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Communities | Environment

Stormwater: Seattle's One-Man Enviro-Performance

SEATTLE — Artist Stokley Towles is taking audiences where they’ve probably never wanted to go — into Seattle’s sewer system. He has written a comedic show called “Stormwater: Life in the Gutter” that he’s performing throughout the Seattle metropolitan area through the next few weeks.

Towles is bringing to life the normally unseen world of drainage — telling stories related to runoff and somehow making it funny. He has interviewed Seattle Public Utilities workers and learned the intricacies of how they manage everything that flows through sewer and stormwater pipes.

By sharing bizarre stories from the utility workers lives, he hopes people think more about what they flush and where it goes.

But Towles was quick to point out that the show isn’t preachy.

“My goal isn’t to make people feel bad,” Towles said. “Really it’s more of a celebration of the people who do the work. I was blown away when I learned what their jobs were like. It’s the extreme community service. I mean, they’re dealing with our stuff — that’s our waste down there and these people are taking care of it.”

Catch Stormwater

(All shows are free.)

Because the sewer system is out of sight, there’s much the general population doesn’t realize, Towles said.

“There’s rocks and sand and tree roots and there’s baby wipes that people feel the need to flush down the toilet, rags, the occasional baseball or basketball. And then, of course, the toilet is the ceremonial place to say goodbye to dead pets, so there’s goldfish, the occasional hamster,” Towles said during a recent show.

“Stormwater” is the third in a series of performances Towles has created in partnership with Seattle Public Utilities. Last year, he developed Trash Talk, a one-man show on the social life of garbage.

In 2009, Towles traced the flow of the city’s water in Waterlines. He starts his performance with this jaw-dropping detail: Fifty-seven people called the city in 2008 to complain about rats in their toilets.

Towles’ work is commissioned by the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and is intended to address environmental stewardship.

(Towles’ performance of “Waterlines.”)

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