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February 12, 2011


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I've seen shows at most of the big theaters in Seattle and had great experiences across the board, more or less. Like most folks I generally see a show because I'm interested in a specific title or director. With The Intiman it doesn't matter. When I'm in Seattle I go see whatever show they're doing, no question. Five years later I'm still telling anyone who will listen about The Three Sisters I saw there. One of the best pieces of theatre I've seen. As an audience member they have always struck me as a successful model of what a "Regional Theatre" should be: selling tickets, serving the comunity and providing a home for two of the great american directors of our time. Sher and Whoriskey are both at the forefront of the theatrical form, creating work with rigor and imagination, rhythm and depth. That, to me, is what is worth saving: excellence and innovation at the level of popular culture...as popular as one can consider live theatre in 2011. I have no insight into how they got into this mess, but I certainly hope they'll find a way out of it.


I started my career at The Intiman, really, as an intern on The Light in the Piazza. I left Seattle years ago, but I always thought the work at Intiman was beautiful. Then, when I worked there briefly, I couldn't help notice that mostly the show was staffed with New Yorkers. Then, when Sher left they replaced him with a New Yorker- Whoriskey- instead of local favorite Sheila Daniels. It could have been just that particular show, I guess, and I don't know what went down when they needed a new AD, but shouldn't a regional theater be... um... regional?


Whoriskey worked all over the country as a freelancer before the intiman gig. not saying I disagree with you, although I think I do, but must the artistic director of a regional theatre be born and raised in that community? wouldn't a theatre be better served by a visionary artist who has the contacts and perspective of a national/international career?

Paul Mullin

"wouldn't a theatre be better served by a visionary artist who has the contacts and perspective of a national/international career?"

I feel completely comfortable answering that question with a categorical "NO!".

Here's one reason why: http://www.paulmullin.org/just-wrought/2010/01/locally-grown-draft.html

And this post contains more reasons plus links to other posts with more reasons still: http://www.paulmullin.org/just-wrought/2009/12/towards-a-world-class-theatre.html

Enough with the carpet bagging in Seattle. Sell that national/international crap where they are still buying it (though they won't be for long). Theatre is, by its very definition, a local art form.

Jack Worthing

Paul makes many good points and I generally agree with him. But I caution that culture can tip too heavily in favor of the local. In Chicago, for example, you often run into a provincial 'We don't need New York; we don't need London' attitude. This scrappy Midwestern can-do blah blah is only admirable to a point. Keep one eye on your own patch and one eye elsewhere, because it will keep you fertile. At its worst Chicago theatre is repetitive and incestuous, with no ambition outside Cook County. It is a fine balance to strike. I think Philadelphia is starting to do a good job of it, but we'll see.

Jack Worthing

An extreme example is Canada, where international work is legislated out of the running. The result is a lot of forgettable plays about small-town Canada and not much else.

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Jack. I agree we should not be siloed in a particular community. But I would point out that saying "We don't need New York, we don't need London" is still, in some ways, basing your actions on those towns.

When you are really free from cultural carpetbagging, you can welcome the influences of other places in the spirit of collaboration. When you are stuck right in the middle of the struggle, as Seattle currently is, then, yes, I think there is something to be said for standing up and saying, "Locally grown is better."

Jack Worthing

Very fair point.


I'd like to suggest that the premise that local vs. national/international is irrelevant. For starts, it need not be a dichotomy. This not a fork in the road. And secondly, we are increasingly in a global artistic culture and community - as witnessed by the nature of this discussion. (Where is Isaac? Where is Jack? Where is Paul?) Artists regularly collaborate across vast geographic and cultural distances, and a whole generation is growing up and being educated with this as the norm. Egypt is in our backyard. As is Belarus.

Yes, Whoriskey alienated some of the local theater community - a very palsy bunch, all in all - be appearing aloof. Some artists are focused more internally. That isn't a quality of being from New York, or a judgement on Seattle.

Back to Intiman. It is conceivable that Coburn could have run the organization into major debt in two seasons. What we don't know is what the balance sheet looked like when he arrived. Bottom line is that their board should have been on top of the financial situation. Either way, if they weren't getting this information from staff, or didn't know how to interpret it. the responsibility is still with the board. For the $1million campaign to succeed, they are going to have to show some changes at the board level - either personnel or procedure - as well as with their management staff.

I have always been an Intiman fan. They seem to be the scrappy somewhat gutsier of the big three. Whoriskey is reported to be developing some projects that are more politically-topical and with a social justice lens. That would be a welcome addition from my perspective.


A comment to MattC: I'm not sure how much you are in Seattle these days. Your comment that you are still talking about a production of Three Sisters from five years ago is interesting in that I believe that's almost exactly when things started to really get less interesting at Intiman and the quality/programming started its long decline. I don't expect any theater to program only shows I'm interested in seeing, of course. I think of myself as a relatively educated theater-goer with fairly broad tastes, and yet Intiman programs almost nothing I want to see. It seemed to me that Bart Sher really started to check out around that time, focusing more on New York. I believe he did a disservice to Intiman by not resigning much earlier than he did. I agree with many of Paul Mullin's comments about Kate Whoriskey. Intiman should have gone with a local person to lead the theater. it should have been obvious to anyone paying attention that the theater was in trouble, and hiring locally would have at least signaled a commitment to Seattle. I did go see The Doctor in Spite of Himself recently, and it was fun if completely unsubstantial. However, Whoriskey's other programming/casting choices have not impressed me. The Scarlet Letter by all accounts was a major failure artistically, and while it was a world premiere, it was not by a local playwright. I feel bad for her professionally as I doubt she was really prepared for the situation she finds herself in. But talking about directing her husband in an upcoming show, importing other actors from New York, and making comments about the globalization of theater doesn't help to endear her to the audience in this city. And Intiman has now thrown itself upon those people's mercy. Should it survive, and I would hate to see that wonderful theater space dark, I hope it will provoke some serious soul-searching about what its role in the community should be.


A quick comment to Tommer, who was posting at the same time I was: though I was talking about commitment to local theater as something I believe is lacking (to varying degrees) at the major houses in Seattle, I do not disagree with your comment that theater, like most everything else, is becoming more global. I don't have a problem with shows, or actors or playwrights, being brought into Seattle theaters if the quality is there. Case in point at Intiman would be The Scarlet Letter. Another example: I went to see God of Carnage at the Rep. French playwright, British translator, local actors, and a director who grew up here. End result? Kind of bland. They changed some geographic references to try to make it feel local, which only served to emphasize how unlocal the play's characters are. They were written to be Parisians. In the New York production they were supposed to be from Brooklyn, which also would kind of make sense. Nothing about them felt Seattle-ish. So do I mind seeing shows that have nothing to do with Seattle? Of course not. But I expect theaters to address the local ethos as well, and want to see them do so on a regular basis.

Paul Mullin

As much as we rooted for the protesters in Egypt their triumph was not one of globalization, per se. They won because they occupied and held an actual specific place.

Theaters are actual specific places. Actual people occupy them. If Intiman wants to run a theatre for the national scene, then it should find national funders and national patrons. Perhaps they could fly in some audience as well.

Kate needs to stop misspeaking from both sides of her mouth: talking about globalization when she first arrive because perhaps she thought it would appeal to our famous liberal sensitivities, then invoking the ghosts of the P-I and the Empty Space when it suits her cause when all of us who live here know she has had nothing to do with either of those institutions.

Don't roll in here and speak of our dead as if they are your own. That's beyond rude. That's offensive.

Paul Mullin

Hey Isaac, as I promised, I enumerated my thoughts on the Intiman in a full essay: http://www.paulmullin.org/just-wrought/2011/02/on-institutional-arrogance.html


The last thing I saw at Intiman was Ruined (Sigh. An import!) and I thought it was great. Before that I think it was A Thousand Clowns, which was essentially boring but fine for the blue hairs. I mentioned The Three Sisters because it was such a powerful experience for me personally, truly on my all time top five. In my formative years I would travel to Seattle once a year to see family and go see some theatre. I responded to the work I saw at the Intiman on a specific and personal level and developed a specific and personal relationship with that theatre and the work I saw there. Perhaps that relationship is invalid because I was not local, or because I was a mere audience member and not an artist who wanted to work there? I don't mean that snarkily, but am genuinely curious. This whole mess and the varied responses I am hearing has me asking myself a lot of questions about the micro versus the macro as well as the space in between.

Of course, this doesn't need to be an either/or situation, and I respond personally (in all four dimensions) to Tommer's comment about global community. I'm an artist from the south who now lives in the northwest, travels to new york regularly to develop work and is writing this message from the balkans. Do my experiences as an artist or an audience member not count when I am in new york? Must a certain amount of time pass before I am allowed to see or make work in portland? should I not be creating work with albanian artists? Am I denied a perspective because I find myself without a real home right now? Of course I want to make work that is rooted in my experience of community, but does that mean I should pull up the drawbridge and deny myself contact with the rest of the world? that sort of reactionary conservatism doesn't work for the way I want to live. In a city the size of Seattle one hopes the scene is capable of supporting locally grown art that is innovative and exciting while engaging in a dialogue with the rest of the world. Right now, I'd venture to say that the ability to produce native brilliance while absorbing the best of the outside world is what makes a community truly world class. In my hometown (Charlotte, NC) there was a great deal of anger in the theatre community some years back when Charlotte Rep brought in two new yorkers as artistic and managing director (which, interestingly, precipitated that company's demise). But we were angry because that was the only game in town. Seattle seems different to me in regard to the offerings available to artists and audiences. But, it is often the case that I am wrong. I'd love to get a beer next time I'm up in Seattle so I can get a better idea of what's going on there, from the perspective of an intelligent and passionate insider.


and of course, nothing I just wrote has anything at all to do with the questin Isaac has posed. yikes.

Paul Mullin

MattC, absolutely look me up next time you're in Seattle and we'll get a beer. You're hoisting a lot of straw men up there in that long comment. I'd rather cut them down with a beer in my hand, preferably purchased by you. ;-)


you're on!


I'll even spring for the first round of whiskey too!

Paul Mullin

Can't wait. Honestly, if we all sat down with whiskey's I think we'd get a helluva lot more done.

Jose Amador

Palsy? A palsy bunch?

Are you accusing us of being chummy with each other (which is to laugh) or that we're partially paralyzed? What are you saying, Tommer?


@ Jose. Great! I stand corrected. I meant "chummy with each other" which now I see in in the dictionary, I should have written " palsy-walsy" as not to be confused with cerebral palsy. But I would never use the phrase "palsy-walsy" even in the privacy of my own brain. See MattC and Paul's exchange above for an example of guys being palsy.


You know who I'd like to see at the top of the donor list? Bart.


Seems like Bart donating would be the least he could do, seeing as he can't give the theater back those years he was concentrating on being the next big thing in NYC while still nominally being in charge here.

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