch.

The next time you visit The Palace to immerse yourself in plays, puppets, or drag queens, stop a minute, look around, and see if you can picture the space in 1903. And don’t forget to say hello to Frederick, the resident ghost. He is good-natured and harmless but does like to fiddle with the electricity now and then.

Rewrite:  My Way

I’ve often longed to be like one of those great 19th century novelists who wrote steadily, no matter where or when, and published unaltered the first words they inked on the page. Dickens, Eliot, Trollope – those imaginative English storytellers of the Victorian age – never seemed to run out of plot or characters, and wrote absorbingly, constantly, fluidly of the human condition. Dozens and dozens of novels.  If they’d turned their hands to plays, they probably would have poured out similar gold-standard works. 

But I’m not like them. Not even remotely. And neither are most of us. At least, not that playwrights boast of.  Admitting to easy-peasy may not be in fashion, but expounding on how vital rewriting is to the process definitely is. I did a search of playwrights’ advice on rewriting and found reams of testaments to rewriting, and rewriting again. You can too – just search for “playwrights rewrite.”

I’m not going to write more advice – me, a new playwright? The nerve! – but rather describe what helps tip me into the rewrite and what keeps me going. And if you send us what works for you, we’ll collect  and publish them, too.

I’ve written, and rewritten five evening-length plays in the last five years;  I self-produced two of them. I work a day job full-time, so I write around the margins of my paying work, and guard my writing time fiercely. I, for reasons incomprehensible to playwrights who find it easy, despise the submission process, and avoid it. If I submitted more, I might get some of my plays produced by others. Or not. I figure it’s easier and more rewarding to self-produce than submit. That’s how much I loathe submissions. The pain of production – there is so much that is tedious about it – is preferable to the submission process.

All that relates to rewriting like this:  even though I’m not yet submitting my work, I rewrite and rewrite FOR MYSELF. After I have at least what I consider half or so of a first draft, I submit it to my playwright group – there are four of us – and get their feedback. We meet once a month to provide feedback on each others’ work, one playwright per month. Then I rewrite the first half. I put together a closed reading with good actors, and invite other playwrights to comment, on this first half. I need this first reading to know where the play is going next, and what I want to change and re-direct. I write a complete draft after this first closed reading, and submit it again to my writing group. After they comment, I re-write a second complete draft, and present a staged reading, inviting the public to comment;  I have the best actors and directors I can find for this open staged reading. And then of course, re-write! Then I can start submitting and/or plan for a self-production.

A playwright friend tells me re-writing, for him, destroys his original creative impulse. I don’t see it like that, for myself. I think of my first drafts as a mostly unformed ball of clay that I’m sculpting into a living, breathing, ever more true distillation to that initial impulse. 

Highly-Regarded Playwright and Instructor Andrea Stolowitz to Teach in Seattle

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The Salon and Cornish College of the Arts are bringing international playwright and professor Andrea Stolowitz to Seattle November 8-10 for a weekend playwriting masterclass. The Salon’s Director for Education Programs, Margaret O’Donnell interviewed Andrea to learn what drives her writing and teaching.

Read more about Andrea and the masterclass here. And if you’re interested in participating, be sure to register early—class size is limited to eight students!

Margaret O’Donnell (MOD):  Why do you write? What themes/ideas draw you?

Andrea Stolowitz (AS): I write in order to tease apart the complexities of human relationships, political situations, history, love, death and other conundrums. I write about topics that I myself have not yet solved. Writing is a way for me to work on real-life problems by setting characters and situations in motion.

MOD:  What have you learned/observed/delighted in/mourned over in teaching playwriting?

AS: I love to help students experience free writing. I feel free writing is to playwrights as improv is to actors. I mourn the act of “over thinking” and cerebral writing and try to banish that from generative work. I myself love outlines and structure and find that to be easy, but getting into the unconscious realm of writing takes a leap of faith and many strict techniques. I would like to banish the concept of perfection from the writing process.

MOD: What do you see as the value of an MFA in playwriting that can’t often be found in another way? 

AS: Essentially I see an MFA as a way of finding life-long collaborators and to be able to work with colleagues who are available to you at all hours. An MFA grants you freedom from day jobs that otherwise interfere with the 24-7 creative process. An MFA is a terrific educational opportunity if well-chosen in terms of program and what it offers the student and what the student wants to learn. I loved my MFA at UCSD and received a wonderful three year training program mostly for free. Low-Residency MFA programs are a flexible alternative that fit with many life/work situations. For them, the value of the MFA is the training you receive.

MOD: Your best advice to new playwrights?

AS: Keep finding ways to learn about the craft. Be open and adventurous and seek out mentors! 

MOD: How do you balance teaching/writing/productions/promoting your work? Is it a struggle or a good balance?

AS: It is a struggle. I have always centered my entire life around creative work and then everything trickles down from there. I teach playwriting because I love to engage with students about the craft of writing AND because it is a time flexible job which allows me to pursue professional opportunities as they come up. But in general, finding a way to generate work, promote work, earn a living, care for my family, and have a life/work balance is a daily struggle.

MOD: You live part of the time in Berlin. Why did you make that choice, and what influence have you seen on your work?

AS: I find living in another country gives you much insight into your own country. I relish the break from all things American. These days I am in Berlin less and less as I live in Portland and find much career work in New York. This all leaves less time for Berlin though I do go back there for several weeks each year and was just featured in the German Magazine Theatre Heute. 

MOD: Why do you teach?

AS: I love exploring the art form with students and questioning how and why theatricality functions. I enjoy inspiring others in their creative pursuits. I have been blessed with great mentors and strive to be one myself.

MOD: What can be taught?  What can’t?

AS: That’s an interesting question. Structure can be taught. Generative techniques can be taught. What works and doesn’t in theatre can be explored. Writing is a lonely and singular pursuit that each writer conquers individually. Mentors and teachers can bring you only so far. As José Rivera once said, mentors and teachers are the “gas” that can make the car drive, but the individual, they are the car. “Gas” doesn’t know how to drive…The artists is the owner and operator of their car and they can take the “gas" and explore the open road.

MOD: What theatre work have you seen in the last year that you’ve loved?

AS: I loved “The Ferryman” on Broadway because of its expansive storytelling. Last year in Berlin I saw a terrific production of Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons”. It was sparse and beautiful and full of aching and longing. 

MOD: What are you working on now? What are you planning for the next few years?

AS: I am working on a new commissioned play for Artists’ Repertory Theatre in Portland called “Recent Unsettling Events”. I am working on the libretto of an opera about the mothers of kidnapped journalists. I am working on a devised theater piece with Hand2Mouth Theatre which takes its inspiration from Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town”. And as always I am letting new inspiration arrive!

Register Now: Fall Playwriting Masterclass with Andrea Stolowitz

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Interested in taking your playwriting craft to the next level? The Salon, with the generous support of Cornish College of the Arts, will be bringing Andrea Stolowitz to Seattle this fall for a weekend full of inspired playwriting. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to create new work under the guidance of a nationally renowned instructor. Andrea is the Lacroute Playwright-in-Residence at Artists Repertory Theater where she has just received a new play commission. She is a member of New Dramatists class of 2024 and a core member at The Playwrights’ Center. Her plays have been developed and presented nationally and internationally at theaters such as The Long Wharf, The Old Globe, The Cherry Lane, and New York Stage and Film. 

Details
Dates: November 8-10, Friday from 6:00-9:00 PM, Saturday from 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM
Register: Registrations may be made via Eventbrite. The class will be capped at eight students—so be sure to register soon to secure your space!
Location: Cornish College of the Arts Theater Department, 1000 Lenora St Seattle, WA 98121
Description: The 12-hour, three-day course is based on generative writing exercises and is designed to allow writers to start a new project or work on an existing play that would benefit from writing/rewriting. In the course students will read and discuss one or two short plays as models, talk about “rules" of theatricality, do writing exercises, and share results. Participants will share their work and read other participants’ work out loud.
Cost: $300

Global Influences: Enriching Local Theatre with International Artists in the Age of Nationalism

In May 2019, Seattle theatre company On the Boards was on the cusp of presenting its long-awaited and carefully prepared production of choreographer and performer Ligia Lewis’s Sorrow Swag and minor matter. As Artistic Director Rachel Cook said in a letter to the community, “Ligia Lewis uses the core elements of performance – lights, sounds, the theater space, and the body – to explore race, abstraction, and the politics of embodiment. The performers she selects to be included in her works are a crucial element of the pieces themselves.” There was just one “i” still undotted, though:  the visa  application to bring the dancer Ligia Lewis chose for the role was, inexplicably, still awaiting US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) approval. It was a week before the performance.

Then the notice came. USCIS denied the O-1 visa for lack of sufficient showing by the artist of outstanding artistic achievement, according to the company’s news release about the denial and the last-minute substitution of another dancer for the role. What chaos! As a playwright, Artistic Director for the Salon, and a producer, as well as an immigration attorney, I know the months of preparation put in by many artists and theatre professionals for each show, and the scramble that broken links cause, especially at the last minute.  On the Boards and Ligia Lewis rallied heroically from this reverse, but the lesson learned for other theatre companies and theatre artists may be a perverse one:  stay away from international artists.  This administration’s militant isolationism can’t be cracked.

No!

I’m writing urgently to counsel the opposite. Don’t let the administration’s fear of the foreign shut off our artistic wellsprings, or we die of suffocation. This is a call to action. I know this is true:  if we fight back, arguing the law and precedent, and in some cases choose a different strategy, our chances of winning go up from zero with the denial, to nearly 90% with the appeal or change in strategy. Theatre community, we have the law on our side!  The law has not changed in more than two decades: the standard for granting artistic visas remains the same. Practice, though, has tightened dramatically under Trump’s administration, and forces us to up our practice too.

I hear what you may be thinking:  who has time and money for this? Especially theatre companies, with budgets stretched to the limit, and USCIS processing times ballooning to double the wait since 2016. I hear you!  So few of us have the resources and time to dream big, and bring in the international artists that enrich our theatre community with their ideas, their cultural foundations, their practices, and their differing understandings of theatre.

I don’t know the details of the application USCIS denied for On the Boards. The company is keeping the artist’s identity private, as they should. I do know from the news release that On The Boards applied for an O-1 visa;  that means they would have had to prove that the artist possessed “extraordinary ability.”  This is the highest standard of artistic achievement, and almost certainly would have to include having received awards at the top of the profession, equivalent in the home country of our Tony awards. I don’t know why On The Boards chose this visa, so I can’t second-guess them or their attorney on this.  I do know that the standard for applying for a P-3 visa for artists is much lower – it does not include a showing of ability at all, although it is usually included – and allows for up to one year in the US. 

I know it’s too late to start again for this particular performer and telling a theatre which visa they should apply for is not my point. I can’t know that without knowing the details, and the performance is over.  The company invested many hours and dollars in this attempt, and plans are likely in the making for next year’s performances  The company, and many other local companies watching in sympathy and anger, may feel burned by this experience, and may shy away from trying again.

Therefore, a proposal. There are experienced attorneys in town who care deeply about the arts. A number of them volunteer through Washington Lawyers for the Arts, and they have made a lasting impact in the lives of individual artists of all kinds, and the organizations that support them. But the practice of immigration law is highly specialized, and those who don’t practice in this area are rightly cautious about taking on a set of sometimes arcane and often byzantine administrative statutes, and the court precedents and agency decisions that have grown up around them. I propose a group of immigration attorneys who volunteer their time in annual training sessions for theatres, and regular problem-solving individual consultations, as well as take on pro bono cases to bring in international artists, and solve the immigration problems of those artists already in the US. Why we’ll volunteer: many of us find that artists are fun to work with and we value cultural diversity, as a bedrock reason for choosing immigration law as our profession.

Giving up is not an option when the issue is as important as our access to global theatre influences:  teaching artists, performers, playwrights, directors, and the whole panoply of theatre artists. Artists world-wide have much to give and teach each other, in person, and not just on a screen. Theatre is a physical art in three-dimensions, with human bodies required. A group of volunteer immigration attorneys, perhaps enough to ask Washington Lawyers for the Arts (WLA)  to add us as a panel and handle the administration, won’t work magic in every situation.  But we can do our best, and insist that the laws are applied fairly. And with our minds set on fairness, armed with the power of informed, strategic resistance, we can keep our cultural channels open. 

Theatre companies,  use your regular communication channels to ask theatre-loving immigration attorneys to contact me at modonnell@globallawadvocates.com.  With at least five attorneys, I can ask WLA to consider administering a panel of pro bono immigration attorneys for theatre.  I also pledge, if theatre companies request it, to put together experienced attorneys for a training on the visa process, so that more companies start the process early and know the options to bringing and also keeping international artists among us.  Onward!

Written by Margaret O’Donnell, a long-time Seattle immigration attorney, located in the Georgetown neighborhood.