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IKnowWhyTheCagedBirdSings_2017_ Courtesy John Ulman.jpg
Image courtesy of John Ulman

Seattle theater takes iconic books from page to stage

Not all plays in Seattle come with a huge budget and elaborate sets. There's a theater group in Seattle that's been entertaining audiences for nearly 30 years with their simple, but unique shows. Seattle Refined went behind the scenes, as Book-It Repertory Theatre prepared for their newest play at Seattle Center.

It's probably something you've never seen before. That's because the group writes their own scripts, taking iconic books from the page to the stage.

"It's the feeling of wanting books to come to life. So the way the storytelling happens, it's completely different," explained Malika Oyetimein, Director. " We literally take full passages from the book and see how we make them dialogue, and how we literally make these pages spring to life."

Book-It is in its 28th season. They've done everything from Moby Dick to Pride and Prejudice. And their newest show promises to be powerful. They are showcasing a new adaptation of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

"We were really trying to capture the heart of the book in terms of all of its grittiness, all of its uncomfortable moments," continued Oyetimein.

The emotional story shares Doctor Angelou's wrenching childhood experiences of trauma and racism, and finding her voice through it all. The cast admits it's a tough one.

"For me, I really want people to lean into the parts of the show that make them uncomfortable," said Brennie Tellu, an actor in the show. "And, I want them to examine what it is about that particular part of the show that might make them uncomfortable. Because honestly, that's where the conversation starts. That's where the change starts."

"We're going to present the book the way that it is," continued Oyetimein. "There's a lot of joy, there's a lot of sorrow. There's a lot of rage and there's a lot of pain. And, I want the production to be a roller coaster ride of all of those things and then we see how this amazing woman was birthed."

"I am actually playing Maya, in her 40s right before she wrote the book," said Brennie. "And, it was an interesting time for her because literally, just days before, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on her birthday, and they were friends. So, she had a period of really trying to come out of that. So, it's her at this point trying to figure it out and beginning the process of putting her stories on paper."

The cast and crew hopes it's a show that inspires audiences even after the curtain closes.

"I want them to watch it all. I want them to take it all in," said Oyetimein. "I want them to leave understanding that this was a full woman, and I want them to see all of the parts in her and say, wow, if she can do it, what is inside of me that can make me succeed."

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings runs through October 15 at Book-It Repertory Theatre. For ticket information, click here.