By Jeffrey Rindskopf
The very first moment she ever set foot on a theater stage, Kate Danley felt like she was coming home. She was only enrolled in her first drama class by default after withdrawing from Spanish in middle school, but found herself so taken with theater she devoted the rest of her academic career to the subject and moved to New York after graduating university to further pursue her passion.
“It fulfilled a part of me nothing else ever had,” Danley says.
Though she now works as a successful self-published author specializing in fantasy novels, Danley still finds time for this enduring passion for theater as co-curator of the Seattle Playwrights Salon, a free monthly showcase of independent theater designed to give undiscovered local playwrights a chance to see their work produced.
Danley co-founded the Salon last year with Margaret O’Donnell, an immigration rights attorney and fellow theater advocate she met through a playwriting class at the Seattle Repertory Theater, where they often commiserated over the lack of opportunities available to beginning playwrights in the city.
But it was only after Danley returned from taking a course on theater production at the Commerical Theater Institute in New York that she and O’Donnell met again by chance and discussed the idea of holding their own play readings.
This chance encounter happened at The Conservatory in Georgetown, a coffeehouse and community arts space that now hosts the Salon the second Friday of each month, and whose owner Carlos Paradinha Jr. was instrumental in making these readings a reality.
“He was looking to do an evening devoted to the spoken word,” Danley says. “So we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. He gives us the space for free, which is unheard of. In New York, this would cost about $10,000 per show.”
The first Playwrights Salon was held on October 20, 2016. In order to “work out the kinks before we started screwing up other people’s projects,” the first two readings were of plays written, respectively, by O’Donnell and Danley—the former’s a sobering immigration tale titled Undocumented, and the latter’s a mob-centric screwball comedy titled Building Madness.
They’ve since produced four additional installments showcasing the work of other aspiring playwrights, and have received enough submissions to last them until December of 2018.
“It feels good to be an advocate for playwrights,” Danley says. “It started off as our personal need, but that turned into providing this sort of service to the community.”
Though she and O’Donnell handle promotional duties, offer free rehearsal space, and provide referrals for acting talent, their approach is remarkably hands-off when it comes to the content of the readings. Playwrights can direct and produce their own works as they see fit, making each month’s staging something of a discovery.
March’s showcase was a cold reading of a slapstick comedy set at a funeral supply company titled With Dignity. In contrast, four months of rehearsals went into February’s reading of Not Around Gordie, a California-set family drama that’s been being written since the 1960s. January’s installment wasn’t even a traditional play, but rather a multimedia presentation of a graphic novel-in-progress, The Seed of Evil.
The only real requirement for works showcased at the Seattle Playwrights Salon is that they don’t make anyone feel endangered, in keeping with The Conservatory’s status as a safe space. The plays can be politically charged, as is the case with O’Donnell’s Undocumented, but they’re always followed by an audience discussion to expand everyone’s understanding and ensure a balanced look at the issues presented.
“Theater has the power to transform people’s thinking and it can change the way people view the world,” says Danley. “That’s what makes independent theater so important—when you take away the money, what you’re left with is the message.”
Generally, a half-hour of the two-hour time slot is devoted to these post-play conversations, which make the Salon feel a little like a collaborative workshop of passionate theater-goers providing playwrights with valuable feedback to improve their work.
“For writers, it takes their words and brings them to life,” Danley explains. “And for our audiences, it’s fun to have the opportunity to shape the growth of a play.”
Indeed, in its six months of existence, the Salon has already helped propel a few works-in-progress onto bigger and better things—The Seed of Evil is being pitched to DC Comics, Building Madness is gearing up for an Off-Broadway run in 2018, and the author of Not Around Gordie is having another of his plays produced for this year’s Seattle Fringe Festival.
Eventually, Danley hopes the showcase might attract corporate sponsorship, allowing them to offer stipends to all the local actors, directors and playwrights currently donating their time and efforts to the Seattle Playwrights Salon. Though no one involved is getting paid just yet, they’re happy to do it, like Danley, just for the love of theater.