Do you have any specific inspirations for the format of Triggering Town Review? An elementary school variety show? The Osmond Show?
Both of those, of course, as well as the Nature Theater of Oklahoma from the end of Kafa's Amerika. What I originally proposed to Tree Swenson, the executive director of Hugo House, was a weekly live show, a variety show in the sense that it showcases many talents in a loose frame. She wisely suggested that we do one show instead, which was an improvement on the idea. Perhaps if it goes well this weekend we'll put together future Triggering Town Reviews periodically. It's like putting together a book of poems, sorting through the imagination to find ideas and stories and feelings that counter and compliment each other, corralling the idle and restless mind towards a temporary understanding. But not as boring as that makes it sounds. I like the rigor of a performance, the give and take with an audience, the pacing, the physical human dimension of it. I hope the show captures the agility and delight of conversation with cast members like Sarah Galvin and Willie Fitzgerald, that it makes the impression on the audience that these smart and creative minds make in real life. So basically the Osmonds.
You've assembled an eclectic mix of talent for the lineup. How did you choose the performers? How did you ask the people you selected?
I asked some of the smartest and funniest people I knew in Seattle if they had the inclination or spare time to collaborate on some kind of performance, and enough said yes to put the show together. Having mostly finished a third book of poems, and being 40 and having a kid, I wanted to learn some other ways of writing and making art, what it was like to collaborate, to see up close how other people work with their imaginations. I asked some peers like Jane Wong and Eddie Kim and some good writers just out of college or grad school like Sasha LaPointe and Emily Stoner. Younger and older, struggling and comfortable, avant garde and conventional. Some are close friends, like Kary Wayson and Sam Watts, but others are just writers and performers I admired but didn't know, like the playwright Spike Friedman and the stand-up comedian Brett Hamil. Sam Watts and I started in January, very slowly, working up some general gestures and motifs and rules, and then we spent a few months of evenings getting together with different groups of writers at the Hairstream hair salon in Stumbletown and trying to crack each other up. I wrote it all down, and sifted it all into a script which we've been woodshedding for a few months. Sam asked some of his musician friends and we ended up with two of my favorite singer/songwriters in town, Kevin Murphy and Jon Pontrello, of The Moondoggies, doing individual sets in addition to Sam's outfit, Ghosts I've Met.
Rich Smith edited the physical program, which sounds like it's going to be an anthology of sorts including the new material for the show. Did the book and the show develop side-by-side? Did the one influence the other?
The program, which will be Triggering Town Review Issue 1, is a guide to the show. It contains some of the best writing for the show, some excellent bits which had to be cut, and good reproductions of three maps we commissioned from the cartoonist Owen Curtsinger, which form a kind of conceptual spine for the show—a map of "forgetting and remembering," a map of the "Seattle freeze," and a map of "figs and shame" which purports to pinpoint the locations of Seattle's fig trees and places of shame—swamps of uncomfortable sexual encounters, seminal reservoirs, places to rent stand-up paddleboards, etc. The program has been a safety valve, knowing that what we had to cut would have a second life in the program.
Promotional material indicates that this show has no theme, but the name obviously comes from Richard Hugo. Did Hugo influence the show at all, or is a name just a name?
The name is a tribute to Hugo and to his essay, "The Triggering Town," which is a powerful and useful statement about making art and, to me, an ethics of writing and playing with others: "When you are honest to your feelings," he writes, "that triggering town chooses you," meaning, partly, the outer subject of your work will be guided by your inner life, if you can listen to yourself. That principle has guided me through this process—as corny as the show might turn out to be, it's a fairly sincere emanation of the lives and relationships of the people involved.
What we've found is that the show does have a theme, or a field of reference—the changes happening to Seattle, and how they cause changes in our own lives—the tearing down and rebuilding, the destruction of points of reference and context, the tenuous feeling that most people I know are experiencing right now. The inner life of Seattle is the Triggering Town.