"Danny, King of the Basement"
Seattle U staff help Children's Theatre shine spotlight on family homelessness
Several Seattle University faculty and staff have played a key supporting role for the new play at the Seattle Children's Theatre (SCT), "Danny, King of the Basement," Oct. 18-Nov. 18. The play takes a tough look at a little-known issue: the impact of homelessness on children.
Fine Arts professors Kevin Maifeld and Carol Wolfe Clay, and the Project on Family Homelessness, all worked behind the scenes. Maifeld was instrumental in on the business side of the production, while Clay served as scenic designer.
Additionally, the Project on Family Homelessness, led by Professor Barry Mitzman in the Communication Department's Center for Strategic Communications (CSC), worked with SCT to present community forums in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to support "Danny."
Nationally, an estimated half of those experiencing homelessness are children. Family homelessness affects 26,000 school-age children in Washington state and nearly 3,000 in King County, Mitzman said.
Maifeld had been SCT's managing director before leaving to chair SU's Arts Leadership program. He said SCT had discussed doing the play as far back as 2007 because of its powerful message.
Then in fall 2011, the CSC approached the Children's Theatre about possibly staging a play that could increase public understanding of family homelessness. They discovered that SCT had hoped to bring "Danny" to Seattle. Over the next few months, with the encouragement of its teachers advisory group, SCT was able to build community and funders support for the play, and CSC helped connect the Children's Theatre with its own funders at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. When the theatre's managing director left, Maifeld stepped back in to serve as interim director, and worked to finalize funding for the production, negotiate contracts and more.
Clay, the play's scenic designer, said her job is to create the visual world for the play.
"The play takes place, for the most part, outside... which is where Danny is most comfortable. At the same time, his basement home is a very real and very big part of the play," Clay said. "So, for me the design challenge was to create a 3-dimensional and real looking group of homes on stage, but at the same time leave lots of open space where Danny and Penelope and Angelo could imagine and the story could be told."
Maifeld said "Danny" is a play "that allows the audience to experience the world of family homelessness through the eyes of a child.
"We often read about the issue, but rarely is there an opportunity to really see it from a young person's perspective," he said. "It is also very relevant to our times, as many families have lost their homes due to foreclosures or job losses…these families never imagined that they would ever be homeless. Yet, it tells the story with humor, compassion and hope."
Seattle Children's Theatre, founded in 1975, has gained nationwide acclaim as a leading producer of professional theatre, educational programs and new scripts for young people. Tickets are available at http://www.sct.org/Tickets/Buy/Production/10432.
Catherine Hinrichsen is Family Homelessness program manager in the College of Arts and Sciences.