These Streets, the musical revue/play at ACT (running through March 10) about four women in the ’90s Seattle rock scene and two (mostly) supportive boyfriends, was constructed as a series of non-linear “moments.”
Scenes bounced between the past and present; the “past” storyline covers five years in the characters’ lives. Many of these short scenes and mini-monologues depicted single ideas or emotions.
In the show’s spirit, this piece is also a sequence of moments.
I mentioned in my 1995 book Loser how the national media’s false “grunge” stereotype included “no women in sight, not even as video models.”
But in the real Seattle scene, women were involved in leading roles from the start. Women were singers, instrumentalists, managers, promoters, venue owners, zine publishers, photographers, DJs, and record-label owners.
In keeping with the scene’s ethos, most of these women weren’t vying for fame and fortune. (The exception, Courtney Love, already had a record deal before she came here.)
But then a scene that, to many of its members, was an alternative to the major-label machine, became re-defined as fodder FOR the major-label machine.
The global music industry, at what turned out to be its peak of money and power, trawled Seattle fishing for superstars. The Gits were negotiating with a label when singer Mia Zapata was killed. Seven Year Bitch released one album on Atlantic, then broke up. But most of the scene’s women were ignored.
Over the years, “grunge nostalgia” books and documentaries (most made by out-of-towners) continued to ignore artists from the scene who hadn’t become big stars, including the women.
One of Harley and Rudinoff’s goals with the play was to remember this forgotten history.
These Streets, along with its concurrent poster-art and oral-history exhibit at the Project Room gallery on Capitol Hill, received massive coverage in local and national media.
The show includes parts of 18 vintage songs, originally recorded by 14 different female-fronted Seattle acts. Having four different characters singing the songs allowed the show’s makers to feature diverse musical material, from ballads (“power” and other) to straight-out punk blasts.
If any of those bands at the time had received a fraction of the publicity These Streets received, who knows what could have happened?
In keeping with the do-it-yourself spirit, These Streets was staged and produced by Gretta Harley and Sarah Rudinoff, who’d also written it (with Elizabeth Kenny).
Kenny and Rudinoff played the older versions of two of the characters. Harley sang and played guitar in the show’s tight backup band. Harley had been in the ’90s rock scene with the bands Maxi Badd, Danger Gens, and Eyefulls. She and Rudinoff currently perform as the duo We Are Golden.
ACT Theatre provided the auditorium space and various production services, under its “Central Heating Lab” program. (Carlo Scandiuzzi, ACT’s executive director, had promoted punk and new-wave gigs at the Showbox in the early 1980s.)
Harley, Rudinoff, and Kenny spent two years developing the script and score, based in part on interviews with some 40 Seattle-scene veterans. Twenty-three of these women were featured in historical graphics installed in the ACT lobby.
The show’s present-day storyline involves five of the six characters (yes, that’s a plot spoiler) reminiscing about their days of non-stardom, while surveying their later lives of houses, kids, divorces, and stints in rehab.
And they still have the urge to make music and art, to be on stage, to be loud and passionate in front of a crowd.
The world of their youth, the pre-dot-com Seattle of 1989-94, has largely vanished. The city isn’t the same and neither are they.
According to Harley, the present-day scenes refer to a time when “you’re in this stage of life and you look back and take ownership of it. But then you’re also looking forward for first time in a very particular way. I hope the show helps to illuminate that ownership of this time in our lives, and also look back and say, ‘Hey kid, you had a lot of guts to get up and do that.’”
Harley says the making of These Streets was “a great experience. People who lived it seem to really love it; they feel that it’s very authentic. A couple of people said it inspired them to pick up music again.”
While no further performances have been scheduled past its three-week run, “we’re taking it one step at a time at this point.”
(Cross-posted with City Living.)