Seattle Theatre: What’s Next?

On Monday, I had the good fortune of attending (and strangely, House Managing) an open forum for the theatre community called Seattle Theater: What’s Next at the new performance space in Fremont, West of Lenin. This event was organized by Jim Jewell in an effort to initiate discourse and create an action plan for issues facing the Seattle theatre community that some (myself included) felt went unaddressed at Mike Daisey’s How Theatre Failed America post-play discussion with Seattle artists.

For non-Seattleites, Intiman Theatre closed and the whole theatre community had an opinion about why, and whom to blame, and then wanted to discuss what to do with the empty space. After a wonderfully amazing performance, the post-play discussion heated up and then went to luke-warm. I found myself becoming more enraged as I listened to some of the biggest names in the Seattle theatre scene say truly amazing things, some shamelessly self-promoting things, and in some instances, say nothing at all.

Not many in attendance said anything new; the ones that did (most of whom weren’t speaking on stage) didn’t talk enough, and the ones that had nothing to say, said it over and over again. By the end of the evening, there were no revelations, no proposed solutions, and no incite to riot. I wanted a revolution.

Fast forward to Monday. Jim Jewell, local playwright and all around nice guy (I only met him on Monday, but I feel qualified to make this judgment) organized a gathering after penning an Open Letter to the Intiman Board. The goal was to get the local community together in one place and actually start working on some of these ideas that we keep talking about, but never put into action. The event was blogged live, so the fullest account possible can be found here. Below are the ideas from the speakers that resonated with  me.

  • Josh Groshong: re-instate the Fringe Festival
  • Jena Cane:  Can we as Seattle theatre stand for something (and she could give a fuck about bringing in new audiences)
  • Caitlin Sullivan: focus should be on making great theatre, not creating new companies, or managing new spaces
  • Meaghan Arnette: create a Humana Festival for the Northwest

All of the speakers said many more amazing things than these, many of which were revolutionary. Overall themes for the evening were defining Seattle theatre as it’s own entity, demanding space, and focusing on local talent in every aspect. After the initial speakers, we started to track projects and commit names to paper.

During this segment, there was a particularly eye-rolling moment in which people wanted to argue about what to name the Fringe Festival (some people feeling that calling it “fringe” marginalizes the work and has the connotation of something that failed before). Not that this isn’t an important debate – names are a big deal – but, Theatre Community, can we please debate about what to call the thing after we actually have the ball rolling? Trying to have a serious debate about a name when we haven’t even created an action plan, mission statement, committee members, etc. is an incredible waste of time.

That moment aside (though there were other moments that drifted in that direction, which I will refrain from outlining here) I thought the evening was successful.  Rather than just talk, which we are all very good at doing, we started to make plans. We re-convened at the George & Dragon, created assignments, collected contact information, and talked about more ideas. On the whole, I feel like Seattle theatre may trend in awesome new directions.

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