Happy Birthday, Town Hall Seattle

On this day, in 1999, we opened to the public. It was 21 years ago today that we started a community here. It’s something we continue to do: building our community with wide open doors (though the pandemic has stymied us of late) and radically affordable tickets and stages, where everyone can take part, be inspired, and use their voice to shape our future. We believe that everyone deserves access to fresh ideas and artistic expression. We believe in an equitable Town Hall that belongs to all of us. We believe that, together, we can model the kind of society we want to share. All this is to say, this isn’t a day to celebrate Town Hall, it’s a day to celebrate us all. We can’t do it without you. If you’d like to give your financial support, please do. You can learn more about how to make an impact here.

Back on that first night of programming, Town Hall presented a free celebration of “Seattle’s Favorite Poems,” hosted by Robert Pinsky, Poet Laureate of the United States. Others who read poems that night included local luminaries like Tom Skerritt, Speight Jenkins, Mike Lowry, Charley Royer, and others.

Robert Pinsky’s poem that he wrote for the occasion:

THE HALL

The hero travels homeward and outward at once,
Master of circumstance and slave to chance.
A spirit old and young, man, woman–each life
A spurt of knowing. The hero is the wife
Stitching all day a story unstitched at night
And also the son who calls the Council to meet
In the beamed Hall where the old ones used to gather.
Differing there, each regards all and each other.
A solitary old chief, the hero grieves
His dead companions, a nation full of lives.
The bird in cold and darkness buffeted in
Briefly through the bright warm hall and out again.
All nations wither Chief Seattle said,
And yet they are not powerless, the dead.
The shifting hero wanders alien places,
Through customs of cities and histories of races,
Their arts and evils, their goods, odd works and treasures.
Provincial, cosmopolitan, the hero embroiders,
Recollects, travels and summons together all
Manners of the dead and living, in the great Hall.

When Town Hall reopened recently, after it’s multi-million dollar renovation, we commissioned a work by Suzan-Lori Parks, celebrating our 20th anniversary.  It is below in its entirety.

BEGINNER
a “forever” play by Suzan-Lori Parks

The action of this play starts right here right now.

X: Where do I begin?
Y: Why are you asking?
X: Just curious.
Y: All of a sudden you’re “just curious”?
X: I’ve been curious for – for a long time, but I never thought that the question I asked you was
a question one should ask, really. Because it’s a question that has an answer that could, oh,
idunno, start a fight. Or a party. Or a parade. Or a war. Or a famine. Or a wedding. Or a
healing. Or a fissure. Or a series. Or a portal. Or a race.
Y: A race?
X: You heard me.
Just then, hundreds of PEOPLE, thousands, really, “race” across the stage. As if every single
person in Seattle, Washington, and everywhere too, right, were, right at this very moment,
“racing” out of doors, or “racing” to the gym, or to the job, or to the school, or “racing” as part
of a sport, or late for a bus or a train or a boat or a plane, or trying to cross a river or a border or
a sea. Everybody “racing,” everybody “running” and everybody running on something or
toward something or from something and, also right, everybody running something. Yeah,
we’re all running something aren’t we? And we’re all on some kind of path, a path that takes us
all, in body and/or in mind and/ or in spirit, right in this exact instant, right across this very stage
and also right across the stage in your head. Where this play also is being performed. And each
person, is carrying a FLOWER – what kind of flower? Well, if you’re lucky, it’s the flower of your
own choosing. And as we see the PEOPLE “racing” by, know that, from this moment, for you,
things are going to be better. Because they’re all on the road to recovery and you don’t have to
run cause you’re already there. The ACTION of this PLAY takes place over and over and
FOREVER which means that this is a FOREVER PLAY. Am I getting off the subject? Am I getting
off the path? Not at all. Yay. Back to our play.
X
Y
X
Y
Y: The Human Race!
X: Exactly.
(rest)
You’ve got something to teach me. I can smell it. Go on.
Y: Right, ok, well,
We know that there is no ”I” in “TEAM,”
But did you know that there is a “me” in “ENEMY?”
X: Well done.
Y: Thank you.
(rest)
Did you come all this way to learn that?
X: No, but you came all this way to tell it to me.
Y: Ok. How do you do that?
X: Do what?
Y: Get under the surface of – me. Get inside my head.
X: You open the door and let me in. You flew me into town and opened the door and let me in
and so here I am. I’m here. And I’m in your head. Deeply curled up in there. Giving you a
healing hug.
Y: Mmmmmm. Thank you.
X: That’s what I do. Pretty much. That’s like the – common thread running through my output.
Y: Wow. Deep. What was your question?
X: Which one?
Y: The one up there at the top of the page, or back there, in the past. The question you had
about –
X: Where do I begin?
I have never told an actor how to say a line but it would be really great if they could say it as
close to the same way that they said it the first time (at the start of the PLAY).
X: Where do I begin?
Y: Exactly.
X: Where do I end?
Y: Good questions.
X: And what about the Others?
Y: What Others? Where?
X: Over there.
Y: Oh, they’re you.
X: They don’t look like me.
Y: No?
X: Not at all. They’ve got NNNNNN where I’ve got YAYAYAYAYAY. They’ve got SCRUNNNNCH
where I’ve got HURRRRRRRK. I’m all waaah waaah and they’re woo woo.
Y: They’re you. There you are. Right here. Right there. And over there too.
X: Couldn’t be.
Y: It’s true.
X: So, Everything is part of Everything? One thing expressing itself in an infinite variety?
Y: Bingo.
X: Should I ask “What Else Is There?”
Y: No. Don’t ask.
X: And that’s the whole Game of Life. In One Moment.
Y: Yep. Should we sing a song?
X: Let’s.
We sing “Beginner.”
…we’re going around and around and around and around and around and around again
we’re going around and around and around and around…

Thank you, everyone, for going around and around and around with us.

A Suggestion While in Self Isolation: Read a Book.

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” – Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” – Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

Don’t leave your house. Stay home. Stay healthy and keep others healthy. Do you need some suggestions for what to do in your home? Buy a book and read it.

Books are a life blood of Town Hall. We bring in authors and speakers from around the corner to around the world to inform, enlighten, and inspire all of us. The recent pandemic has hampered those efforts. There are deep fears in our literary community about how the coronavirus could damage the longevity of some of our most beloved bookstores.

We, at Town Hall, always delight in working with some of the finest bookstores in our city. They could use all of our help right now. Connect with your favorite local bookstore, order a book, read it, and repeat.

Ada’s Technical Books. They’re closed until March 31 at the earliest. They’ve had to lay off employees. You can order books using their online store.

Elliott Bay Book Company. They’re closed until March 31 at the earliest. You can order books online and they are currently offering free shipping.

Phinney Books. As of now, they’re “open,” but for pickup and delivery only. They’ll be in the store for their usual hours, but no browsing will be allowed in the store, and ideally as little customer traffic as possible.

Third Place Books. They’re three locations are still open with reduced hours but are taking it day by day. They are offering free shipping when you order online.

University Bookstore. All locations, with the exception of the Tacoma store (limited hours), are closed until March 30 at the earliest. They are offering free shipping when you order online.

Do what you can to help ensure the vitality of our region. We’re not one of the most literate cities in America for nothing. We appreciate knowledge, and wisdom, and creativity, and the imagination of us all. Find all that, now more than ever, from one of our local bookstores.

A Little Ink on Tattooing

The days when tattoos were most associated with sailors and ex-cons are long gone. Seattle has a diverse and thriving tattoo scene. Gage Academy of Art Artistic Director Gary Faigin moderates a panel of three tattoo artists on March 24 at Town Hall. Tickets are only $5 and free for anyone 22 and under. Update: In-Person programming at Town Hall has been suspended. We hope to have this panel discussion on tattooing to occur in the coming months.

One of those tattoo artists, Heidi Sandhorst of Dark Age Tattoo, sat down with Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley to discuss a tattoo as a celebration, black and grey tiger faces, and how there are no strange requests.

JS: When did you start appreciating the art of the tattoo? What spoke to you about tattoos?

HS: This seems like such a hard question because tattoos have been such a part of my life for a long time. Tattoos have been in my field of awareness since I was a preteen and when I really started discovering music for myself: punk and riot girl. Most of the people in those bands and those that went to their shows had tattoos. Most of my friends had tattoos. I have always been an artist, have always been creating art and tattoos are just another way to express myself, to shrug off the status quo, to heal, to just enjoy something beautiful, and so many other things. It can mean anything and/or nothing for those who decides to wear them and I love that.

JS: What was the first tattoo you got? How many do you have now?

HS: I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday, I made the appointment a few weeks before it and I got a black and grey tiger face on my back shoulder. I can’t really say how many I have because I have larger pieces that took many sessions. I still have to tattoo my back and the back of my thighs, but that will be one big piece, and little bits here and there. I will probably never be done!

JS: What tattoo on you means the most to you? Why?

HS: The tattoo that means the most to me is usually the most recent one I got because it’s the one I am the most into at the time. Some people get tattooed for a story; I get tattooed to celebrate the art of artists and people I love. My most recent one is a peony on my knee by an amazing artist, Jamie August. Jamie is also one of the kindest people I have ever had the honor to meet.

JS: When did you start tattooing others? When did you decide to try and make it your job?

HS: I didn’t start tattooing people until I was well into my apprenticeship, so I had already decided to make tattooing my career when I did my first tattoo. 

JS: What tattoo did you do  for someone else are you most proud of?

HS: I strive to be proud of every tattoo I do.  I am proud when I execute a clients idea well, when they are happy, healed, safe, whatever their goal for the tattoo is and I have successfully aided in that process. I am also extra excited about subject matter I enjoy drawing and tattooing. Being given free reign to draw and tattoo it in my style is my favorite! 

JS: What’s the strangest request you’ve had for a tattoo?

HS: There are no strange requests! We are all human and you should never feel judged for being as “weird” as you want to be. I however will not tattoo anything racist/hateful and I deeply strive to not tattoo anything culturally appropriative that is offensive to the culture it was taken from, but I will admit that is a lifelong learning process and I defer to people that come from those cultures and actively seek out information from cultures and perspectives outside my own to be better informed. I know since these perspectives are outside my own I have to commit to always seeking out those voices and I will always be learning and growing.

JS: How long have you been at Dark Age?

HS: I have worked at Dark Age as long as it’s been open. Since 2014. 

JS: Why do you think it took so long for tattoos to make it to the mainstream?

HS: Tattoos have always been “mainstream” for me, so I’m not sure. Perhaps with the rise of Instagram and social media,  the ability to see so many people expressing themselves in so many ways so easily has made it more acceptable to express oneself.

JS: What’s the future hold for you in regards to tattoos?

HS: My future in tattooing is my future in life, to grow and learn always. To always be becoming the best artist, healer, steward of compassion I can be.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Yesterday afternoon an interesting demonstration of Dalcrose Eurhythmics was given by Elsie Hewett McCoy” and, “Dr. Mizra Ahmed Sohrab spoke about the emancipation of Persian women that is currently going on.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

In the March 6 edition of the Town Crier there was a brief mention of Seattle’s local Composers Society. There was a program that “marked another milestone in the history of this club of talented musicians whose members are doing their part in making the history of music in the Northwest.”

Not to toot our own Town Hall horn too much but we have also done our part in making local music history. Last year, for instance, we were part of a Phillip Glass commission entitled “Perpetulum,” the first piece Glass composed for percussion. Third Coast Percussion gave its Northwest premiere as part of Town Hall’s Town Music Series. “Perpetulum” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category.

Next up for us on the commission front? Town Hall has commissioned a piece by Judd Greenstein as part of our coming yMusic concert that takes place on Town Hall’s Great Hall on April 8 (tickets are on sale now). Known for his structurally complex, viscerally engaging pieces of music, Greenstein’s compositional voice aligns with the stirring verve of yMusic, who embody the humanity of the music they play. 

The writers of the old Town Crier would undoubtedly be pleased upon hearing that Seattle’s musical history is still being made at Town Hall Seattle.

A Melting Pot of Music

Emily Slider, a local world music aficionado, was in attendance at our most recent Haram Global Rhythms Concert. She was kind enough to send along this review. She’s reviewed Town Hall concerts in the past on the Town Crier and for KEXP.

Photo by Roy Kuraisa

On Sunday, March 1, The Great Hall was a melting pot of Arabic sound. Gordon Grdina was joined by an ensemble of ten musicians, each accomplished in his own right. Unlike previous concerts in the Global Rhythm series, which have included a local and a global performer playing separate and distinct sets, this concert was a collaboration with Gordon Grdina’s ensemble, Haram, featuring Marc Ribot on guitar.

The evening opened with a guitar solo by Ribot, which lured the audience into the captivating sound. On the cue of Grdina, Haram broke into what sounded like a celebratory Klezmer wedding song. The melody tiptoed down descending intervals, dancing its way around the hall. The woodwinds rose in dynamics as every instrument played its own melody or drone, creating a very atonal feel in the midst of this traditional song. To wrap up this first piece, the ensemble quickened its tempo until each instrument was racing the others to the finale of the song. Another song began with Grdina’s ear pressed to the body of his lute as though he were coaxing the precious sound out of its body and sharing a sacred gift with the audience. His fingers flew over the body of the lute, demonstrating his mastery of the instrument.

Each voice in the ensemble had its time to shine on stage, which made for some remarkable solos. The violin, played by Jesse Zubot, opened a piece by dragging the bow lightly across its highest string, creating an eerie atmosphere. He then crept his way up the strings ferociously, creating a string sound reminiscent of Kryzsztof Penderecki’s Polymorphia. During a clarinet solo, Francois Houle, popped his clarinet in half, covering the bottom of the shortened woodwind with his hand. It was as if each player on stage were challenging himself to find every way to evoke the most sound from his instrument. When the group incorporated a call-and-response vocal into the sound, it sounded less like a religious or traditional influence and more like a ska vocal sound. After a traditional Sudanese song, the feedback from an amp was augmented and became a voice onstage. Haram heightened the fuzzy noise until Grdina cut it off and the room fell into silence again.

Haram wove free-form jazz into traditional melodies with ease for the entire evening of music. The members onstage represented ensembles that ranged from anarchist punk to concert hall groomed jazz, and to see so many individual players meld into one sound was striking. Marc Ribot played exquisite solos, yet blended beautifully with the sound of Gordon Grdina and his Haram. The night provided a fascinating, unforgettable contrast between traditional and experimental sound.

 

(Literally) Food for Thought: A Discussion about Conscious Eating with Sophie Egan

We face ethical choices every day, like when we stand in the grocery store line. Is this food good for me? Is it good for others? Is it good for the planet? Health, nutrition, and sustainability expert Sophie Egan will be at Town Hall on March 19 with insight from her new book How to Be a Conscious Eater. She’ll be in conversation with environmental author and journalist Tim Egan. Tickets are on sale now.

Sophie Egan recently sat down Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley to discuss organic foods, the bulk aisle, and how to carry a couple of cucumbers.

JS: What did you eat as a kid? How ingrained are those habits as we become adults?

SE: Pizza. A lot of pizza. My parents told me I was going to turn into a pizza. I was a picky eater and ate what kids eat: chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. These sorts of foods become our comfort foods as we grow older. Top Ramen for me. They are given a special status for life. They’re called foods of privilege because they were given to us in our formative years when we felt safe, secured, and loved.

It’s actually about exposure. Kids can eat all sorts of things. There’s a program called 100 foods before one. Kids can eat spicier things than you may think—can eat different textures, different flavors, all sorts of things.

JS: When did you start questioning what you were eating from an ethical perspective?

SE: My own habits have been informed by my work. For over five years, I served as the Director of Health and Sustainability Leadership and Editorial Director for the Strategic Initiatives Group at The Culinary Institute of America. I couldn’t help but start thinking about what I was eating in that role.

The food systems were much more opaque before. Now they’re much more transparent. That’s a good thing, but the pace of the issues we have to contend with has accelerated, from the plastics used in food production to slave labor used in our shrimp supply. There is a lot to be cognizant of, and with all these issues making decisions on what we eat is becoming more and more complex. My hope is that my book helps inform those decisions.

JS: Organic food: is it worth it?

SE: There are two good starting points. The dirty dozen are the foods that have the highest pesticide residues. The clean fifteen are the foods with the least.

JS: For those with limited financial means, what do you suggest at the grocery store?

SE: Eating in ways that are good for the planet tends to be good for people. Plant-based food is good for the planet and less expensive. Compare a bag of lentils versus a pork chop, for instance. You want whole grains? Buy a tub of oats. Wild salmon? Buy canned or frozen. Organic produce? Buy frozen. The bulk food section is a great place to get good food at the best price. You can get your granola there without the packaging and without the marketing.

JS: What simple tips can you give someone going to a grocery store wanting to be a conscious eater?

SE: Labels are confusing. Flip the package over. The front of the packaging is nothing but marketing. The information you need is on the back.

Evaluate foods based on what’s in it (is it healthy?), what’s on it (be cognizant of stickers and claims), and the package itself (what will happen to this package when you’re done?).

JS: You don’t need a plastic bag for your cucumber.

SE: Use a reusable grocery bag and reusable produce bags.

JS: What should meat eaters consider?

SE: First—less is more. Less red meat is better. The red meat you buy most often comes from factory farms, which is incredibly harmful to the planet in a wide variety of ways. When you buy your meat, make sure it’s not factory farmed; that it’s more humanely raised; that it’s got grassfed certification. It was raised on a pasture and not in a factory. 

JS: Aside from personal changes in eating, what can people do to help the planet food-wise?

SE: Speak up to local governments to incorporate food solutions when it comes to climate change. Food is often left out of climate change discussions when it’s a key facet of it. Raise your voice to institutional purchasing. Look at your kids’ school, your workplace, your healthcare provider. Are they being ethically conscious about their food choices?

Want to digest more about conscious eating? Join us on March 19 as Sophie Egan takes the stage with Tim Egan. Tickets are $5 and FREE for anyone under the age of 22.

Town Hall’s Statement Concerning the Ongoing Coronavirus Outbreak

Town Hall Seattle is committed to the health and safety of everyone who attends our events. With this in mind we are closely monitoring both the global and local status of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as insights and recommendations from health organizations including Public Health Seattle and King County, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others.

We want to reassure the total Town Hall community—partners, presenters, and audiences—that we’re both recommitting to our standard practices and introducing new precautions, such as extra cleanings of high traffic areas and objects that are regularly touched (including door knobs, handles, elevator keypads, etc).

You can assist in preventing the spread of coronavirus and other contagions by thoroughly and carefully washing your hands regularly; staying home if you have a fever, cough, or other serious symptoms (especially since Town Hall’s events are often audio-recorded and/or filmed. Check here for the latest); and monitoring local news for advice about keeping yourself and loved ones safe in case of an outbreak.

If authorities issue advice to stay home or avoid non-essential activities, and/or suggest the organization should cancel events, we will prioritize the health and safety of our audiences and our employees. We will alert the entire Town Hall community through various channels immediately should a cancellation(s) arise.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.

Renowned Mathematician And Physicist Freeman Dyson Has Died At Age 96

Town Hall Seattle sends our condolences to the Dyson family. Renowned mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson passed away after suffering a fall at Princeton University.

Dyson’s most useful contribution to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga. He subsequently worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology, looking for problems where elegant mathematics could be usefully applied.

Town Hall Seattle hosted Freeman Dyson on two occasions. His last visit was in May 2018. He was joined on stage by Neal Stephenson to discuss his autobiography, Maker of Patterns.

That discussion:

It was an honor for Town Hall to host Freeman directly and to consider his work and enduring legacy.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Nathaniel Parschall will be the hostess of a dansant at the Red Cross lunchroom” and, “Mrs. Grace Matters spoke on Thursday at noon about food conservation.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

On the cover of the December 7, 1918 edition of the Town Crier was the dashing Lucien Perrot. Perrot, for years, had been teaching the citizens of Seattle the French language and was a professor at the University of Washington for the Student Army Training Corps.

The Student Army Training Corps is no longer. UW continues its French language studies. But did you know there’s a place in Seattle where anyone can learn the French language from children to adults? C’est vrai! It’s true!

Alliance Francaise is in the Wallingford neighborhood. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it offers French language classes to all ages and levels and offers French and Francophone cultural events locally. 

You can learn about their languages classes here and their coming cultural events here.

Learn something new. Lucian Perrot would be so fier (proud). 

Rosa Floribunda are Red, Viola Odorata are Blue

Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m going to the Ross Bayton Town Hall event, and you should, too.

On March 4, horticulturalist Ross Bayton will present a crash course in plant history, ruminating on the origin and significance of the Latin plant names we encounter every day.

Before the event (and be sure not to miss the NW Flower and Garden Show at the Washington State Convention Center) here are a few interesting plant facts! Be astounded. Impress your friends at your next backyard barbecue!

A sunflower is not just one flower.
Both the brown center and the yellow petals are actually about 1,000-2,000 individual flowers held together on a single stalk.

There are more microorganisms in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth.
Microbes are EVERYWHERE and are important for keeping soil full of nutrients.

Some of your favorite fruits are members of the rose family.
Apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, strawberries and more are cousins of the rose.

You can change a hydrangea’s color by altering the pH level of the soil.
A more alkaline soil will result in pinker blooms. A more acidic soil will produce bluer blooms.

Be careful of foxglove.
The flowers, stems, and leaves can be deadly. The chemicals deslanoside, digitoxin, digoxin, and digitalis glycosides make this popular perennial quite harmful.

There are at least 10,000 varieties of tomatoes.
Over 60 million tons of tomatoes are produced each year, making it the world’s most popular fruit. The second most popular fruit is the banana.

Learn more about plants at Town Hall! Unlock the secret (and not-so-secret) origins of the growing world around us with Bayton’s illuminating exploration of the plants we know, and some we don’t. Tickets are on sale now ($5, and FREE for anyone under the age of 22).

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