13 for '13
1:00 am
Sun December 8, 2013

Holly Arsenault: The Playwright Who Draws Teens To Art

Holly Arsenault, executive director of TeenTix, poses at the Seattle Center with her students Katelyn Hallstead (behind, from left) Audryhanna Alaalatoa-Lematua, Coco Allred, Indy Bungiranto, Karissa Lam and Siena Jeakle.
Credit Seattle Times Photo/Erika Schultz

It's a sunny Sunday afternoon, the kind of late autumn day made for raking leaves, or watching the Seahawks annihilate yet another challenger.

But on this particular Sunday, some people have opted to stay indoors. A long line snakes through the lobby at McCaw Hall in downtown Seattle. They're patiently waiting to buy tickets to Pacific Northwest Ballet's matinee performance. One regular says he's never seen such a long line. What's even more remarkable, at least half of those waiting appear to be teenagers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Managing Director David Brown is in the lobby, schmoozing those in line.

"This is what we like to see!" Brown says.

Bradley and Angela, siblings from the Tri-Cities, are taking advantage of TeenTix, a program the Seattle Center started a decade ago to encourage younger patrons to attend arts events. Participating arts groups offer teens $5 tickets on the day of the performance. On Sundays, teens can bring an adult for just $10.

"We came with our dance teacher," Angela says. "It was nice, since we have to drive so far."

Almost 50 arts groups in the Puget Sound region participate in TeenTix. Pacific Northwest Balley Artistic Director Peter Boal says the TeenTix mission dovetails perfectly with the company's goal of expanding younger audiences.

"That group, in four years, has grown 44 percent," Boal says. "Who can say that, except for the Disney Channel?"

That's music to Holly Arsenault's ears. Arsenault is the executive director and driving force behind TeenTix. Arsenault says more than 45,000 teens have used the program since it started in 2004. This year she expects members will buy about 10,000 tickets at venues from Pacific Northwest Ballet to a newer participant, the Edmonds Center for the Performing Arts.

TeenTix started as a Seattle Center pilot project, with the goal of developing young audiences for the center's resident arts organizations. Now, in addition to working with local arts groups, TeenTix runs critics' workshops, and has offered short-term programs aimed at helping teens find ways to talk about contemporary art. In 2014, TeenTix will become an official independent organization, although it will still be housed at Seattle Center.

Arsenault is one of two full-time paid TeenTix employees. The organization is a passion for her, but it's not her sole focus. The 34-year-old is also a wife, mother of a toddler and a produced playwright.

Her first full-length play, "Undo," premiered in January at Seattle's Annex Theatre. It was subsequently nominated for the American Theatre Critics' Association New Play Award. "Undo" also won Arsenault Seattle's Gregory Award from Theatre Puget Sound for Best New Play.

This fall, Holly Arsenault was one of five playwrights chosen from more than 80 applicants to participate in Seattle Repertory Theatre's Writer's Group. Seattle Rep Associate Artistic Director Braden Abraham says that in the past few years, Arsenault has shown her devotion to writing plays.

"I think we're always looking for writers that are dedicated to the craft, that it's something they want to pursue," Abraham says. "Holly's shrewdness and her compassion, her insight is really remarkable for someone who is a younger writer."

Arsenault is still uncomfortable with the dual identity of artist and arts administrator.

"There are definitely points in my career as an administrator that people have encouraged me to jettison the artist piece," she says. And she acknowledges that she has a knack for administration. But "right now is the first time I'm sort of coming back, saying, actually, there is this other part of me, and I think there might be something there of value."

Arsenault will spend two years working with Braden Abraham and the other playwrights in the Writers' Group. In the meantime she's shepherding TeenTix to independence. Ironically, Arsenault says she's been more productive since her son was born. She says adapting to his schedule has imposed an external discipline, an organization she lacked.

"I wasn't a person who could make myself sit down and write,” she said. “I am a champion procrastinator. Having a child has made the other work possible."

Holly Arsenault says she's got no time to waste these days. By day, she's looking for money to grow TeenTix, and to fund new programs to help young audiences appreciate the arts. At night, after her son has gone to bed, Arsenault fires up her laptop to get a little of her own writing done. She's not ready to abandon TeenTix for writing, or vice versa. So for now, she's getting used to wearing two hats. 

"We'll talk in five years," she laughs.