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“Public Works Feels Like Coming Home”

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 Neysa and Jessica Peterson shared their story during At the Table on January 28. Photo by Sayed Alamy. 

Through Seattle Rep’s Public Works partnership with Compass Housing Alliance at the Renton Veterans Center, participants Neysa and Jessica Peterson are rediscovering a sense of “home” and building a stronger community through theater. This mother-daughter pair shared their personal story on January 28, where more than 150 friends of the theater came together for At the Table, Seattle Rep’s second annual luncheon to celebrate Public Works. At the Table provides essential support for this program, which is free to all who participate and supported entirely by gifts of all sizes from our generous donors.

 

Jessica: Ever since I was little I’ve always found joy in performing, especially theater. The act of sharing a story with an audience is a magical experience.  In school, theater is where I found a community of people who actually accepted and celebrated who I was. Since I graduated about five years ago, it's been difficult to find that type of community again. But I like to say acting is in my blood! It was theater that brought my parents into each other's lives.

Neysa: My freshman year of high school, I walked into the green room of the drama department. Coming in another door was a boy named Scott, who later told me that when he first saw me, he knew I was the girl he would marry. I loved being involved in theater. I did a little of everything from props to makeup, set building, stage management, and even a turn on the stage. I had finally found a group of people who accepted me and encouraged me to be myself.

I joined the United States Navy when I graduated, and Scott and I went our separate ways but remained in touch as friends. Around 10 years later, we reconnected, got married, and had this beautiful amazing human, Jessica! In 2012, Scott passed away from pancreatic cancer and, four years later, I lost our home to foreclosure. I spent a period of two and a half years homeless, living with friends or relatives, and for a time in the woods without heat, water, or electricity. I was falling deeper into depression, alcoholism, and negative thinking. 

One day, thankfully, I called the Veterans Crisis Line. I came back from the woods and eventually ended up in Compass Housing Alliance’s Shoreline Veterans Center, a program for homeless veterans. From there, I was able to get into permanent housing in 2018. 

Through Compass Housing Alliance, I was introduced to Public Works and Seattle Rep. The first event I attended was a lunch, actor talk, and play. We saw August Wilson’s Two Trains Running and it blew me away. I was thrilled when I received an email from Public Works inviting me to the acting classes at the Renton Veterans Center. To be able see breathtaking plays and be involved in workshops and classes, all for free—what an amazing opportunity. My daughter and I were both so excited to get to participate in theater again. 

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Neysa and Jessica Peterson at a Public Works community dinner. Photo by Angela Nickerson.

Jessica: Through these workshops for veterans and their families, I was able to remember and tap in to the immense joy and sense of community I receive through theater and the people in it. Within these workshops, I get to deepen my experience with acting, which helps me to pursue a career in theater. This also helps me with building life skills like confidence and lessens the effects of some things like anxiety and depression. Since joining this community, my life has improved two fold—when I’m at Public Works events and when I’m not. Being able to participate in this program itself is an honor, but to be able to do this with my mom is such a great experience. Since she is my only remaining parent and also since theater is something we both share a passion for, it has really been important for us. It’s incredible to see families sharing this experience together and for us, with all we’ve been through and how close we already are, it’s become such an integral part of our lives. 

Neysa: Jessica and I auditioned for and were cast in Seattle Rep’s Public Works production of As You Like It in the summer of 2019. What an amazing experience! I had forgotten how wonderful it could feel to be around so many genuine human beings. It was such an incredible thing to be around people from all walks of life. It was an honor to see different perspectives coming together to create this tangible joy. Being on stage and sharing that joy with so many people, those involved in the production as well as the audience members, was a spiritual experience for me. I am hooked. The ability to participate in so many wonderful things with my daughter Jessica and creating lasting memories together means so much to me.  I am thrilled to be participating in classes again.

Being involved with Public Works has helped me gain confidence and to feel comfortable again just being around people in general. It has been a healing, rewarding experience, and has been a major part of my recovery.

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Jessica Peterson (far left) and Neysa Peterson (framed at right) with Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako and the ensemble of As You Like It. Photo by Derek Edamura.

Jessica: When we had the opportunity to act and participate in As You Like It, I was ecstatic. I had the absolute privilege of working with a community of people who I truly believe I can now call lifelong friends. I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream because of this program. Having the opportunity to perform on stage and share this incredible story with people has deeply affected me in ways I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe.

To me, Public Works is more than just a program, more than a community. Within Public Works I have found a family. Attending workshops or rehearsals at Seattle Rep feels like coming home. That’s a big deal to me because ever since we lost our house a few years ago, I’ve had trouble calling anything “home.”

This program and the people in it help me to express myself in my truest form and feel accepted. And in my experience, it’s rare to find places like that these days. This program is truly remarkable and I just hope we can give back at least half of what we’ve been given. 

Neysa: I am so grateful to Angie Kamel, Lia Fakhouri, and the whole Public Works program for connecting people with one another and offering creative opportunities and resources that otherwise would not be within everyone’s reach. You all are building community and changing the world one person at a time, and that matters!

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