Happy Birthday, Town Hall Seattle

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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.

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