Intiman Theatre’s Andrew Russell remembers exactly how he felt in 2011, when the venerable Seattle company shut its doors in the middle of an artistic season.
“Well, heartbreak. Absolutely heartbreak,” he says. “And confusion and anxiety and all of those things that happen when the human body faces something that’s unexpected.”
Russell had moved to Seattle a couple of years before, to work with the Intiman’s newly appointed Artistic Director, Kate Whoriskey.
It turned out the Intiman was mired in a quagmire of debt. At the time, its board of directors felt they had no choice except to close.
Whoriskey returned to New York, where she had an established freelance theater career. But Russell stayed in Seattle.
“And enjoyed Seattle in the summer, and thought I would see how things unfolded,” he says.
Many Intiman board members fled, but some stayed behind. They started talking about how they could reinvent one of the city’s oldest nonprofit theaters, a company that had once earned a prestigious Tony Award in recognition of its work.
Russell had an idea.
What if the Intiman put on a shortened summer festival, offering free tickets to the subscribers who had been disappointed the year before? And what if they raised $1 million in advance to pull off this feat?
That’s not the way your typical nonprofit theater company works. Most depend on upfront ticket sales, grants and philanthropic donations as seed money for a season. Then they make up the shortfall through individual ticket sales or other donations.
Instead, Intiman supporters ponied up almost $1 million in the spring of 2012. The festival was launched.
Intiman still owes its creditors, but fast forward four years, and the lean and spunky operation is ready to open a new summer festival. The company recently received a $500,000 grant in recognition of both its efforts to stabilize its finances, and its successful production last summer of Tony Kushner’s two-part saga “Angels in America.”
Russell and his producing director Jennifer Zeyl say with the theater on financial track, it’s time to think about the future.
“We hope in the future to be known as a theater that celebrates socially progressive work,” Russell says, “one that acknowledges that we are a theater for the public good.”
Intiman is committed to racial, gender and economic parity in casting; it’s equally committed to that kind of equity on the technical side of operations, which Zeyl oversees.
“My long term goal is to diversify production artists,” she says.
That’s easier said than done. Zeyl says few high schools offer classes in technical theater: lighting, design or backstage skills. She believes the first step for the Intiman is to set up training programs. She hints that the Intiman is well on the way to making that a reality.
In the meantime, the Intiman’s 2015 summer festival launches July 10th with a partnership. Its first company-in-resident, The Williams Project, will present Tennessee Williams’ play “Orpheus Descending.”
The festival continues through late September with a production of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” and a world premier written by Ana Brown and Andrew Russell, called “John Baxter is a Switch Hitter.”