Marathon Month: The Actor’s Challenge

LBJ marathon

Cast of THE GREAT SOCIETY. Photo: Chris Bennion.

The following post was written by Artistic Casting Intern Hattie Andres.

Four years ago, playwright Robert Schenkkan sat down with Seattle Rep leaders and planted the seed for what would turn into one of the largest projects in the theatre’s history. Artistic Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) Bill Rauch had commissioned Schenkkan to write a play about the America’s 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the ambitious playwright was already dreaming of a sequel. As Seattle Rep commissioned that second part, it was decided that although the two plays, All The Way and The Great Society, would have their world premiers at OSF, Seattle would produce both plays together for the first time. Rotating back and forth between two plays is a practice referred to as “performing in repertory,” which Seattle audiences and actors rarely get to experience.

In a typical Seattle Rep show, actors maintain an impressive schedule of eight performances a week. That alone is enough to keep a performer busy; however, the cast of the LBJ plays is pulling double duty, performing eight shows a week but also switching back and forth between Schenkkan’s two separate plays. Throughout the run of the LBJ plays, there are six “marathon days” where the actors perform both All The Way and The Great Society in one day. The ability to pull off this historic feat is the product of a complex and dedicated creative process with the acting company.


From the Dressing Room

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Backstage snap shot!

All the Way and The Great Society are the biggest productions to hit our stages, but just how big is big? Let’s start with the costumes. Our team of over ten Costume Shop staffers includes tailors, drapers, wardrobe supervisors, first hands, a stock manager, a craft artisan, and a wig master. You see their gorgeous products donned onstage, but what you won’t see from the audience is the labor and maintenance that goes into creating a wardrobe fitted to the ambitious scale of the LBJ plays. To get an idea of the work our Costume Shop puts in backstage, check out the numbers below.

Total number of costumes: 200+

Total number of wigs: 40

Total pairs of shoes: 60

Total number of hats: 55 or so

Total number of ties: 60+

Number of quick changes (90 seconds or less):  45 (some are only 25-30 seconds!)

Dry cleaning trips: 1 per week

Hours of labor per day to maintain all costume pieces: 6

  • What exactly goes into maintaining costumes? Costume Department Director Denise Damico explains: “White dress shirts, garments that get blood on them, and undergarments are washed every day. Shirts are also ironed everyday. All suits and women’s wear are steamed and/or pressed most days.  Wigs are maintained daily with restyling and blocking [hanging them on canvas heads known as “wig blocks”]. They are washed, reset and styled weekly, on a rotating basis.”

Amount of vodka used to sanitize costumes: 2-3 cups per week

  • You read that right! Many costume departments, ours included, spray costume pieces that get sweaty with a mixture of vodka and water. “Vodka kills the bacteria that causes body odor, it does not stain and it dries fragrance free,” explained Denise. (If you didn’t already know, dry cleaning does not remove body odor—and it’s hot under those lights!)

There’s your glimpse behind-the-scenes for the week! We’ll continue with this series, featuring a different aspect of the LBJ plays each week. Of course, we couldn’t pull off work on this scale without the generous support of our donors. If you would like to join theatre history-in-the-making with a gift of any size, please go here.

And if you still haven’t seen All the Way or The Great Society, check out our tips for scoring tickets to these nearly sold out plays.

Does Sold Out Really Mean I Can’t Get Tickets?


Hottest ticket 1

Cast of THE GREAT SOCIETY. Photo: Chris Bennion.

The holiday season is filled with stories of shoppers scrambling to get that “it” toy of the season for expectant children.  Here at the Rep, we’re facing our own version of that scenario as we are forced to turn away audience members anxious to catch theatre history-in-the-making on our stages.

So for all you procrastinators (and you know you who are), here are a few tips on how you MIGHT still be able to access tickets to Seattle Rep’s critically acclaimed productions of All the Way and The Great Society.

  1. Embrace the concept of standing room tickets. Standing at your desk is the latest workplace fad hyped for its many health benefits. Strap on your Fitbit and come to the theatre prepared to stand for the duration of the play. We sell a limited number of standing room tickets, day of performance starting at noon.   Standing Room prices range from $17-$32 based on the performance day.
  1. Tuesday is the new Monday. Life is complicated and people’s schedules change. We find the majority of ticket exchanges and no-show notifications hit us on Sunday and Monday. Set a reminder to call us on Tuesday when the box office opens at noon to learn of any new availability.
  1. Call us. Tickets to All the Way are no longer available online and The Great Society is rapidly filling up.  Due to exchanges and no-shows, a limited number of tickets become available daily. Please contact the box office directly at 206-443-2222 for up-to-the-minute ticket information.
  1. Accept that it’s okay to see the sequel. Although playwright Robert Schenkkan’s plays are meant to be companion pieces, they stand alone perfectly. Translation: you don’t have to see All the Way in order to understand the storyline of The Great Society. So go ahead and book tickets to The Great Society while they’re still available.

Six Things You Didn’t Know About the LBJ Plays’ Cast


Cast of ALL THE WAY. Photo: Chris Bennion.

Last Tuesday we hosted Stage Voices, the only cast talkback of the All the Way and The Great Society run. If you missed the event, here are the top six things the actors told us that you may not already know about them.

  1. Bakesta King shares a birthday with Fannie Lou Hamer (October 6, if you’re wondering). Bakesta plays Hamer in All the Way, Coretta Scott King in both plays, and Sally Childress in The Great Society. “The more I got to know them, the more I saw myself in them,” she said of her characters.
  1. During casting for the 2012 production of All the Way at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Peter Frechette told Director Bill Rauch that he wanted to play Hubert Humphrey but knew he could never land the part because of his physicality. To Peter’s surprise he got the part anyway. (And he’s killer at it!)
  1. Abdul Salaam El Razzac (Roy Wilkins) witnessed the events of the LBJ plays “from another side. Johnson was my commander-in-chief. When I came back from the war I regarded all these people [in the plays] as fallen heroes. Through the plays I have a new respect for them.” Talk about life onstage.
  1. Kenajuan Bentley has become a more spiritual person after getting to know his character, Martin Luther King Jr. He says a ritual prayer before each show now, something he never used to do.
  1. Roughly half the cast has been a company member at Oregon Shakespeare Festival for over 20 years and with All the Way since 2012. (And there are several veteran Seattle-based actors who are new to the plays: Michael Winters and Reginald Andre Jackson, to name two.)
  1. Playwright Robert Schenkkan started his career as an actor. You may have even seen him on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”!

There’s your dose of inside dish for the week. All the Way and The Great Society run through January 4, 2014. Look out for more juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits!

What Did You Think of The Great Society?

What goes up

Pictured: Jack Willis. Photo: Chris Bennion.

We want to know! What did you think of The Great Society, the companion play to All the Way?

Speak the Speech

Speak the Speech

Speak! Pictured: Jack WIllis. Photo: Chris Bennion.

The following post was writing by Artistic Literary Intern Eric Werner.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” “I have a dream.” “The Great Society.” These words still reverberate in our consciousness and echo in today’s political vernacular— not to mention American Civics classes. MLK, JFK, LBJ, some of the greatest speech makers in recent history gave their most memorable speeches in the 60s, a decade dense with oration and acclaimed three-letter notables.

Of course, behind every great speech is a great speechwriter—in politics, usually a staff member of the president. Many Americans are familiar with the popular image of Abraham Lincoln composing the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope on the train ride to Gettysburg (which may or may not be historically corroborated), but few people realize that even in the days of the very first president, our boy George was receiving some literary assistance from the likes of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. It wasn’t until 1921, however, that the position was officially recognized in the cabinet of Warren G. Harding, and Judson C. Welliver became the nation’s first “Literary Clerk” to the President.

Fast forward to November 27, 1963—or to the first ten minutes of All The Way. LBJ has been sworn in as President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and needs to make a public address to the nation. Johnson first turns to Ted Sorenson, Kennedy’s longtime friend and speechwriter. Still so close to the trauma of losing Kennedy, Sorenson’s speech was too timid for Johnson. He brings on Horace Busby, who quickly drafts the now famous “Let Us Continue” speech featured in All The Way.


LBJ and MLK: Connected in life and death



MLK and LBJ in the White House.

The following post was written by David Domke, professor and chair for the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. Domke studies political leadership, news coverage, and social change, with particular interest in the dynamics of post-9/11 America. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. are intertwined in American history. We can’t understand the impact of one of them on US politics and society without recognizing the contribution of the other.

That’s why they are the focal points of All the Way and The Great Society, showing at the Rep through early January. And that’s why they are the centerpieces of a lecture series I am doing in January and February, titled Marching to Selma: How MLK, LBJ, and the Civil Rights Movement Changed the World. The plays and lectures will lead us to the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches.

On the one hand LBJ and MLK were contrasts. LBJ was born dirt poor in the hill country of Texas, west of Austin, as the son of a politician and went to college at Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College. MLK was born into relative comfort in Atlanta, the son of a revered minister, and went to prestigious Morehouse College and eventually earned his PhD at Boston University. LBJ sought power and upon achieving it gained a platform to help disenfranchised people; MLK sought to elevate the disenfranchised and as a result gained a platform of great power and influence. Most importantly for their era, one was white and one was black.