Play Your* Part hit the ground running in 2018, opening 2019 with a staged reading on immigration themes with an additional three full productions already scheduled for the remainder of the year. The Salon’s Margaret O’Donnell interviewed Play Your* Part founding Artistic Director Michael Raimondi for his take on why he started the company, and plans for the future.
Margaret O’Donnell (MOD): You started a new theatre company in Seattle last year! What is your inspiration for “theatre that inspires action”? What makes your company different from other theatre companies in Seattle? Why Seattle?
Michael Raimondi (MR): Play Your* Part formed when I moved to Seattle after spending 16 years in New York City working in theatre and film while also managing a franchise of an education company. When I arrived in Seattle I decided to learn as much as I could about the theatre scene and came to realize that if certain hurdles can be traversed, Seattle might be a viable place to begin a company and use it as a template for how I envision growing Play Your* Part in the years to come. I have always believed that theatre can be a catalyst for social change, but what I felt was missing was the connection between the inspiration someone may feel after experiencing a moving piece of theatre, and what they then do with that inspiration. Play Your* Part aims to connect its audiences with other nonprofit organizations by partnering with them as consultants, as beneficiaries, and as educational partners so folks know what they can do to help reduce violence and increase equity here in Seattle, and around the world. Play Your* Part is a theatre and philanthropy company, working with a different nonprofit in this fashion for each production.
MOD: What are your personal plans (acting, directing?) for Play Your* Part for this year and next? What do you have coming up in May and beyond?
MR: I will be directing the full length shows within our first full season, this year, of which there are three. Opening our season we will be presenting Mae West's 1927 play, The Drag - A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts in partnership with Gender Justice League performed at Gay City celebrating Pride month in June. Originally banned for indecency, The Drag ran for only ten performances and never made it to Broadway until Mae West rewrote it with a heterosexual leading man and it became a smash hit. Our production will reimagine the original incorporating live, original music by Elisa Money, choreography by Moscato Extatique, Adam Brozowski, and Levi Hawkins, costume design by Pete Rush, and draw the audience into a black and white film come to life before their eyes. The second half of the play opens with a technicolor drag ball, but ends tragically, hopefully helping our audiences to recognize how far we have come for LGBT rights, yet how much further we have to go.
In July, we open Oedipus the King benefiting Investigate West to be performed against the facade of St. Mark's Cathedral. This production will incorporate original half masks, designed by Joe Osheroff of Homunculus Mask Theatre, for the ensemble in the chorus from where the feature characters emerge, and use ASL as a base for the choral movement. Exploring the timelessness of the play, we will pull references and archetypes from various religions and cultures that help the audience best identify with each character, while highlighting the tragic story.
Beyond that we have a world premiere play slated for September/October to be performed at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle and two more one to two night events we will premiere at the University Heights Center Auditorium where we rehearse.
MOD: What would you kill to direct?
MR: As a director I consider myself a keen listener and ultimately a conjurer of life out of text. I'm less interested in what is popular, and more interested in what is relevant. I'm interested in telling the stories of communities who are not being invited to participate. I'm interested in new plays based on true accounts, juxtaposed with classic works. I would love to direct operas - Rigoletto or La Traviata. I would love to direct Streetcar Named Desire. I'd love to direct new work currently being developed; Shakespeare, Greek plays, musicals, kitchen sink dramas, slapstick comedies ... and in each expose the heart, humor, and humanity we can all relate to and do so only when the stories are relevant and urgent and immediate.
MOD: What have been the biggest challenges so far for Play Your* Part? Successes?
MR: The biggest challenge we face is financially fulfilling our mission to build toward a sustainable wage model. We are proud to pay competitive stipends to our performers, artists, and technicians right out of the gate, but we have a long way to go. Being such a young company we rely on our private donors for support, while we submit grant applications and continue to form a track record of necessary and viable work, proving our worth for larger gifts that will sustain us. The biggest successes come as a result of our partnerships and dedication to philanthropy. Check out our 2018 Impact and 2019 Season Announcement video here for more on what we have already accomplished and what we aim to do this year.
MOD: Is Play Your* Part a new play incubator?
MR: Play Your* Part regularly commissions playwrights to create short plays. We have two models for short play development we have found to be intriguing, interview based plays where playwrights are commissioned to interview a subject and write a play based on a true story, and our 30-second play festival where playwrights create a short play consisting of five 30-second scenes. Six of those plays are written and then performed in under half an hour in a sketch comedy format. The staged reading series we just did was an interview based play format and from that we have identified two plays we are interested in further developing.
MOD: What is your background and that of your collaborators?
MR: I hold degrees in Directing from Chapman University and Acting from The Actors Studio Drama School. My collaborators have backgrounds in production, technical theatre, marketing, PR, casting, office and administrative management, accounting, graphic design, and development. Play Your* Part is a working board of 16 with five advisory Board Members, and 11 staff/volunteers. Believe it or not, we are still in need of additional support. Anyone interested in helping out as a volunteer or inquiring about positions available can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MOD: Dreaming big, how do you see synergies in connecting with other theatre companies? Specifically, what kind of companies?
MR: I would love for us to partner with companies sharing in our mission to reduce violence and increase equity around the world while employing and supporting local artists. London, New York City, and Mexico City are the three places I am most interested in exploring these partnerships and creating a presence for Play Your* Part over the next three years, with four more cities on the horizon. The Public Theatre in NYC and London's National Theatre are on our radar.