In the venerable tradition of releasing potentially controversial news on Friday afternoons—in the eternal hope that journalists will already be too drunk to report it—ACT Theatre announced last Friday afternoon that its managing director, Kevin Hughes, is leaving after only nine months.
Taking his place is Carlo Scandiuzzi, an excellent choice.
Mr. Scandiuzzi—a bright, energetic Swiss-Italian—started in Seattle theater at the Empty Space in 1982, acting in The Return of Pinocchio with ACT's current artistic director, Kurt Beattie.
Scandiuzzi was a concert promoter in the 1970s, bringing Devo, Nina Hagen, Iggy Pop, the Ramones, and John Cale to town. In 1990, he acted with poet Steven Jesse Bernstein in a horror movie about skateboarders in hell called Shredder Orpheus. Eventually, Scandiuzzi produced movies, founded IndieFlix (a distribution network for independent films), and become a philanthropist, throwing money at theater, dance, and the downtown library (designed by Rem Koolhaas), which named a room after him on spiral nine.
His recent masterstroke was starting the Central Heating Lab, an attempt to inject new energy into ACT, which struggles with the typical problems of regional theaters: exhausted economies, high ticket prices, a graying subscriber base, trouble attracting younger audiences, and a recurring failure to not bore the shit out of people.
This year, the Heating Lab is presenting stuff you wouldn't expect in a regional theater: comedy, cabaret, modern dance, burlesque, a new musical by band/theater collective "Awesome," and readings by Rebecca Brown, Trisha Ready, and Matt Briggs. The Heating Lab also helps produce new plays outside ACT's building, like The K of D, which closes August 9 at Balagan Theatre. In effect, Scandiuzzi has created a nimbler, more progressive faction inside the big institution that can program a kind of counterseason for a whole other audience: the younger kind that likes to buy single tickets and doesn't think Alan Ayckbourn comedies about middle-aged couples having affairs are all that funny.
The Heating Lab is also part of a trend among Seattle's Big Three—ACT, the Rep, and Intiman—of increased engagement with fringe theater. Intiman recently hired longtime fringe director Sheila Daniels as associate director and the Rep now rents its smaller stage for fringe shows (like Angels in America, reviewed to the right).
When asked what the hell was wrong with the old managing director (a former board member), ACT board president Brad Fowler said: "We were pleased with Kevin, he addressed the things we needed to focus on as we moved forward." Clearly, a master of obscurity.
Anyway: Hiring Scandiuzzi—polymath, philanthropist, dynamo—is the best decision ACT has made in years.