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Jose Amador

I don't know that I'd say I disagree with your mission statement, as the way you quote me above seems to paint it. There's a lot in what you're doing that I agree with.

All I was attempting to say in answer to that survey's question is that the component parts toward making Seattle a "World Class Theater Town," or WCTT, are already in place.

The big houses are there, and they are on the national map; but, with tiny growing exceptions, they don't use local product. There's a thriving fringe scene; but it remains an untapped, and largely disrespected (seemingly by this blog's author as well), resource. There's an enormous talent base, from tech staff through to playwrights and everything in between, that goes vastly underused.

What I consider to be key missing ingredients are that sense of civic ownership and the lack of self-boosterism, which you have pointed out in this entry. Not only do the artists in Chicago operate under the assumption that theirs is a kick ass theater town, but so does Chicago's citizens; same can be said of NYC, London, etc.

The same can not be said of Seattle, and it's a problem that pervades every single level of operation here, from the various available media, to the upper echelons of the big houses*, to our representatives in local government.

Anyway, can't expound further at the moment, may return to do so, but I thought I should clarify my stance.

Keep fighting you ornery bastard,


*(exceptions to this statement exist in the form of some staff members at ACT, and the interim AD and *the* big house.)

Jose Amador

"...so does Chicago's citizenry."

Paul Mullin

I hear ya, Jose.

My only question is: how did you conclude that this blog's author disrespects Seattle's fringe scene, given that with the exception of one production that wound up killing the Empty Space, all of my work has been on the fringe?

Peter Dylan O'Connor

Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
A call to arms, indeed.
I like your thinkin' Lincoln.

Kate Kraay

All spoken like someone who aims to get shit done.

I'm adding on a related topic, which is that my friends in the local film community feel the same way and more of it. Our local and state gvt. not only do not support local filmmaking, but seem to want to punish it as well. Actually pushing productions out of the country (B.C. Canada), that would have otherwise shot here.

I know film is not theater, but we all know that actors can support themselves best if they have access to both. The status quo towards film is a bit odd as well, when it is something that could actually bring real money into the city/state. So, a bit off topic, but the local attitude is the same in both cases.

Paul Mullin

Kate, I don't think it's off topic at all. It wasn't a coincidence that Seattle's fervent years corresponded almost exactly with the run of NORTHERN EXPOSURE which gave work to a huge spectrum of local acting talent. (Some times I think I'm the only one of my friends who didn't get cast on that show.) If you watch old reruns you'll see Paul Giamatti, Jillian Armenante, John Sylvain, Jim Chesnutt, Mike Shapiro, Bill Salyers and on and on and on.

As I recall they were shooting a lot more features up here, too, instead of just shooting them in Vancouver and pretending the action takes place in Seattle.

John Longenbaugh

Hey Paul:

Some interesting thoughts here. While I frankly will never forgive you for comparing my thoughts to a coffee beverage (how "Seattle!"), I think I see where you're going with this. And let's say I think our only real difference of opinion is simply about branding.

When I hear "world class," I remember a local entrepeneur who lived in Juneau, Alaska, when I was living there. His dream was to build a tramway up to the top of Mt. Jumbo, looking down onto the town. Whenever he was interviewed, he'd say "it's going to be a world class tramway, and up at the top is going to be a lodge. World class. And it's going to have stables up there for horses. A world class stables. And a university. A university that's world class." I don't think he ever raised more than a few thousand dollars for his world-class dream.

Years later, some guys who didn't talk a good game but knew how to raise money built the tramway and a lodge at the top. The tourists love it. They pay their $12 and go up to the top and go into the attractive pseudo-native lodge have a tasty salmon dinner and take lots of pictures. It's a highlight of their trip. Is it world class? I have no idea. But it's a great attraction for the town.

While I might concede "if you build it, they will come," I'm more dubious that "if you name it world class, they will come."

Jose' Amador

I said it, and it was a thought I should've separated from what I was writing, which is what I get for rushing to get the comment out.

Disrespect isn't applicable here, but omission is. Outside of calling for the out-of-touch union to start granting 99-seat contracts to local producing teams, there isn't a lot of call in these essays for recognition of the role fringe theaters does already, and could possibly, play in the local ecosystem.

That recognition and respect could be implied from the grander meaning of the mission, but I'm not fond of such subtleties and demand implicitness. Without the fringe scene, Seattle's WCTT status would be more negligible than it already is.

While I'm here: How is it that Seattle's reputation as a quality theater town is better known outside of Seattle than it is within?

Paul Mullin

Again, I'm basically right with you, Jose. Except that it's been my distinct impression that the fringe houses over the last five years have been, with notable exceptions like Annex, moving away from developing locally grown work in favor of what was hot off-off Broadway a year or two before. (Even WET, bless them, has been moving that way.)

Now, as you know, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool believer that it's new works, locally grown, that gets us to the Promised Land. But I'm totally open to other points of view. Maybe it's amazing directors kicking ass on the latest revivals of GLENGARY GLEN ROSS and MARAT/SADE that leads the way.

(Damn, I thought I could type that last sentence without throwing up a little in my mouth, but I was wrong.)

Jose' Amador

That impression is pretty right on, by and large, though I'm starting to catch other glimpses of change in the air. Open Circle should be included on that list of exceptions; Theater Schmeater is not as adventurous as it once was, but Yusef El Guindi (until recently, a local) has been getting work there.

Not what it once was, granted, but it ain't dead.

John Longenbaugh

Oh, and as to Jose's last point:

my fellow Seattleites: can you name ANYTHING in Seattle where there is community-wide consensus that it's "world class?"

Regardless of what the rest of the nation or the world think of our spectacular scenery, our successful corporations, our microbrews, our tech geniuses, our restaurants, our music, our writers, our bookstores, our Ring Cycle, our Symphony, our Pike Place Market--ALL receive complaint, criticism and indifference from our media and our citizens. (Just imagine for a moment an issue of The Stranger, for example, which was bereft of caustic criticism of some aspect of life in Seattle.)

The only time you'll see an article on anything in Seattle being "world class," it's in a magazine or a book published somewhere else, and usually by a writer who doesn't live here.

Paige Weinheimer

In order to be a word class theatre town (which I would define as: the world looking at us), we need to start much smaller.
IMHO, theatre is hurt by trying to do theatre. People need to dig deep and make what they *need* to make and make things for people they know. Think Grunge. Them folks didn’t set out to make Seattle a world class rock town. It’s just not good motivation for meaningful work. The problem with theatre is making theatre. In my opinion, theatre is a tactic not an end. People are tired of being sold shit - people everywhere are creepily in the market for unsold souls. So, I think the answer is, weirdly, the insular anti-sell.

Scott Walters

The key -- and you say this -- is to define the term yourself, not let others do it, or worse yet do it in comparison to others. Set a goal, define it internally, and work toward it until it is achieved. I think you made that point clear, and I agree.

S.P. Miskowski

Theaters give up on new work before they start--saying it's too hard to sell. It's risky, and they can only afford to produce it by doing other things that are guaranteed.

That's about as defeatist as you can get. People who live by this rule are panic prone and should not work in theater at all. They should work in the insurance business.

Several years ago, on a Saturday at noon (not even a real matinee) GEVA in Rochester offered a staged reading of one of my plays. Although there was at least a foot of snow on the ground, and the theater charged for tickets to this unknown play by a nobody, the theater was full. Full house.

The discussion that followed was lively and fun. People were excited about the script, and they were informed by a theater staff that liked them and did not treat them as a necessary evil. They asked smart questions, and lingered to talk with all of the artists involved.

I saw this with my own eyes. It's about the attitude and commitment. GEVA did not talk down to that audience. GEVA wasn't too cool for some of the patrons. We were grownups making art--collaborating as artists and audience--and talking about it.

Rik Deskin

Great points everyone, but let's not disparage the union (in this case Actor's Equity). We have a 99-seat contract called a Member Project Code.

And as to the film industry, we have worked since I became involved in 2003 to build a statewide and city-wide incentive program and have made it very easy to be "responsible" producers. And have made it very easy for out of state productions to shoot here over Vancouver and Portland.

We just need your faith and you need to talk with us in the know.


Rik Deskin
Artistic Director
Eclectic Theater Company
...and more!

Omar Willey

I find it beyond amusing how people look back to the 90s in Seattle as some sort of Golden Age. A litany of exclamations! Vibrant! Active! Diverse! But the expletives hide a harsher truth. Seattle in the 90s was largely filled with transplanted denizens who, having heard what a cool and artsy yet remote and rustic place it was, wound up here thinking they could be big fish in our pathetically small pond. And of course each had his own divine vision of exactly how she would bring culture to us as Moses brought the Commandments.

Factionalism was the rule of the day then. The grace which saved us then was that at least each of these factions had their own spaces. The "vibrancy" and "diversity" came of this uneasy coexistence of group beside antithetical group. And true to form within ten years this perceived vibrancy grew quite still as real estate sales forced these niches uncomfortably together. Groups folded like the bellows of an accordion. Big fish ate little fish, then regurgitated them. Disillusioned foreigners moved back to their precious East Coast. Strong-willed (or -stomached) veterans withdrew and waited it out. And they still wait.

I am, perhaps, one such veteran, waiting.

I think one of the more subtle points probably felt but not discussed here in polite quarters is that Seattleites lack a definition of community in general, and in the theater specifically. Most of our problems discussing what is "world class" in Seattle follow after problems of figuring out what Seattle itself is. So whether or not, as Mr. Longenbaugh says, there is a consensus in town about what is world-class or not, this is quite irrelevant. In 1956 no one thought William Faulkner was world-class, either--no one in America, at least. His writings were translated into at least seventeen languages and being taught at major universities in France, Spain, England, Brazil, Colombia, Russia…while they lay completely out-of-print here. It is typically America as it is typically Seattle that we export our best while remaining quite ignorant of it here.

As Seattle's current theater-going public has no actual relation to its real theater-going public, I have no illusions this will change anytime soon. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. At least, *you* should. I'm tired.

Louis Broome

Huge numbers of people don’t see plays because they saw one once and it was fucking boring as dying mold. No one cares what the theater says about itself. They care about what their friends say. The goal is to make a play so thrilling everyone who sees it makes everyone they know see it; to make a play more meaningful, compelling and valuable than On Demand in HD on a giant TV.

I stand by my term and define it - Revolution: a sudden, complete or marked change in something: the "present revolution in church architecture." Dictionary.com, 3rd entry.

Changing theater – from boring to thrilling, self-indulgent to audience-focused, subsidized to profitable – will take a revolution. Bottom line: until we theater folk are willing to own up to the fact that lots and lots of people never ever in this life time will see under any circumstance fucking Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps The Movie: The play, or Nathanial “I’ve been dead forever” Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Fucking Letter, or Trendy Playwright's "My Masturbatory Opus," we’ve got a problem.

Those people who will never see those plays? Creating plays they will see is the single most important thing in the universe.



I'll be visiting Seattle from NYC the weekend of February 26. I'll have evenings free. What should I see (and please don't suggest "Legally Blonde"!)?

Scot Augustson

OK. I'm going to re-read and respond in depth later, but a quick comment:
No way were the '90's some Golden Age of theater in Seattle. There was some good stuff and a lot of good ground work was laid.
But it was not really more vibrant. And everyone talks about how wonderful the Fringe Festival was, when:
A. It failed to really connect itself to the Canadian Circuit
B. With Exceptions, never really high lighted the best of Seattle.

Scot Augustson

OK, I seem to be responding in dribbles and drabs today (Partly because I'm trying to finish a commission so that I can get $)
Louis spoke of our need to make theater thrilling. And I can't agree more.
About a year ago, after a Rigsby show ("Boy in the Beastly City") I went for drinks with a friend. He had brought a co-worker. The co-worker was blown away. But He said something very telling, that when he looks for something to do on a Friday night, he never checks the Theater section. He might look in comedy or music, but not Theater.
This was a smart, engaged guy. Professional, early thirties. Well read.
We (as the show folk that we are) need to be electric, juicy, horrifying, pot-boiling, hilarious, shocking, tear-jerking,dazzling, riveting. We don't want our audience to regret leaving their nice warm apartment on a rainy night.

Paul Mullin

Scot and Omar, I am careful not to refer to the 90's as a "Golden Age". My phrase is consistently, "The Fervent Years." And I stand by that as an accurate moniker.

With that pointed out, I think Omar's earlier more in-depth description of the inherent problems of the scene then is pretty damned accurate.

So Thanks Omar! For your analysis.

Oh yeah, and thanks Scot for just being you.

S.P. Miskowski

It has to be said. The people commenting here have created some pretty vibrant work. Smart, talented people tend to do that. And people who admire that work will take a stab at it--hey, directing and writing are easy!--usually with dreadful results. But that's how art is. It attracts many people who want to be artists because it looks fun. A large percent of art will, therefore, always be junk. That's okay.

What I want is an audience and reviewers and artists who can talk about the work that isn't junk. Because it's a long haul creating new work, only to have it dismissed or overlooked because the one person assigned to see it is fresh out of high school drama class and hasn't got a clue.

I appreciate the need for exciting work, Louis and Scot. I do. Writing a story is quite different from writing work for the stage, and I recognize the differences. A couple of my plays have been boring and not ready for production. The others were received and understood--by a few people, or by many people. I want to connect with that audience--large or small.

Putting butts in seats is a goal, but not the primary one. The primary goal is to speak truly, from a deeper reality. A lot of people are going to run from that truth--into the arms of fluffy, cute, smiley, tap-dancing, crowd-pleasing shows that do not ask them to think.

I believe we all aim to make truthful work that connects with people. How can it connect? By being explained and appreciated by the front line--reviewers. When reviewers are stupid or dismissive (or are themselves boring writers), the audience does not get the information it needs. No one learns, and no one connects.

I saw one of Suzan-Lori Parks' finest plays in a production I will never forget, directed by Liz Diamond at New City. Opening night? Packed with well-wishers and theater lovers. The rest of the run? Maybe 15 or 20 people on a good night. But now that doesn't happen to Parks. Because she is known, because she won awards, people come. She has been made known to the public, so audiences come. Same writer, same quality of writing--no audiences, huge audiences.

We need reviewers who are smart enough to talk about theater to engage the public.

S.P. Miskowski

I guess what I am getting at is: We are taking responsibility for the whole she-bang. And this is one of the problems in Seattle. Great, you made your own posters! Great, you painted the set! And you're the writer? Oh, and could you please write a press release, now that you've written the play? Tell people what it's about and why people should see it. Because NO ONE ELSE KNOWS HOW.

That's the problem. Telling the public what my play is about is the critic's job. But there's no one doing that job. There is no mediator. If a reviewer needs for me to tell him what is going on, on stage, either I suck or he does. (Maybe it's me, it certainly could be--but I will believe that when someone whose intellectual capacity I trust tells me so, not before.)

One of the genius attributes of 14/48 is that it strictly divides up duties. Directors direct and writers write. I know sometimes people jump from one job to another--but not while working on a piece for the night. The person assigned to act is the actor. I am the writer. Why? Because the idea that all of us can do everything well if we just try is idiotic and untrue.

Seattle needs people who are dying to be theatrical producers. And people who just write about theater. And people who design sets because they love to do so. Dabble, dabble--go ahead. Try something out. But if you are not good at it--please, please, don't do it over and over thinking "oh well, it's just theater, so it's good enough."

Do what you are marvelous at--and let other artists do what they're marvelous at. This way lies "world class theater." Or International Superlative Gumby Theater. Or whatever we want to call it.

S.P. Miskowski

Before anyone says that the show should speak for itself--it can't do that if no one sees it. We need many more profiles of artists and their careers, and preview articles, to educate the public and to stir up excitement. Right now editors behave as though they are doing theater artists a huge favor granting their shows a few lines. That's ridiculous. Criticize the critics, if they're not doing their job.

Tolerance is great, but kowtowing is stupid. Seattle theater artists allowed at least two reviewers I can think of--one at a daily paper and one on a Web site--to ignorantly spout opinions about theater for YEARS without questioning why they even had a forum. It's cute and funny, yes. "Oh, look what the non-critic said today, honey..." I have even quoted these guys on my blog, because if all you've got is the opinion of an ass, you scan the ass's review for a pull quote.

Seattle needs to aim higher and stop accepting whatever the first volunteer is willing to offer.

Damn, I am now going to shut up for a while. I mean it. Like Omar, I am tired.

Omar Willey

Without patting myself on the back too much, it's safe to say I was the most dedicated theater critic in Seattle in the early- to mid-1990s. I wrote about student drama when it was not fashionable to do so, as well as puppet theaters, pantomime, mixed media dance theater, jugglers and acrobats, stand-up one-person shows and pretty much anything that happened on something made up to be a "stage." At the time I quit my post, there were 104 producing theater groups in Seattle, and I'd reviewed everyone of them at least once. I saw around 210-230 productions a year.

And in that time, I changed absolutely nothing.

While Mr. Broome cautions us all quite rightly against The Deadly Theater that competes with nothing so much as Chinese water torture, I assure you all that many people believe that The Deadly Theater is what theater is all about. Pyrotechnics! Ham fat declamation! Breathy pauses! Real simulated Edwardian furniture! Snarky topical in-jokes! Exclamation marks!

I fought against this nonsense with every ounce of my being. I believed in the power of theater, its majesty, its unique and evanescent beauty. So, of course the letters I had to answer every day in my mailbox were:

"Why is he so negative?"
"Doesn't he ever say anything good about plays?"
"I think a theater reviewer should just consider himself a reporter, because no one can know anymore than anyone else about theater."
"I just want to hear a thumbs up or thumbs down. I don't like when someone tells me what it's about."

These are direct quotes, and not even the most absurd sample from my years at KCMU. They are, however, illustrative, and worse still they are all from theater actors, directors and playwrights. General audience quotes were similar.

One of the reasons I quit writing about theater was a deep sense that no one really cared what I thought, but moreover that no one was interested in thinking at all. I was trying to clarify, refine and opine about theatrical art and craft, love and passion, thought and feeling.

Instead, people wanted to know if the chairs were cozy, or whether Sue Guthrie got naked on stage. (No reflection of course on Sue, whom I adore.)

Apparently, I missed that class. Local folks seemed to think my job as a critic was to be the local Kiwanis booster for Seattle theater, rah rah rah. To promote, to help "careers." In truth, no critic has such a power, nor such a burden.

I wish I could share S.P.'s optimism about theater reviewers. Myself, I doubt strongly that anyone saw or didn't see a play because of one of my reviews. I don't believe I helped a single person's "career," heaven forbid. My own concerns were always about art. And while it's nice to offer the suggestion that we should produce exciting art begs the question of whether anyone would recognize it as such. My experience is that people don't recognize it, except at rare moments, and even less do they like to hear it talked about.

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