Seema Sueko joined the Pasadena Playhouse as associate artistic director this past January, and for her directorial debut she made a gusty call by directing a run of the play "Stop Kiss."
The play tells the story of a blossoming friendship-turned-romance between two women, and the ways their relationship changes after one of the women is viciously beaten as part of a hate crime.
When Sueko dropped by The Frame studios, we asked her about her expectations for the Playhouse's run of "Stop Kiss," how to create a relationship with the community, and the love story at the core of the play.
How big of a gamble was it to make your first production "Stop Kiss?"
The play itself is not a risky play. It's a beautiful love story, and what's been wonderful to experience have been the audiences who, regardless of sexual identity, have come up to me after the play and have spoken about how much it reminds them of their own discovery of love, knowing when it was the right love.
So on one hand, we did want to be prepared; in our promotional materials we did want to be clear that, at its core, this is a love story between two women. We were bracing for some push-back, but we've been wonderfully surprised that there hasn't been.
There are a lot of big theater companies in town. Where do you see the Playhouse's identity fitting in to the larger theatrical community?
Theatrical diversity is a core value of our company and I think people can count on that, not only with what's on stage but also in our audiences. It's been a great joy for me to stand in the courtyard and see the diversity of the individuals coming to the play.
Do you have a strategy for retaining those new audience members, or for generating new types of audience members? Are there any theaters around the country that are especially making progress on that front?
We do have a strategy and a methodology that we call "consensus organizing for theater," and it's a type of community organizing where, at its core, it's about servicing mutual self-interest between the theater and a diversity of communities — building stake in those community and those communities building stake back in the theater.
So what we did for this season was hire community organizers for each production. Alison De La Cruz is our community organizer on "Stop Kiss," and she's been highly effective at engaging new audiences who are drawn to the themes of this particular play, and then welcoming them to the Pasadena Playhouse. But part of our "consensus organizing" methodology is maintaining that relationship; build stake in them while they build stake in us.
If "Stop Kiss" is actually pushing audiences into places that they haven't typically been, would it be okay if some people are a little bit uncomfortable watching this play?
Absolutely. I think people should have whatever reaction they naturally have. I don't think there's any right or wrong; every person's response is their own. What's been really wonderful about interacting with the audiences who have seen this play is that many of them have expressed to me how much they have actually felt empathy for the characters and reflection of themselves in the characters, I think much to their surprise. The unfolding of a love story, discovering new love, and discovering your own voice and courage to figure out what you want and pursue it — that's a universal discover that hopefully we all make.
"Stop Kiss" is at the Pasadena Playhouse through November 30.