Prolific local playwright Maggie Lee has been featured in these pages numerous times, and when we last were in touch in May 2022, Lee was working on a new musical with The 5th Avenue Theatre. Now, she’s partnering again with Seattle Public Theater (SPT) on a new work entitled Once More, Just For You.
The play centers on Rae, who has invented a time machine in order to go back in time to change just one thing in her past. “Like all good science fiction, it’s also about deeper human questions,” Lee said. “I feel like all time travel stories are ultimately about regret, because why else would anyone feel the need to go back and change things?”
But altering history gets complicated by the other people involved. “You can’t really make anyone do anything, even when you know for a fact that their current path is headed toward tragedy,” Lee acknowledged. “So if you love them, can you just accept that and let them fall off a cliff?”
The play has been in development for many months and had its first workshop reading at Macha Theatre Works’ Distillery Festival in April 2023.
“I was more nervous than usual about the reading because it’s a bit different from my usual writing style,” Lee recalled. “I tend to write big action-adventure epics with large casts, and even though this play still has fantastical elements and a lot of geeky humor, it’s a very intimate, three-character story.”
The show’s director, Amy Poisson, who is also Producing Artistic Director of Seattle Public Theater, has been in step with Lee’s writing focus. “It is a very kind of quiet personal story,” Poisson described. “So we want to balance the large-scale production of having a time machine, while also elevating and highlighting the beautiful core story the time machine helps us understand.”
The Distillery Festival workshop’s success was great news for Poisson. “The goal was to get the show ready for production,” Poisson said. “We are thrilled that we can bring Maggie’s work to a larger audience.”
Beyond this production, Lee is now the Resident Playwright and Artistic Associate at SPT, and previously was the Resident Playwright at Macha Theatre Works, under the leadership of Amy Poisson.
And Lee is not alone, as there are four other resident playwrights at SPT: Lisa Every, Jenn Ruzumna, Joy McCullough, and Angela Russell. All five meet regularly to check in, support each other’s work, and to brainstorm SPT’s outreach methods to other local playwrights.
The group also engages in service. “This year, we are also acting as pop-in mentors for the Education Program’s Youth Voices workshop, where teen theatre artists learn to write and perform their own solo shows,” said Lee. “It’s been awesome to grow into a cohort of writers rather than just having a single position.”
Best of all, the Resident Playwright program promotes artistic growth. “Having a theatrical home as a Resident Playwright is so invaluable,” said Lee. “It’s a safe, creative space to try things, make a mess, and put yourself back together again, where you know people are rooting for you, even when you doubt yourself.”
Lee has also received support elsewhere locally, including a residency at Hedgebrook in 2021.
“Going to Hedgebrook was one of the most surreal and incredible things that has ever happened to me, and honestly I still can’t believe that I actually went,” she said. “While I was there, the play I wanted to work on just stalled in my brain, very frustrating. But instead of forcing myself to sit and stare at the screen, I decided to give myself some space to figure it out.”
So on the 33 acres of the Hedgebrook, among the trees and cottages and water features, Lee let her mind roam. “I didn’t end up writing the play I intended, but I came out of Hedgebrook with a whole new story I wanted to tell,” she said.
Ultimately, the opportunity grew her confidence, which she now brings to this new production and partnership with Poisson, their seventh collaboration together.
“We have a lot of trust built up over the years and unspoken understanding about how we work,” said Lee. “I’ve been included in all aspects of this production from day one, including auditions, design, marketing, and even discussing the specialty show cocktail for the bar.”
There’s also a special education event connected to the show on February 9, where SPT will host a teen show night that’s open to all high school students. Tickets are $5.00, and that includes a pizza dinner, a Q&A with both Lee and Poisson, and a ticket to Once More, Just for You.
This event is just one expample of how Lee is nurturing young artists. She was recently commissioned by ACT Theatre to write a new play for their Young Core Company called The Sunless Scar, a post-apocolyptic science fiction adventure. She was able to share the process of wriitng a new play from start to finish with a group of young theatre artists. “I’m so excited to see how they make it their own,” she said.
Another project that Lee is working on is a commission for The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Education Department as a book writer, in partnership with songwriter Annastasia Workman, for a new original show for the theatre’s Educational Touring Company.
“I love how this program makes musicals more accessible by bringing them right into schools and communities,” said Lee. “It’s such a wonderful way to introduce live performance to students.”
Once More, Just For You runs from February 2 to 25 at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 West Green Lake Drive North, Seattle.