Supporting Seattle Arts: On The Boards

On The Boards Merrill Stage Lobby

On The Boards Merrill Stage Lobby

At Northwest Polite Society, we believe Community = Good Business, and nothing is more integral to this community than art. For our newest blog segment, we will be featuring some of the many local organizations dedicated to keeping the Seattle art community growing.

If you would like to find yourself in the audience of a truly immersive performing arts experience, On the Boards is the place to be. For 40 years, local artists and artists from all over the world have come to this organization to present contemporary dance, theater, and other experimental performance that falls into the category of “uncategorizable.” We met with On the Boards’ Executive Director, Betsey Brock, in the colorful Merrill Stage lobby to talk about art, pushing boundaries, and Seattle’s coolest dinner party.  

“I think that art can be a tool for sparking conversations around civic issues, human services, politics,” says Betsey, talking about the role of performing arts in our community. “The art and artists we present here get really close to those issues and they really aren't afraid to dig deep and challenge people.” 

On the Boards puts a huge emphasis on the community aspect of an audience. “I think experiencing a powerful performance, it changes you. And when you change with a community of people you are closer together,” says Betsey, “and there's a much greater chance that you'll be able to have those hard conversations, those important conversations with each other.” 

There’s even an opportunity to hang out with your fellow audience members at an amazing dinner party before many of the shows. The Studio Supper is a sliding-scale dinner that features some of the best chefs in Seattle. “It creates a situation where people are having an experience together. They are maybe having a conversation about their expectations for the show. People really get to know each other,” Betsey explains, “It's like being at a dinner party with people who have shared interests and an adventurousness that you might not come across if you just walked into the theater and sat down next to them in the chairs.”

As for the actual show that comes after the dinner party, your expectations are likely to be challenged. “One of the things people have said for many years is that an On the Boards show is successful if one third of the audience gives it a standing ovation, a third of the audience is shaking their heads thinking ‘what just happened’ and a third has walked out,” Betsey muses, “There are things that I’ve seen here that I’ve hated and I love how much I’m still thinking about them. And there are things that totally surprise and confound me. I’ve seen a lot of performance here and I’ve been a part of this audience since 1997 and it still surprises and delights me.”

Performance by Seattle-based choreographer Pat Graney

Performance by Seattle-based choreographer Pat Graney

Autumn Knight performs M___ER

Autumn Knight performs M___ER

Upcoming performances in this subscription season include Water Will (in Melody), a choreographic work from Ligia Lewis, M_ _ _ER, an interdisciplinary work from Autumn Knight, and Susan, a musical from stand-up comedian Ahamefule J. Oluo. 

If you’re feeling like you’ve missed out on the past four decades of On the Boards performances, you’re in luck!  You can actually stream full length films of select performances at ontheboards.tv, which Betsey describes as “a Netflix for contemporary performance.” This streaming platform can be accessed from any device and is part of the curriculum in over 125 colleges and universities nationwide. So really, the impact of On the Boards extends far beyond our Seattle community. We feel pretty lucky that we get to be the ones to call this amazing organization our neighbor.