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Diversifying the Seattle theater scene

How creativity plays a part in healing communities

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Theater can feel like a white space. The most popular shows often feature a predominantly white cast, and even in shows featuring a diverse cast, in virtually every other aspect of the production (director, crew, tech, and even audience) it’s rare to see any people of color. 

“Waning” breaks these conventions. 

Annex Theatre has teamed up with the Earth Pearl Collective, described as a “queer, black womyn nonprofit organization dedicated to healing [their] community through creative collaborations,” to produce “Waning.”

Written by Kamaria Hallums-Harris and directed by Sadiqua Iman, “Waning” tells the story of a young black queer woman reconciling America’s past of black oppression with her current reality. 

Hallums-Harris was inspired to write the play during the spring of her junior year at Cornish College of the Arts. At the time, news of Trayvon Martin’s death had just come out, and — combined with other events — sparked her desire to look into stories of brutality against black women.

“I could not find anything at the time, and the ones I did find were dismissive,” Hallums-Harris said. “I was determined to find a way to represent women whose stories weren’t being told.”

During the same time, Hallums-Harris decided to have an abortion. “The two were connected in my head,” she said.

The research she did for the play led to further research on past lynchings of black women, eventually creating a tale that interweaves narratives of history and identity.

Originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., Iman’s love of theater came from her general predisposition for entertaining, leading her to eventually earn her B.A. in theater as well as a master’s in arts management. 

After coming to Seattle once in 2013, Iman returned a few years later as one of Intiman’s Emerging Artists, a program through Intiman Theatre that provides training to a diverse group of artists.

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In a city with a predominantly white theater scene, Iman stressed the importance of not only telling stories about people of color, but actively bringing people of color into the audiences as well.

“All too often do you see stories of people of color being consumed by white audience members in theater,” Iman said.

She added that it’s not enough to just create a story with people of color, but in order to get people of color in the audience, you have to actively advertise and recruit audience members in spaces where people of color are. 

In addition to bringing more people of color into the audience and onto the stage, the show purposefully recruited people of color for much of the crew and design team, although Iman admits that even this process was difficult as there is a shortage of training in theater for people of color.

In order to create a stronger sense of community in the space, the play encourages audience involvement. On Wednesday nights after the show, there are open-mic “talk-backs,” allowing for audience members to respond to the play in any way they see fit. 

“[I want to show an] accurate representation of blackness and what it means to be black,” Hallums-Harris said. “There’s no one way to be black. [I] hope it raises the awareness of the micro-aggressions that queer people, that black people, that black women, go through every day of their lives. I also hope that the black community themselves will come out and see themselves [in the play] in some way, shape, or form. 

“Waning” runs until March 1, with shows every Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Annex Theater.


Reach writer Abigail Sloan at Twitter: @Abigail__Sloan

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