Fired up and ready to VOTE

“First Vote” performance gets inside the heads and hearts of young voters.

Vashon performers Justine Freese

In November of 2004, Islander Justine Freese was 17 and just a few months shy of being old enough to cast a vote in that year’s presidential contest.

Freese, now 21, recalled the experience of not being able to vote that year as “pretty frustrating because I knew what four years of George Bush had already done.”

Freese will channel some of that frustration, as well as her excitement about finally being able to vote in the current presidential matchup, in “First Vote,” a new theater work based on the observations and ideas of six young adults, most of whom are casting their first-ever presidential votes.

The show, which combines monologues, music and movement, is the brainchild of UMO Ensemble’s youth program leader Amy Rider.

The cast includes two other Islanders, Calen Winn and Vivian Lyons, as well as Shakir Rodriguez, Jason Nguyen and Lela Henry, who attend Interagency Academy, an alternative high school in south Seattle.

Part of Riders’ concept for “First Vote” was to place first-time voters from Vashon on stage alongside their Seattle contemporaries to provide a sense of the different perspectives of rural and urban youth.

“We see the election from different points of view,” said Henry, an Interagency student. “But we agree on a lot of things that are going on,” she added.

For Henry, who was dropped from her father’s Basic Health care coverage when she turned 18 on Monday, the election has a personal urgency.

“This election determines whether I’ll be able to go to the doctor without going into debt,” she said.

Henry’s “First Voice” monologue is centered around her support for Barack Obama, who she called “a very inspirational figure.”

“I’ve been looking forward to voting, but being in this performance really really boosted that because I can tell and show others how I feel,” she said.

Freese, who recently graduated from Western Washington University in Bellingham, said she had also been energized by participating in “First Vote.”

“People my age have been pretty disenchanted,” she said, “because we spent the first four years of our adult lives with no say over who was in charge of the country.”

She said the younger “First Vote” cast members “got me revved up again.”

Lyons, 18, who graduated recently from Vashon High School, will perform a monologue that explores the idea of patriotism.

She cited the Iraq War, foreign policy, health care, education and issues of personal choice as among her most pressing concerns in the election and said she hopes “First Vote” will inspire older audience members to feel a “passion to vote that they haven’t felt since they were youth and voting for the first time.”

For director Rider, working with the young voters has been an inspiration.

“I’m really impressed with how informed they are and how keen their observations are,” she said. “They have a unique stake in what is going on. They have tons to say, and everyone is really moved by what they are talking about.”

She also said she has been “reassured and comforted” by the young people who have worked on the project.

“They are ready to take the reins and problem solve,” she said.

For one of the Vashon cast members, Calen Winn, “First Vote” is only one part of his involvement in this year’s election.

Along with several Vashon High School classmates, he’s planning to travel to the nation’s capitol in January to witness the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States. But for now, he’s rehearsing for “First Voice” and planning to go to the polls on election day.

“This is something I’ve been researching for a long time,” he said. “Everyone keeps saying, and it’s true, that this is one of the most important elections ever.”

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Show times

“First Vote” will open on Vashon at 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, in the Ober Park activity center.

A second performance will take place at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3, at Seattle Central Library at 1000 Fourth Ave.

Both performances are free.

“First Vote” is a project of Vashon-based UMO Ensemble and has been funded in part by a grant from Vashon Park District.

For more information, call 463-9602.


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