Listening, Supporting and Leading the Performing Arts Community with Ariel Bradler, Executive Director of Theatre Puget Sound

by Aaron Shanks

If you aren’t a theatre community insider, you might not have heard of Theatre Puget Sound. The nonprofit Theatre Puget Sound (TPS) is an arts advocacy and service organization founded in 1997. It is based on the fourth floor of the Seattle Center Armory.

TPS provides programming and services that benefit both the theatre community and the broader regional arts community including studio space for rehearsal and performance, a database of both on and off-stage talent, and events such as The Gregory Awards, and the Unified General Auditions. Members include performing arts organizations of all sizes, as well as actors, directors, designers, dramaturges, playwrights, stage managers, technicians, and theatre administrative staff.

While TPS is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, Ariel Bradler is noting her first year as Executive Director, a rare leadership position for a woman and person of color. For the last year, she and the recently refreshed and renewed Board and Staff of TPS have been on a listening tour, asking what the performing arts community needs, learning how to best support them and provide leadership.

Ironically, for an industry built around communication and connection, Bradler is finding pockets of isolation. While many people have found a rewarding, if unstable, home in the performing arts, others struggle to get past systematic barriers to participation. TPS has begun to tackle some of those barriers in little ways with an eye towards self-examination as an organization and as an industry.

The Unified General Auditions, once held only in the middle of the day now include evening opportunities to be seen, opening doors to some who were never able to attend.

The Gregory Awards relies on a massive team of volunteers to choose nominees. However, some performers have access to more “meaty roles” because of their type. They don’t have the same opportunity to be seen, let alone show off. So, TPS has an ongoing effort to give its nominators tools to break down their own bias and better identify our region’s best storytellers. Also, this year, the Gregory Awards will not include gender in the performing categories.

Patrons can feel isolated too. The Puget Sound boasts an abundance of events, but regional traffic is making us less likely to travel. Performing arts patrons can look to TPS to be a centralized information hub. They want to help identify what is worth fighting traffic for and what might have been overlooked in our backyards. Many theatres offer discounts to TPS Members too.

As Pacific Northwest performing arts organizations tell the full spectrum of human stories, TPS supports both them and their patrons. The organization, like many nonprofits, is in need of funding and volunteers. What makes them unique is that in helping them, donors can be “the rising tide that lifts all boats” for the whole Puget Sound performing community.

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