Best Things To Do

The 44 Best Things To Do in Seattle This Week: May 20-27, 2019

The Arsonists, the Northwest Folklife Festival, and More Arts Critics' Picks
May 20, 2019
Catch the Horse in Motion's immersive production of Max Frisch's "morality play without a moral," The Arsonists, this week. (Colby Woods)
Our music critics have already chosen the 38 best music shows this week, but now it's our arts critics' turn to recommend the best events in their areas of expertise. Here are their picks in every genre—from a reading with Karen Russell to Richard Greenberg's Tony-winning comedy Take Me Out, and from the Northwest Folklife Festival to Taste of West Seattle. See them all below (including some on Memorial Day), and find even more events on our complete Things To Do calendar.

Found something you like and don't want to forget about it later? Click "Save Event" on any of the linked events below to add it to your own private list.

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Seattle International Film Festival 2019
The 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival is the largest film festival in the United States, with more than 400 films (spread over 25 days) watched by around 140,000 people at nine theaters across the city. It's impressively grand and one of the most exciting and widely attended arts events Seattle has to offer. This week's options include American Factory, Banana Split, Putin's Witnesses, Orange Days, Afterlife, and a sneak peek of Thin Skin by The Stranger's own Charles Mudede, just to name a few.



Bob Newhart
The comedian and actor Bob Newhart (Elf, The Big Bang Theory, and, of course, The Bob Newhart Show) will speak about a lifetime of dealing out deadpan humor.

The author of Upgrade Soul, Ezra Claytan Daniels, and artist of Your Black Friend, Ben Passmore, are touring with their collaboration BTTM FDRS, a body-horror satire of gentrification about a fashion model and her friend who "descend upon the hood in search of cheap rent." But something else awaits them in their new neighborhood. Something dangerous and kinda gross. This fun-looking yet painfully relevant graphic novel has drawn praise from author Victor Lavalle, Eisner winner Edie Fake, and many other literary and artistic eminences.



Andreas Kocks: Solid Ether
Monumental cut paper installations are German artist Kocks's speciality. From afar, they resemble crazy splatters or kinetic swirls, but they're actually painstakingly constructed. He works at the intersection of 2-D and 3-D, to quite impressive results.
Closing Wednesday



The Arsonists
In gearing up for The Horse in Motion's latest piece of immersive theater, The Arsonists by Max Frisch (translated by Alistair Beaton), director Bobbin Ramsey has been posing a moral quandary to her company members. "You're holding a burning match in your hand," Ramsey says. "What are you going to do? Put it out? Point it out and do nothing? Ignore it until it burns you? Or are you going to hold it to a drum of gasoline and blow everything up?" Each of the characters in Frisch's absurdist "morality play without a moral" assumes one of those positions in response to the incendiary activities of a group of political activists. Decades before the phrase "burn it all down" gained a certain ironic popularity in social-justice circles, Frisch, a Swiss playwright who wrote The Arsonists in 1953, was putting the idea to the test. Ramsey says this play asks, "Okay, if we're actually going to burn it down, then how do we hold the responsibility of that?" RICH SMITH


Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
What has an overabundance of cannibalism jokes, a Game of Thrones-esque body count, and some of the wittiest, prettiest songs you’ve ever heard? Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s gory slice of melodrama Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The 1979 musical took a 19th-century penny-dreadful monster and transformed him into the embodiment of class-based trauma, framed in a cheerily horrific story of “man devouring man.” The small but impressive Reboot Company’s non-traditional casting upends the “man” while intensifying parallels to our own overheated pop culture. Aside from heightening the camp at times, the casting choices mainly gave excellent actors like Mandy Rose Nichols (Sweeney)  a crack at killer roles that would normally be denied them. Nichols, coldly magnetic, plays up Sweeney’s trauma, flinching when unexpectedly touched, glowering at a creeping societal rot no one else sees. JOULE ZELMAN



Climate Science Goes to Court
If you're feeling helpless about the future of our planet, join Cascadia Climate Action for a discussion and presentation on ways to drive action into policy. Panelists include Attorney Andrea Rodgers (Our Children's Trust) and Pete Erickson (Stockholm Environment Institute).

Jericho Brown
Every time you think a Jericho Brown poem is about to drown in sentimentality or gushy eroticism, he makes a turn that freezes you solid, or boils you over, or completely vaporizes you. Look no further than every single love poem in his 2014 book The New Testament, which rightly scooped up a bunch of awards for its lyrical beauty and its incisive and understandably cynical perspective on the potential for true racial justice in America. RICH SMITH

Rachel Louise Snyder: No Visible Bruises
Some US states give people more jail time if they kick their dog than if they kick their wife, according to Rachel Louise Snyder's new, incredibly thorough investigation of domestic violence in America, No Visible Bruises. Interviews with scores of victims and reviews of the most recent studies on the issue reveal that we've been framing the discussion on domestic violence all wrong. Snyder's book sets us straight and tells us what we need to do to really address the problem. The stories are excruciating. The fixes are slow and require large investments. But the need to end this scourge affects the entire country in myriad ways (personally, economically, politically), and we have to stop it. RICH SMITH

UW Science Engage!
Co-hosted by Town Hall, this series will allow UW researchers to practice science communication skills and the audience to learn about cutting-edge research. Tonight's talk (the last of the series) is all about the environmental impact of electronics and plasma.

Word Works: Steve Almond on Rendering the Interior Life
Almond (Against Football, Candyfreak) will hark back to his grad school-era discovery of Stoner by John Williams, which informed his own approach to depicting characters' interior lives. Attend to glean some wisdom for your own writing. 



Nina Simone: Four Women
The play opens with a character based on Nina Simone, Peaches, playing “I Loves You, Porgy,” the signature tune of the jazz singer/pianist’s pre-protest-song era. The performance, however, is disrupted by the cries of the four girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing. In the second act, Nina meets another black woman, Sarah, in the ruins of the church. It soon becomes clear that Sarah, a committed member of the church, is opposed to Nina's radicalization. "I ain't into that radical business," Sarah says. The question at the core of the play becomes clear: Do we rebuild the church or destroy the current racist society? For Peaches/Simone, the answer is clear: Because there is nothing good about American society, it must be exploded and completely rebuilt from scratch. The ruins of the Alabama church should become the ruins of racism in America. CHARLES MUDEDE


Andre Petterson: Random by Design
Petterson draws attention to the cast-off objects of our ultra-consumerist society by re-creating them in painted wood sculptures.
Closing Saturday

Donald Cole and Caryn Friedlander: Silk & Stone
Friedlander crafts natural-dyed silk wall hangings on which she stitches designs that somehow seem purposeful, elaborate, and childlike all at the same time. These are shown alongside mixed media works and Donald Cole's tiny mountains, painted with sumi ink on matchboxes.
Closing Saturday



Tiny Beautiful Things
Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) has adapted Cheryl Strayed's story of writing an advice column under the pseudonym Sugar, yielding a play about empathy, healing, tough love, and kindness.



The Every Other
At this new reading and music night run by local novelist Doug Nufer, whom former Stranger critic Paul Constant called a "tireless local word-explorer," hear music by folk singer Meira Jough and poetry by GAP Award recipient Jeanine Walker and by poet/unionizer Alex Gallo-Brown.

Karen Russell: Orange World and Other Stories
Karen Russell's trademark Americana magical realism and lush prose power her latest collection of stories, Orange World. Though "magical realism" can be a bit of a cuss in certain circles, Russell never relies on pure quirk to stun readers into a stupor. Her characters are real. Her situations are real. The problems her stories tackle are real. It's just that some of them involve peat moss cutters falling in love with petrified bog people. That story, by the way, "Bog Girl: A Romance," is a hilarious and kind of touching critique of our habit of loving the idea of someone rather than actually loving someone, and it's a good place to start in this collection. Other stories involve a mother striking a Faustian deal to protect her child, and a town full of people who auction off artisanal tornadoes. RICH SMITH

Roy Christopher: Dead Precedents
Subtitled How Hip-Hop Defines the Future, this book takes a cyberpunk-influenced approach to analyze the rise of hiphop throughout the world. Hear the author in conversation with The Stranger's own Charles Mudede. 



Meggan Joy: Earthly Delights
See ghostly digital collages made up of hundreds of photographs of animals and plants in an update on Giuseppe Arcimboldo's composite portraits. 
Closing Saturday



The slinky dancers of Pike Place's kitschy cabaret return with another tasty show. Ever wanted to ogle athletic dancers twirling from chandeliers inches from your face? Go. There's also a family-friendly brunch version that you can guiltlessly take your out-of-town relatives to.

Urinetown: The Musical
The themes of scarcity, greed, populism, and capitalism running amok make the triple Tony-winning post-apocalyptic musical Urinetown, with music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis, a perfect satire for our times. This is a co-production with the 5th Avenue Theater.

Love, Chaos, & Dinner
Beloved circus/cabaret/comedy institution Teatro ZinZanni will reboot their successful variety show, which they describe as the "Kit Kat Klub on acid." They promise to fill their spiegeltent with "world-class acrobats, musicians, divas, illusionists, madmen, and aerialists," plus ping-pong-playing comedian Tim Tyler, trapezists Duo Rose, opera singer Kelly Britt, and the Anastasini Brothers, Lady Rizo, and Frank Ferrante. 



Taste of West Seattle 2019
Stuff yourself with offerings from over 40 different restaurants, breweries, wineries, coffee shops, bakeries, chocolatiers, specialty food stores and more at this festival (the largest in West Seattle), which benefits West Seattle Helpline.


Three Sacks Full Restaurant Pop-Up
Three Sacks Full, a sustainable pop-up project dedicated to cooking with wholesome ingredients, will serve up a spring dinner in Ballard with a whole lot of local seasonal vegetables in tow. 


Brad Holden: Seattle Prohibition
When you live in Seattle long enough, at a certain point you need to sit down and read a history that ties together the half-heard stories about vice dens and crooked cops you've pieced together from locals at the bar. Brad Holden's Seattle Prohibition, a slim but dense account of Seattle shortly before, during, and after prohibition, is an excellent place to start. He paints a complex portrait of the era's movers and shakers, as well as the political dynamics at play in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before craft breweries and $14 cocktails took over Seattle, moralists and vice lords clashed on the issue of who got to have fun. Many pioneering Seattleites wanted an open town, where saloons and brothels were legal in certain parts of the city. Others, citing the Bible and being tired of getting beat up by their drunk husbands, wanted a closed town, where saloons and brothels were prohibited. Holden shows how those two broad political stances shaped the city we've come to know and not be able to afford. RICH SMITH

Chia-Chia Lin: The Unpassing
Chia-Chia Lin's debut novel The Unpassing tells the story of an immigrant family from Taiwan who grieves over the death of their youngest child and face adversity in their new home in 1980s rural Alaska. Brian Haman from the New York Times called it "a singularly vast and captivating novel, beautifully written in free-flowing prose that quietly disarms with its intermittent moments of poetic idiosyncrasy." The author will be joined in conversation by Hugo House teacher Alex Madison.

Red May: Down with Work!
Not sure if you've noticed, but work sucks!!! You work too much. While you're dodging bill collectors, your CEO is probably getting paid 100 times more than you—and we all know it's not because he or she is working 100 times harder. Moreover, your free time isn't really "free time" so much as it is time to repair your mind and body so you can do more work. What a dumb way to live. The good news is that other worlds are possible. Philosophers Kathi Weeks, Michael Hardt, Peter Frase, and our very own Charles Mudede are here to present those other worlds for you. Expect an enlivening conversation about universal basic income, socialist futures, raccoons, and all the bullshit in Avengers: Endgame. RICH SMITH

SAL Presents: The Moth Mainstage
Listeners of The Moth know the deal: each storyslammer has a short period of time to tell a compelling story, whether poignant, funny, tragic, or edifying. For this edition, five slammers have worked extensively with the staff of The Moth to develop their tales.

Seattle Area Latino Heritage Survey Talk
The National Park Service, the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation will wrap up their Seattle Area Latino Heritage Survey with talks by project participants Estela Ortega, Maria Ivarra, and Anita Morales. They've examined such topics as the movement of Mexican Americans from the Yakima Valley to the Seattle area, the rise of Latinx entrepreneurs, the UW's Chicano movement, and the origins of El Centro de la Raza and Sea Mar Community Health Centers. This hourlong talk should give you insights into what sounds like a fascinating project.


Greg Lundgren: 1977
Give into your human affinity for shiny things and trippy colors by peering into kaleidoscopes and admiring photographs of kaleidoscopic images by Greg Lundgren. You'll even be able to make your own apparatus!
Closing Thursday



14/48: Nordo – Food Theater Thunderdome V
Four playwrights and chefs with a randomly chosen cast and director create a paired play and four-course dinner with a randomly chosen secret ingredient in this collaboration with the 14/48 Projects. They only have four days to come up with the whole thing. 

Take Me Out
A star outfielder for the "New York Empires" (more Yankees than Mets in appearance) named Darren Lemming comes out of the closet—or, I guess, the locker—in this Tony-winning comedy from Richard Greenberg, put on by Strawberry Theatre Workshop. His straight teammates have a lot to say about it, and they mostly do so while barely covered in towels, a sartorial situation where homophobia and hypocrisy are so often laid bare. Lamar Legend, who has been great in everything I've seen him in, especially in Intiman's production of Barbecue and most recently in Strawshop's production of Everybody, plays Lemming. In addition to being a hilarious exploration of masculinity, the play also offers an opportunity for the audience to take part in a drinking game based on ball puns. How you could pass that up, I do not know. RICH SMITH



Northwest Folklife Festival
The goal of Folklife is noble as heck: “We envision strong communities, united by arts and culture… When people share aspects of their culture, opportunities are created to dissolve misunderstandings, break down stereotypes, and increase respect for one another.” What does this translate to? A gigantic Memorial Day weekend hippie fest full of lovely people dancing, performing world music from “yodeling to beatboxing” and everything in between, serving tasty street food, and leading workshops in arts and crafts. It’s a great, if potentially overwhelming, people-watching experience, plus a great way to see local music. The 2019 spotlight is "Youth Rising."



A Celebration of Indigenous Film and Artists
In partnership with the open-call exhibition yəhaw̓, see short films made by Indigenous artists as a kickoff to SIFF's Indigenous Showcase Weekend. You'll also get to mingle with the filmmakers and guest panelists (such as Paulette Jordan) and eat snacks.


Empanadance Day with Rocky's Empanadas
Stuff your face with traditional stuffed Argentine pastries from Rocky's Empanadas paired with an Argentinian-inspired beer.


Hugo Literary Series: Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert Heinlein's sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land, about a messianic outsider born on Mars who travels to Earth, will inspire the second in the Hugo Literary Series, with excellent writers like National Book Award finalist Domingo Martinez (The Boy Kings of Texas and My Heart Is a Drunken Compass), Terese Mailhot (Heart Berries), and Margaret Malone (People Like You). Folk singer Bryan John Appleby will sing some original tunes.

Kathleen Belew: Bring the War Home
Did you know "a small but driven group of veterans, active-duty personnel, and civilian supporters" got so pissed about the United States leaving Vietnam that they reinvigorated the white power movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led directly to the "alt-right" and other similar terrorist organizations in the US? Historian Kathleen Belew makes the case in Bring the War Home, drawing a direct line from these postwar maniacs to Timothy McVeigh to today's white supremacist shitlords in "the first full history" of the movement. RICH SMITH

Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women #6 at Folklife
The Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women reading series will pop up at Folklife with an all-star lineup of local writers: 2018 Jack Straw Writers Fellow Jalayna Carter, Kate Bernatche, Assembly Literary Open Mic and Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women founder Kate Berwanger, and Tessa Zeng. 



Travessias Brazilian Film Festival
UW Center for Brazilian Studies and curator Emanuella Leite Rodrigues de Moraes will co-present this mini-festival of contemporary women filmmakers from the largest South American country. The films—short, feature-length, animated, documentary, and narrative—explore urgent issues of race, gender, and sexuality. They include the Marília Hughes and Cláudio Marques chosen family drama The City of the Future; the documentary Tr*nny F*g, about the black trans singer Linn de Quebrada; a short film program; and Don't Call Me Son, Anna Muylaert's coming-of-age drama.



Cubes Baking Turns 2 & Tres Lechería Launch Party
Cubes Baking Co. is turning two years old! To celebrate, they'll debut their Tres Lechería, which marries their expanded line of tres leches cakes with a "new bakery experience." Try inventive creations like Tres Leches doughnuts, cold brew, and fruit tarts, customize your own cake at a make-your-own-slice station, and shop for crafts. Plus, snack on tamales from LosTamaahles and Pan Dulce from Comadre Panaderia and sip agua fresca.


Poetry Brunch
Hear from some interesting poets—Erika Brumett, Lin Wilsie, Sameer Bhangar, Shelley Minden, and Steve Sibra—while you linger over a special brunch menu. Hosted by tireless arts event organizer-about-town Kate Berwanger.


Cucci's Critter Barn
Cucci’s Critter Barn is more likely to feature queens lip-synching vaporwave tracks and pouring paint on themselves than anything resembling RuPaul's Drag Race. Last year at Critter Barn, a San Francisco artist named Jader Vision shoved a bottle up a papier-mâché anus they sewed to the lining of their body suit. It was very well received. Expect similar performances from the show’s “Featured EnterTainer” Miss Texas 1988, as well as from a changing round-up of Seattle’s best drag critters; people like Mona Real, Christian Brown, and La Saveona Hunt. CHASE BURNS

For those with a yen for high-end kink, the performers of Valtesse will revel in opulent "couture burlesque, aerial, whips, chains, dance, and doms." Wear black, red, and/or fetish gear to fit in, and stay on after the show for a party by the fireplace.



Fire Sale

From the people who bring you Punk Rock Flea Market, this two-day craft, vintage, and collectible "summer camp market" gives you a good reason to hop on the ferry to Vashon over Memorial Day weekend to buy cool art and sleep under the stars. There will also be live music and a beer garden.