Seattle's famed Intiman Theatre faces final fundraising deadline

Feb 6, 2012

How is an award-winning but bankrupt theater any different than say…Enron? Or a wayward lover? Or a drug addict?

Those are the kind of questions that have been on the minds of some long-time subscribers to Seattle’s Intiman Theatre.

Its board of directors is deciding whether to stay open or call it quits. They say they’ll re-launch if they’ve met a million-dollar fundraising goal before their meeting tonight (Monday, at 4 pm.)

The Intiman is one of the city's most famous theaters. Its history of daring and provocative productions goes back almost 40 years and has won numerous Tony awards. There’s a YouTube video all about it on the theater’s website. New artistic director Andrew Russell makes the case for donors to give this legendary Seattle Center playhouse a second chance.

‘This space is haunted, with spirits of the past," he says listing off some of the classic playwrights Intiman productions have interpreted: "Shakespeare, Chekov, Ibsen, Strindberg, Brecht, Shaw. And (it) has brought to life epic new works, like 'Angels in America,' 'The Kentucky Cycle,' 'The Light in the Piazza' and 'Ruined.'” 

'Ruined' was the stunning production by the theater's last Artistic Director, Kate Whorisky, about the use of rape as a tool of war in modern-day Africa, and the moral gray zone of a brothel that becomes a safe haven for hookers.

Some audience members feel they’re facing a moral dilemma in deciding whether to donate, yet again, to a theater whose board seemed to be asleep at the switch as it raided a $2.5 million-dollar endowment, to pay for its adventurous programming. Kate Whorisky, who was hand-picked by her predecessor, Bartlett Sher, is long gone.

Russell moved to Seattle two years ago to work by Whorisky's side. He says he understands the concerns of frustrated subscribers. He says his vision to bring the Intiman back from the ashes comes from a commitment to them. And he says he represents a new beginning.

“I was laid off with the rest of the theater back in April, two days before I was scheduled to direct a show, so, if there’s anyone to some degree that sympathizes, I do.”

He says the new model is quite simple: the million dollars they’re raising now will go into escrow and can only be spent on production – it won’t be used to service any old debt, as with past emergency drives. He says the only risk for the audience now is that they might not like the summer festival he’s designed. It includes a new interpretation of Romeo and Juliet…and a new play by Dan Savage.

“And if we get there, then it's yes, financial support -- but also, in a way, the ballots are in and we will move forward with the confidence that it is something that people want to participate in,” Russell says.

He says the theater productions they’ve planned will likely happen, whether at the Intiman or somewhere else. But it’s time now for them to fish or cut bait, so that the artists who’ve been tentatively signed for the planned summer festival know whether they’ll have this work on not, come August.