When I first came to Seattle in 1990 I had only one decent paying trade to my name: I knew how to clean glass. The problem was I was spoiled. In New York I had worked mostly high-rise residential units and got paid three dollars a window by my boss/friend Patrick Shields who worked next to me and also happened to be an actor/writer himself. In Seattle the only window work I could find was with a large outfit that did commercial properties and offered a flat ten dollars an hour. Instead of a bon vivant, polymath, small business-owner working next to me, I had ex-cons, two-bit bigots and pot-smoking thugs tying my ropes. (Literally. One guy told me getting high beforehand made him concentrate harder on the knots.) I quit after a week and took a job dishing at a breakfast cafe in Green Lake, but the money from that, barely above minimum wage, just wasn’t enough.
The advice I got at the 1911, the dive-bar de facto headquarters of 90’s Seattle fringe theatre, situated directly across Fourth Avenue from Annex Theatre, was simple: “go to Woods.” Woods and Associates was a small, locally owned temporary and permanent placement service located in the Galland Building downtown. I protested that I had zero office experience. The advice was reiterated: “Go to Woods. They’ll take care of you. You can even tell them you’re an actor. They like actors.”
“They like actors!?” What kind of outfit was this?
An outfit, as it turns out, that I would have an ongoing professional relationship with for the next two decades. My fellow Annexers were right. After my initial interview I was paraded around the office to meet owner Sarah Woods, Sarah’s brother Will, Sarah’s business partner Sam Hunter, plus all the rest of the folks in the placement bullpen. It didn’t matter that I was an actor or that I had never worked in an office. I would start out slow and simple, they told me. First gig: the microfilm department of Northern Life Insurance, where I captured images of old annuities documents on their way to the shredder. To tame the boredom I listened to Rush Limbaugh and KPLU jazz on my Sony Walkman. Aldrich Allen, another Annexer, now dead, worked beside me. A few years later, when I came back from shooting a movie in Maryland to find my first marriage disintegrating, I needed a job desperately. So Woods put me back at “No Life”, this time in the licensing department. It’s where I got to know William Salyers and began to hatch my plan to write a role that only an actor of his talents could pull off. A few years later we premiered Tuesday at AHA! Theatre.
As time went on, I even found myself temping in the Woods office itself. I called these gigs “meta-temping”. I used to love Fridays, not only because Sarah ordered in lunch and a masseuse every week, but also because Woods, unlike any other temp service I knew, paid every week, on the week. Many temps came into to pick up their checks personally, giving me a chance to do a quick gossip swap with my fellow show folk, like Chris Jeffries or Josh List.
It is not an exaggeration to say Woods was a big part of why my wife and I came back to Seattle from New York City after 9/11. Temp work in Manhattan had completely dried up. My unemployment was running out and I had literally no idea how I was going to support our new-born baby boy. I was certain, however, that if we went back to Seattle, Woods would find work for either Heather or me, so that the other could stay home with the baby. As it turned out, Heather landed the more lucrative gig—she always could stand working for lawyers more than me. On nice days I would roll my son in his stroller downtown from Capitol Hill and often visit the folks at Woods after having lunch with Heather. Bottom line: after a very tough year, Woods gave us options in another city where theatre thrived.
Woods and Associates will be closing their offices for good today. When I spoke with Sarah yesterday she sounded upbeat: “I don’t regret the decision at all, but it I’m the one making it so I understand it’s hard for others.” I nearly choked up when I told her what Woods had meant to me and my family over the years. “That’s the sad part,” she replied. “We’ve all been there for each other: the folks that work for us, the client companies.” Certainly Woods has always been there for me. No matter how bad a particular day gig might get, I could always think to myself, “Well, I can quit and Woods’ll take care of me: find me something.” Now, I guess I’m on my own. My only solace is that I’m not alone in feeling that way.
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So here’s my request. If you are an artist, theatre or otherwise, and Woods has helped you at some point, please chime in down in the comments section below. Share a story if you’d like, but chime in, regardless, even with just your name. I’d love to share a sense of how many creative folks Woods and Associates has helped over the years.