Freehold teaches the art of theater to all who seek it

Sep 18, 2011

Twenty years ago, a group of like-minded theater folk felt there was something missing in Seattle. There wasn't a lab where actors could take classes and try out new things.

"In New York, people work all the time," says Robin Lynn Smith. "In Los Angeles, you study when you’re not working. Here we wanted to have an opportunity for people to have that option to keep challenging themselves to go further. And then for creating work, we needed a place for experimentation."

So Smith teamed up with John Billingsley, Mark Jenkins, George Lewis, Tony Pasqualini and Ben Rankin and founded Freehold Theatre. Its name comes from a Gaelic word that means "the right to own something because of the work you put into it."

Freehold, now operating out of a space in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood and caters to professionals as well as a wide-range of novices.

"People come in and really experience the practice of acting or writing or directing," Smith says.

Lab and studio and mixed

Truck drivers as well as hi-tech workers have come here to take acting, playwriting and improv classes.

There's also a class in combat fighting and clown work. As well as conservatory-level acting classes.

"I've been hearing about Freehold for a while and I said, 'I've got to get here,'" says Ashanti Mangum, 29, a singer/dancer/actress who sat in a Playwriting 101 class recently.

Each year, Freehold offers an Open House so the public can sample some of its classes for free. It is both lab and studio and it's helped launch the careers of theater pros.

First-time playwright

In August, it helped aspiring playwrights hone their work in its New Play Lab. Among those who participated was Malika Lee, 32, a former finance worker who quit her job to follow her creative passion. (She works as a security guard at a Seattle hospital in order to pay the bills).

At Freehold, Lee developed a play based on the story of her aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's called "The Purification Process" and as part of her work at Freehold, Lee helped cast and produce a 20-minute excerpt performed recently as part of the New Play Lab showcase.

Erin Kraft directed the work.

It was the first time Lee got to hear and see her words performed in front of an audience, who responded and gave feedback to all four playwrights (Ann Eisenberg, Scott Maddock and Bridget A. Natale) at the end of the night.

The first question posed by an audience member to Lee: When will the entire play be performed? Lee says she's hoping to finish writing the play by the end of this year.

Freehold is also throwing its 20th Anniversary Bash on Sept. 24.

Artscape” is a weekly KPLU feature covering Northwest art, performances and artists. The feature is published here on Sundays and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Monday during Morning Edition, All Things Considered and on Weekend Saturday Edition