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Patrick Lennon

None of them will make any structural changes to facilitate this happening with their own money, but if they can bag a grant to fund it (like Arena is doing), I wouldn't be surprised to see Intiman or the Rep do it for the PR. I'd much rather see ACT do it, and it is right up their alley, but they are less likely to get a big, national grant to fund it.

I'll be interested to see what Arena does when 3 years, and the money, are up.

Omar Willey

I asked the same question you are asking now back in 1990. What happened then was that the Intiman continued to do bad, boring, bloated plays but at least hired a Soviet theater to do it, ACT received a sizable grant from WA and Seattle arts commissions which they promptly squandered on three fairly poor world premieres, and the Rep actually, shock of shocks, became a "repertory" theater for about six months, with a regular repertory ensemble, and won an award for best regional theater. Within two years it was as though nothing had happened. Arena has three years, at least.

I suspect you'll see more of the same. Local theaters tend to believe too much in commission, but rarely in commitment. I used to argue for the benefits of a real repertory theater in Seattle, with a stable core of actors, playwrights and dramaturg, but I've since given up hope that anyone cares about such trifles.

Scot Augustson

Yikes. Told Paul I'd comment and then my stupid life got in the way.
OK, if this ever gets duplicated in Seattle, I don't see it coming from the administrative side.
This is a terrible economic time to start something bold, BUT, the next time their is any sort of a boom or bubble (I'm hoping it's a return to Tulip Mania). We need to pursue not the staff, but the board. Get them jazzed about what a creative, innovative city Seattle is. I've seen these folks drop five or six grand at a fund raising auction. If eight of them teamed up and pooled that money and "sponsored" a writer, that's forty grand. Use the civic pride angle. Or, call it R & D. They have the money. They have the power.

Jim Jewell

I can't speak for staffing everywhere, but it has always been pretty clearly fluid to me. Roles shift, people work combined percentages of time at different tasks in different departments. What I'm saying is that pretty much any given position after AD and MD is year to year. Good on Arena and anybody else for as long as they can fund it.

I don't see why we can't encourage this in a number of ways - baby steps for the tough economy. Hybrid position - half-time working with Artistic and half-time writing grants and shaking hands at Devo events. Is that a palatable proposition for either side?

Definitely something to encourage at the board level. You need to get someone with access and dollars jazzed on the idea. I'm curious to see how it could look at a place like SCT. Of course, we've cut the budget to the bone with all of staff taking on extra tasks and getting creative with budgets to keep us all working.

Paul Mullin

As usual, some very interesting comments are getting posted at my personal page on Facebook (no offense to you wise souls who have shared your thoughts here. You did the right thing, you did.)

But there was one from my good friend Sanjaya Krishna that was so relevant and cogent that felt compelled to ask him if I could repost it here. He said yes. So...

Sanjaya Krishna (June 23 at 10:52pm):
"I grew up in DC and have seen several productions at Arena Stage. I even studied them for my Economics of the Performing Arts senior seminar at Oberlin in 1987. They are a Washington institution to be sure.
@Paul - Why, as a champion of local playwrights, doesn't it bother you that only 1 out the 5 is a local DC playwright? It The others... See More whom Arena and even The Public Theater have on staff now are not local folks. So to me the argument of supporting local playwrights isn't actually helped that much by Arena's move. They are still bringing in "proven" people from out of town. They even get their expenses paid which is certainly nice for them. It's not the same as only staging "proven" plays so that I commend them for allowing the playwrights freedom to come up with new stuff. But to me this isn't much of a story from a support local playwrights angle. Unless I'm missing something. Which is always possible and, in many cases, a given."


I couldn't agree more with Sanjaya, and would further assert that this might be the very window of opportunity that Seattle's Big Houses could exploit in a bid for more deserved national attention and importance.

I understand that funding five playwrights is almost overwhelmingly impressive. I suspect I am not alone in discerning a note of premonitional schadenfreude in Patrick Lennon's last sentence: "I'll be interested to see what Arena does when 3 years, and the money, are up."

The fact remains, whether it lasts or not, Arena's doing something now. And so should Seattle's Big Houses. Since they all claim to be doing better than they were financially, can they really argue that among the three of them they couldn't fund a 3-year living wage contract for one local playwright. Note, what I'm asking for here is literally 1/15 of the commitment Arena has just made. Are ACT, Intiman and the Seattle Rep willing to tacitly go on record as being less than 1/15th as important to American Theatre as Arena?

If so, we've got even farther to go than I thought towards World Class.

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