Last night I joined a small but extremely energized group of theatre professionals at the second iteration of “Seattle Theatre: What’s Next?” hosted by Jim Jewell and Peggy Gannon. I want to talk more about what was discussed and what action items came out of that discussion, but I think I will wait until Jim publishes the official minutes. Until then, here’s a transcript of the three minute spiel that I was asked to give on what’s currently exciting me about Seattle Theatre:
Be careful what you wish for, sure. But when it comes to Seattle Theater, it’s also wise to be specific what you wish for. For a good while now Seattle’s Big House theatres have been gradually increasing the percentage of local actors they hire. And rightfully they have then touted this change as a noble step in the direction of locally grown theatre. But let’s be honest. We all know one of two things happened. Either the artistic administrators of Seattle’s Big Houses all got together in a room and decided, “Hey, we should do the right thing and hire more local actors.” Or... they all independently realized that in the current depression it was becoming cost prohibitive to fly in every actor from New York or LA. I’ll leave it to you to decide which scenario seems more plausible. But look, when a good thing happens it’s churlish to over-analyze the reasons for it.
The problem is that using local actors isn’t enough. And so when we advocate for locally grown theatre, we need to be more specific… Whole Theatre. Theatre that is soup to nuts local: written by local talent in collaboration with local talent. Zero degrees of separation among everyone from the playwright to the director to the designers to the actors to the audiences.
Zero degrees of separation.
If what I am proposing sounds radical or overly ambitious, consider this: we do it all the time. In fact, if I can brag a little, as a playwright and an actor, I have done very little in the last five years that hasn’t been Whole Theatre. Going back to 2006, there was the Empty Space production of Louis Slotin Sonata. When the floor needed final painting, Allison Narver was there in jeans, helping designer Gary Smoot to finish it. I’m trying to picture one of Seattle’s Big House artistic directors doing that. To be fair, I’m sure there are union rules against it.
Then there was The Ten Thousand Things, which Washington Ensemble Theatre produced. I sat in a room with the director and the designer Etta Lilienthal talking through her sketches. Later, I sat in the theatre while audience members rewrote my play one word each performance.
And most recently there was Newswrights United producing two living newspapers, researched, written and produced by Seattleites, about Seattleites, for Seattleites.
And of course it’s not just stuff I’m working on. There’s the incomparable 14/48, perhaps the most consistently exciting weekend of theatre in town. All local actors, directors, designers and crew mixing it up on plays written by local playwrights in the space of maybe ten hours, tops.
There’s Sandbox Radio which just staged its second all original slate of short pieces, combining some of Seattle’s best actors with the best playwrights and musicians.
And right on the horizon is Rebecca Olson’s new project Custom Made Plays, commissioning local playwrights to write for specific local actors. I’m happy to be the playwright on the pilot play, writing for Rebecca herself and Hana Lass.
Whole Theatre. Theatre that hasn’t had the yummy good-for-you stuff processed out of it. Non-corporate theatre that ain’t stale from being packaged three years ago in a theatre scene 2,700 miles away by MFA’s who have never stepped foot in your town. Whole Theatre. Seattle’s crawling with it. And surely it gives us the most solid shot at World Class.
(I want to do a version of the poster that says Enjoy Whole Theatre! Or as Shakespeare, Molière and Chekhov called it, “Theatre.”)