From the ashes of a very old-fashioned style big theatre implosion in 2011 (something right of Mike Daisey’s HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA), the Intiman has reinvented itself as a vital regional and national force. The 2015 season starts next week at 12 Ave Arts, a dazzling new theatre complex on Capitol Hill.
For a lot of old school goliath regional theatres struggling for relevance (and financial survival), the Intiman story shows that all you need is vision. Put a young 30-something whipper snapper with chops and ambition at the helm, and almost any theatre can be turned around.
Save all the millions of dollars spent on outside consultants and bureaucracy and “audience development” and simply hire someone who knows how to attract an audience to lead your theatre.
Could it be? Maybe one day? The return of Intiman – in name and scale?
While it may be too soon to prophesy, there is no denying that Seattle’s Intiman has been gathering strength and working out like a maniac to regain its fighting form since the extremely dramatic and sudden -er- vanishing act in 2011 that left America minus one of its most hallowed regional theatres.
With the year round theatre program gone, Intiman started up a small summer festival in 2012. Each year the old veteran shows a little more game – and ambition. If we were in a comeback movie, this would be the part where Mickey Rourke is in the basement hitting the punching bag 24-7. One by one, the neighborhood gang who had previously written off the guy as hopelessly over the hill stop and stare through the window. “Hey Louie, I think he might pull this off…”
Intiman announced its fourth annual summer festival this week, and the kid’s got game. Intiman is not coasting. Seattle’s once and future grand house is amping up and setting sail. We said bring it. They did.
If you’ve missed out on the last three festivals – you have seriously missed out. Spend one of those September endless summer weekends in Seattle and take in a few shows.
This year features a rare performance of ORPHEUS DESCENDING by Tennessee Williams (at the Seattle’s new 12 Ave Arts theatre space). You dare not miss that.
by Tennessee Williams
7.10 – 8.2 at 12 Ave Arts Mainstage
This audience-immersive production of Orpheus Descending, Tennessee Williams’ modern retelling of the ancient Greek Orpheus legend, features eight actors in a black box space who create the show in real-time before and among the audience.
While remaining true to Williams’ script, this production infuses pop music and contemporary trends to change the lens we use to view this important piece of the American theatre canon.
JOHN BAXTER IS A SWITCH HITTER
by Ana Brown & Andrew Russell
8.18 – 9.27 at Intiman Theatre
Inspired by a true story, this new comic drama explores the unlikely modern-day witch hunt that changed the course of the 2008 Gay Softball World Series held in Seattle.
When one team accuses its competitor of having “too many straights” on their gay softball team, a makeshift tribunal commences and quickly devolves into Facebook-hunting, in-your-face interrogation, and pointed personal questions before a crowd of virtual strangers.
THE CHILDREN’S HOUR
by Lillian Helman
9.9-27 at Intiman Theatre
A classic and controversial play of its time, The Children’s Hour tells the story of two private girls’ school headmistresses who are falsely accused by a student of being in a romantic relationship, and who lose everything in the ensuing witch hunt.
Written in 1932, The Children’s Hour shines a harsh light on the power of a lie to destroy a life (even when the lie is later proven untrue). The play was banned in some cities, produced with acclaim in others, and made into a controversial 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner.
BUT WAIT – DON’T ANSWER YET – THERE’S MORE
This is the hooky marketing part of the message where we force you to visit Intiman’s cool web site to find out about the three additional events that are part of this year’s festival.
Seattle’s revived Intiman Theatre Festival, run by the former flagship Intiman Theatre, is gearing up for its 3rd annual run.
This year the festival presents both parts of Tony Kushner’s late 90’s epic ANGELS IN AMERICA. Part 1 opens on August 14. Part 2 opens on September 5, and then the two shows will be on in rep through September 21.
Based on the quality of shows at last year’s festival, it’s well worth a visit north.
The formerly top regional company went bungee jumping off a financial cliff in April 2011 (for reasons that still don’t seem to have seen the light of day) and closed its doors mid season.
Then in the summer of 2012 they unlocked the place and came back with a summer theatre festival. In 2013 they did the same thing again, with great results like STU FOR SILVERTON, a new musical about the transgender mayor of Silverton, Oregon.
And in 2014, they’re back again with the full ANGELS IN AMERICA oeuvre.
Intiman still has it. While the physical building in the Seattle Center no longer says “Intiman” and has since been taken over by a local arts school, when Intiman gets the keys each summer, the old spirit and excitement is undeniably back.
So get ye to Seattle next summer when the sun is out, and check out the Intiman Theatre Festival.
Upstairs, Downstairs – Charming new musical at Intiman brings transgender Oregon mayor center stage in OUR TOWN update
This summer there’s a world premiere musical by a New York writing team about the transgender mayor of Silverton, Oregon.
What – you haven’t heard of it?
Well, unless you’ve been up to the Intiman Theatre Festival in Seattle, you probably wouldn’t have. But this warm and deeply enjoyable show has some serious legs and with any luck should start to appear on stages around the country (and in Oregon) in the not too distant future.
Part of Intiman’s Start Up Stagings program, STU FOR SILVERTON with a book by Peter Duchan and lyrics by Breedlove, is the strange but true tale of how lifelong Silverton, Oregon resident Stu Rasmussen narrowly became America’s first transgender mayor in 2008.
Rasmussen, who began his own personal gender journey in the early 80’s with a midnight viewing of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW in Portland’s Clinton Street Theatre (relayed memorably in song: “I felt I was alive for the first time at The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), grew into a new identity over a period of years, going out with a woman and eventually adding breasts while opting, in one of the show’s great lines, to keep the downstairs gear intact: “I’m keeping that.”
The musical follows Rasmussen’s touching and completely individual quest for true self, culminating after his election with the inevitable visit by a bunch of out of town religious wingnuts from Kansas or wherever who descend on Silverton to condemn the mayor – only to find a huge turnout of local residents supporting their favorite local transgender pol. And then everyone basically lives happily ever after.
Just by its very existence, this show is pretty interesting. A lot of America simply isn’t ready for the concept of transgender people, and to see a main character on a mainstream stage even talking about a lot of this stuff feels big. But the appeal of the show is that what might be seen as perplexing or threatening in the abstract becomes perfectly normal and even forgettable when experienced in the concrete form of a working class rural man. Once you hear Stu’s story, his journey makes perfect sense, and we can take a certain amount of pride that it happened here.
This is not some sort of sensationalized freak show at all. In fact, if there’s a criticism of the piece, it’s that it’s almost a little too OUR TOWN ordinary. The story starts off knee deep in the feel and perky narration of the play in WAITING FOR GUFFMAN. Remember the story of Blaine? Eugene Levy would not be out of place here. That’s what the opening feels like, as chipper townspeople rush about and wish each other top of the morning in painfully earnest and happy normality. By the end, there’s a certain aw shucks quality to Stu’s identity. And maybe that’s the point.
When the Kansans emerge at the end of the show with their “God Hates Fags” (but did they miss that Stu isn’t gay?) and “AIDS is a gift from God” signs, it is perhaps a measure of how far we have come that all you can do is laugh. The hate messages seem so ludicrously out of touch, they’re very hard to take seriously.
Intiman has assembled a top flight acting company for this year’s festival, and it is non stop pleasure watching them work. OSF star G. Valmont Thomas is on the scene as the pro corporate candidate Stu defeats in the election, and he’s marvelous. Mark Anders is fabulous as Stu, and Charles Leggett works well as the narrator.
The good news here is really twofold: 1) There’s a dashing and witty new musical about the transgender mayor of a small Oregon town ; and 2) Intiman still has it.
Survey says: Get thee to Seattle and see this show if you can.
And based on the quality of Intiman’s current summer theatre festival, which for the past two years has been the formerly national level company’s sole offering, the old girl still has it.
The physical space housing the theatre, built for the world’s fair in 1962, is visibly fading. Kennedy era architecture and stained carpets evoke a former time. Echoes of the many dozens or hundreds of notable productions that have gone up here over the years hang in the air.
In some ways, the theatre feels like it is living on borrowed time. Will it be upgraded soon – or razed? A Monday morning headline announcing plans to remove the old building and make way for…[?] would probably not surprise anyone. A few doors down Mercer Street, Seattle Opera’s gleaming battleship of a space shows what is possible with a dedicated audience and donor base.
Could Intiman come back?
For now, the annual summer festival with four plays in rep is a hidden gem for Seattleites willing to go indoors while the sun shines.