Lost in the Museum

Rehearsals for The Great Inconvenience start in less than a week. It is now a very different play than the play I started writing a year ago. The synopsis in the post below this one is now utterly obsolete. It's been a journey. It is a journey. I'm grateful to be on the journey with some incredible fellow travelers, including my light and my rock, Erin Kraft, and the most stunning cast (I can't tell you who they are yet, but trust me: they will stun you.)

Here's what it is now. We think.

2050. Somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. A scrappy group of historical re-enactors—orphans of our next civil war—have formed a chosen family. Abandoned by a government that no longer pretends to serve any but the rich, their survival gig is helping to whitewash some of the worst atrocities in American history for audiences of wealthy schoolchildren. When an unexpected visitor starts camping out in their dioramas, portending a new and growing danger, they’re forced to face their own histories, and contend with the revelation that the woman they all work for is much more than just their boss. From playwright Holly Arsenault and director Erin Kraft, the team that created Annex’s 2013 hit, Undo (Gregory Award, Gypsy Rose Lee Award), a new story about families, histories, and nations lost and found.

We open July 27th! Come see.




Back to Annex!

 Graphic design by Corinne Magin

Graphic design by Corinne Magin

BIG NEWS! I am so proud to share that Annex Theatre has commissioned a brand new play from me, and I have tricked the brilliant (master) director Erin Kraft to come home from Chicago and direct it. This will be my first full-length, non-reading, full production in Seattle since UNDO...that's not a children's play...okay, it seemed like a bigger deal before I started writing that sentence. 

It's called The Great Inconvenience and it's coming July, 2018. 


written by Holly Arsenault, directed by Erin Kraft
Summer Mainstage: July 27—August 18 Thur-Sat at 7:30 pm

A true story you’ve never heard about the catastrophic cruelty of deportation and the supernatural awesomeness of love. In 1755, a pregnant young woman and her family evade deportation by hiding in the deep woods of a remote island, where they survive for nine years. 250 years later, a pair of lovers, separated by war, attempts to reunite against the backdrop of a second deportation. Part historical drama, part futuristic dystopiana, and part romantic comedy, The Great Inconvenience is a mostly-imagined-but-partly-true love story about enemies and secrets and power and faith and survival.

Here is the official announcement. I have to go read things now. xoxox




American Archipelago

I am so honored to be one of the eight writers invited to collaborate on the script for Pony World Theatre's upcoming show, American Archipelago. The list of writers is a dream team of Seattle playwriting talent: Kelleen C. Blanchard, Tré Calhoun, Vincent Delaney, Brendan Healy, Maggie Lee, Sara Porkalob, and Seayoung Yim.

The show is being directed by my day job compatriot Bobbin Ramsey, and the show stars Rebecca Goldberg, Kenna Kettrick, John Leith, Corinne Magin, Shermona Mitchell, Craig Peterson, Carter Rodriquez, and Bob Williams. 

July 27 - August 12 at 12th Avenue Arts. (1620 12th Ave, Seattle)
Thursdays - Saturdays at 8:00pm
Plus PWYC Monday July 31 and Monday August 7
Tickets here



The Octavia: A Post-Electric Play

[NOTE: I wrote this essay for the Summer 2017 issue of The Dramatist magazine, and I am grateful to the Dramatists Guild for the opportunity. Click here to read the print version.]

 Here is a photo taken with my cell phone of Porscha Shaw reading her script by cell phone light. Cell phones! Here to stay.

Here is a photo taken with my cell phone of Porscha Shaw reading her script by cell phone light. Cell phones! Here to stay.

The power was out. We were one hour—not even one hour—into what would ultimately be a ten-hour reading of Anne Washburn’s epic-in-process, The Octavia. The University of Washington School of Drama, where I work, had been building anticipation for this day for months. Anne and her director, Ken Rus Schmoll, had spent the last quarter with an inexhaustible team of professional actors and graduate students, slowly, deliberately delaminating the story of this play from the story of the original Octavia from the story of the real life Nero.

Seattle is a weirdly literature-obsessed city. The reading was a hot ticket. It was literal front page news in the Seattle Times. Anne had told me she’d be satisfied if five or ten people came. But up here in the far left corner of the country, in the darkest part of of our long, gray winter, about 80 people showed up to spend a day together sitting in a room listening to these words. And then the power went out.

This little essay will not be about Anne’s stunning play or the fine actors who embodied it, because I watched very little of it. My day became about power—not the Nero kind, the electric kind. Our production manager and I ran around the building gathering every flashlight we could find and ran them out to the actors as their cell phone lights gave out. They kept going. We fed the audience coffee. They leaned forward to see or backward to shut their eyes and listen. The power stayed out.

Mid-day, seeking natural light, we switched venues. Not only did the audience trek across campus in the rain to stay with the story, they carried coffee pots and bagels and music stands. They shared umbrellas. The substitute venue was light-filled, but the cacophony of rain on its roof made it untenable for the reading. We all trekked back to the theatre (coffee pots and all).

At the evening break, audience and actors came into the lobby wrapped in jackets and scarves, red-nosed and sniffly. The power had come back on, but the heat had not. We fed them wine. It was about 7:30 PM—the hour when most theatre starts; we were into hour eight. The audience was tired and buzzed, stiff-backed and limp-necked, yawning and touching their calves to keep awake, but deeply deeply “in it.”

When they went back in for the final chapter, my work done, I laid on the lobby floor, wired and exhausted, straining to hear but afraid of disrupting whatever sacred thing was happening in there, until I realized that was stupid and went in.

It was riveting. This was hour… ten? The audience, distributed around all four sides of the arena stage, formed an energetic web, strong and tensile, knit together through hours of sitting and listening and drifting and deeply attending to this work, that seemed to hold the space and the performers together. They were present.

I am a playwright who makes her living thinking about audiences. I love audiences (and sometimes I hate them). I’m curious about audiences. I care about them. I believe in them. I have said the phrase “attendance” in reference to audiences probably hundreds of time in the last decade, but I maybe haven’t thought as carefully about that verb, “to attend,” as I should have. I have never seen an audience minister to, devote themselves to, attend to a work of art the way that audience did that day at The Octavia. I was—and I am—inspired.



Reading 'Marvelous' for cupcakes

Live Girls! Theater--where I was born as a playwright--is producing a reading of my kids play, Marvelous, at the Pocket Theatre on Easter Sunday (3/27) at 2:00 PM as part of their Spring Cupcake Reading series. 

The fabulous Carol Roscoe directs, and the cast includes John Stutzman, Meghan Dolby, Carol Louise Thompson, Michael Feldman, the one and only Rebecca M Davis, and Jose Amador as Sal, the educated pig. It's free! You should come!

Set in a Depression-era circus in the deep south, "Marvelous" is the story of a young girl named Gertie's quest to rescue her best friend Kai from the clutches of the evil Snow Queen. She is helped along the way by a host of talking animals, a frightening snake charmer, a robber kid, and the world's tiniest ringmaster, Little Angeletti. In the end, she learns that even the most "unmagical" among us can make a difference in the world.

"Marvelous" is an original adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," commissioned by The Drama School at Seattle Children's Theatre in 2014.

(P.S. The Cupcake Spring Readings also include plays by Courtney Meaker,Zoey Cane Belyea, Elizabeth Heffron, teen playwrights from the YPP, and other fantastic ladies. Check out the whole series!)