Book-It Repertory Theatre was founded by a group of theatre artists who love to read and are passionate about literacy. Recognizing the immense wealth of story, character and language that exists in classic and contemporary literature, these artists wanted to create opportunities for audiences and fellow artists to experience theatre through imaginative stagings of written narrative. By creating theatre exclusively from literature, Book-It strives to inspire the love of reading through a live, communal experience. From its early beginnings as a collective of artists experimenting in a workshop setting, to its current day as one of Seattle’s most thriving, unique theatres with over 1,600 subscribers, Book-It’s main purpose has always been to bring literature to life on stage, and inspire people to read.
Book-It believes that great books make great theatre. Witnessing compelling theatrical adaptations of our diverse culture’s most significant stories gives individuals the tools to engage imaginatively, creatively and empathetically with the world around them, thereby laying the foundation for a healthy, happy and compassionate community.
Book-It has collaborated with a wide variety of community organizations. We tour stories to Seattle Public and King County Libraries for Read Aloud and Teen Read months. We have produced at ACT Theatre, INTIMAN Theatre, Seattle Art Museum, KUOW 94.9 FM, Town Hall, Center House Theatre, Freehold, North Seattle Community College, Cornish College for the Arts, Northwest Asian American Theatre, Hugo House, On the Boards, and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Book-It’s work has been seen in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Albuquerque, Colorado, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York City. Our educational outreach program, Book-It All Over offers long-term residencies at public schools throughout King County, and is partnering with Seattle Rep, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Seattle Shakespeare Company to provide teacher training and bring theatre into the classroom.
How Book-It Got Started
Book-It Repertory Theatre’s history begins in 1986, when Co-Artistic Director Jane Jones led the 29th Street Project in New York City, an artistic collective that comprised graduates and company members from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, to experiment with performing short stories for the stage.
After moving to Seattle in 1987, Jane Jones, Tony Pasqualini, Mark Jenkins, Robyn Smith, and Sarah Brooke, among others, formed The Collective at the Pasqualini/Smith acting studio in a three-story walk-up on Pine Street in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Myra Platt, Book-It’s future Co-Artistic Director, joined The Collective in 1988. Members of The Collective began to experiment with the concept of Book-It by adapting literature into theatre. The only rules to produce a Book-It piece were that it must be literature and there could be no editing or playwriting. For the next several years, the company would hold free, monthly public performances of short stories in the Book-It Style™.
Making it Official
The Collective soon evolved into Book-It: A Performing Arts Company and in 1990, Book-It incorporated as a 501©3 organization, established its first Board of Directors and along with the Pasqualini/Smith Studio, moved to the Oddfellows Hall. Meanwhile, Book-It company members John Billingsley, Tony Pasqualini, and Mark Jenkins co-founded the (then) Capitol Hill acting studio Freehold. That season, Book-It performed seven short stories in Seattle’s second Fringe Festival, winning Best of Fest and began touring to community centers, schools, and libraries.
Book-It members continued to explore and develop techniques for adapting literature and holding in-house performances for the next several years. For the 1990–91 season, Book-It’s first annual budget was $10,750. It had a total of 60 actors and directors in the company, paying dues, and had performed nearly 100 short stories for the public. 1992–93; the Book-It audience kept growing along with its repertoire of stories. The company began to receive more and more requests from schools and libraries along with opportunities for grants to fund the company ability to tour. Book-It was invited to tour stories throughout the King County Library System, a tradition that would evolve into Book-It’s current education and outreach program, Book-It All Over, formalized by Myra Platt in 1996, and developed by then Education Director Gail Frasier.
A First Home
As Book-It’s audiences and programming continued to grow, together company members and the Board formed a Committee to research the future leadership structure of the organization. The company requested and voted on a Co-Artistic Directorship to lead the company. In 1994, Myra Platt and Jane Jones became Book-It’s first co-artistic directors and the following year, Book-It established its first home by renovating a 50-seat black-box theatre on 1219 Westlake Avenue North. For its first subscription season in the new space, Book-It had 39 subscribers and an annual budget of $64,200, and the Company received high artistic praise from local reviewers for its innovative and polished productions.
The 1996–1997 season achieved several milestones for Book-It. Following a collaboration between Jane Jones, Tom Hulce and Peter Parnell to adapt John Irving’s novel The Cider House Rules in the Book-It Style™, the show premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre (co-directed by Jane and Tom Hulce). Although Book-It did not produce The Cider House Rules, it starred many Book-It company members, (including Myra Platt, Dougald Park, Sarah Brooke, Stephanie Shine, Michael Winters, Jayne Tahini, and Tom Beyer) and again, featured Book-It’s unique approach to adapting literature. Book-It produced Owen Meany’s Christmas Pageant, from John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, which became Book-It’s holiday standard for the next seven years. Meanwhile, Book-It’s production of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence received rave reviews and gained broad attention of Seattle theatergoers. This same year, Book-It received the first ever Stabilization Grant from Don Johnson and the Kreielsheimer Foundation to hire a full-time managing director.
Building upon this success, Book-It continued to stabilize through increased fundraising and a small, growing paid staff. It established a collaboration with ACT Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre, performing Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the Allen Arena and Cowboys Are My Weakness in the PONCHO Forum. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was then produced at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Los Angeles, and enjoyed a successful run in the Washington, D.C. area. Myra’s production of Cowboys Are My Weakness was invited to perform at the Telluride Playwright Festival. Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago commissioned Jane to adapt In A Shallow Grave for their New Play Workshop. And as Seattle Rep’s production of The Cider House Rules moved to Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, the Book-It Style™ was introduced on a national scale.
The Seattle Center
With a growing subscription base, up from 39 to 434 in 2000, Book-It outgrew its Westlake venue and, with community support from Corporate Council for the Arts, Theatre Puget Sound and Seattle Center, the company moved its administrative offices to the Seattle Center House.
In 2009, Book-It has nearly 1,600 loyal subscribers and a staff of 15 along with an intern program. Our main stage season offers an annual 4– or 5-play subscription, and Book-It All Over tours curriculum-based stories to schools and libraries throughout Washington State. In addition to touring, Book-It All Over offers long-term residencies (2 weeks-7 months) at schools. We annually serve more than 77,000 people through our mainstage and educational programs.
Book-It has produced more than 60 world premiere adaptations of literature, presenting and forming relationships with many great living authors including Anne Tyler, John Irving, Tom Robbins, Amy Bloom, David Guterson, Maya Angelou, Jim Lynch, Stephanie Kallos, Pam Houston, Isabel Allende, Jonathan Raban, and Dinaw Mengestu. By the end of the 2008–2009 season, Book-It’s educational arm, Book-It All Over, will have toured to over 1,700 schools, libraries and community centers to date throughout Washington, and newly added tours of mainstage productions will take Book-It’s message farther afield each season. Children book authors include Daniel Pinkwater, Jon Scieszka, Patricia Palacco, Eleanor Coerr, Won-Ldy Paye, Patricia McKissak, Lois Lowry, and Francisco Jimenez.
Book-It’s national reputation continues to grow with our adaptations being performed in theatres across the country, most recently including Minnesota Children’s Theatre, Portland Center Stage, and upcoming at Theatreworks in Los Angeles.
We know literacy is a multi-dimensional enhancement to life, yet we also know that functional illiteracy is a fundamental obstacle for one third of adults in Washington State. Over the 20 years of our history, we have built a devoted audience of people who love to read, but as importantly, we have drawn in people who do not or cannot read, and who leave a performance wanting and needing to change that fact.
Over the past 20+ years, the company has worked hard to balance supporting artistic risk with a conservative fiscal philosophy and responsible stewardship of our resources. We look back with a sense of triumph and pride for all that we have accomplished and we look forward with a great desire to further challenge ourselves, our artists, and our audiences with the Book-It Style™. The company commits itself daily to listening to the community’s passion for literature, carefully selecting authors for their unique voice and exceptional accomplishment , and for their works’ potential to fulfill our mission.