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Keeping it small but regal at West of Lenin

Schneider's latest work explores the stories that families tell themselves.
Schneider's latest work explores the stories that families tell themselves.
Royal Blood cast, photo by Keeara Rhoades

Sonya Schneider took the types of stories that all families share and wove them into a new work now playing at the tiny West of Lenin black box theater.

Directed by Laurel Pilar Garcia, Royal Blood features Todd Jefferson Moore, Amy Love, Mari Nelson, Nicole Merat and David Hsieh. As the members of family bound by tales that it descends from royalty, the cast explores how a family’s stories can both bind and liberate them.

Schneider’s previous works have been seen at Seattle's Little Theatre and Intiman Theatre. In 2011, Royal Blood received a reading as part of the Northwest Playwrights' Alliance workshop series at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Then Schneider and her husband, Stuart Nagae, decided to produce the work at West of Lenin, 203 N 36th St, (the space takes it name from the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin in Fremont).

Why go the route of producing your own work?
Seattle is a blessed place to live if you’re a playwright. It is coursing with talent – from actors to designers to directors and playwrights. I can’t speak for other playwrights, because each of us has a unique challenge and varying degrees of success. What I can say is that for me, the biggest obstacle is finding producing theaters willing to take risks on my work. It can be discouraging, but after a while, I’ve had to say, “OK, I need to see my work on stage. I can’t grow as a playwright without experiencing that side of the process. So, if others aren’t willing to do it, then I will.” And the best part is, we can bring together such formidable talent and still keep it small.

How did you happen to pick Fremont’s West of Lenin for your premiere?
West of Lenin came as a suggestion from a theater colleague. The venue is beautiful and intimate, and is very flexible in terms of configuration. We also loved that we could rehearse in their studio. It’s the kind of space you’re happy to be inside of, creating. I think AJ and the folks running West of Lenin are doing something terrific and I hope it only gains momentum within the greater Seattle theater scene.

Would you change anything if you moved it to a larger venue?
When I write a play, I don’t think about how big the venue is. I let the world of the play drive its circumstances. I won’t lie, I can picture Royal Blood spilling onto a larger space, but I love how Laurel and Jen (Zeyl, production designer) have taken the space and made it work for the play. They’ve made really smart choices that serve the story. For this production, it’s perfect.

You propose that every family has a story or myth that makes them feel special. What’s the royal blood in a family that you’ve observed that inspired this play?
The play’s patriarch is inspired by my grandfather, who always took plenty of confidence from the fact that he came from a long line of strong German stock. The irony was he never really had a connection to his German heritage, he was about as Midwestern as one could imagine. He was a powerful man, an unkind man, a loving man, a tragic man. I saw him look down at others from a place of superiority, but I also witnessed his capacity for love.

So are family stories good or bad?
I see the benefit of creating myths, certainly, and of relying on our past to give us identity and purpose. I also see the deep flaw in it, because in our attempt to hold ourselves to our story, there is often little or no room for the truth.

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Royal Blood opened this week and continues through April 4 at West of Lenin. For more information, check out the website.