Portraits by Kelly O
Intiman Theatre, which abruptly collapsed in 2011, is in the middle of producing a thrilling high-wire act of a summer festival to save itself: Four plays at once, with a small group of actors playing roles in multiple shows simultaneously. For more about the shows—Hedda Gabler, Romeo and Juliet, Dirty Story, and Miracle!, a drag-show version of the life of Helen Keller created by Dan Savage—see the theater calendar.
You're 29. Aren't you a bit young to be the artistic director of a Tony Award–winning theater?
I don't know! [Starts to say something sarcastic, then stops himself.] I should take this more seriously. The plan was to curate a four-play festival from this group of people—some of them seasoned, some not at all seasoned.
Are you intimidated by this prospect?
It doesn't feel outside of my grasp—yet. Our motto here is "It's just theater. Let's make it good. But it's just theater, and the world will keep spinning."
Where are you from?
Born, bred, and buttered in West Lafayette, Indiana.
How did you get into this high-profile predicament?
The theater closed in April, and I proposed this festival to the board. They said yes, but first we had to complete a successful fundraising campaign. It was like: "Congratulations! Your vision is great, and now we have to raise a million dollars! Your job is contingent on raising the funds for your own salary! Let's do it!" It's an experiment. In retrospect, that sounds bananas...
"In retrospect"? You're only 29 and you sound like a grandpa.
It sounds like "retrospect" wisdom because there's been so much trauma in the past year. So, yes, I feel like I'm 80 years old.
Why did you decide to try and save Intiman when so many older, more seasoned people had walked away?
I can't speak for others, but I thought, "I see a possibility here." I saw there were so many people in this community who were an ornery and agitated bunch—that was so exciting to me. And I'm a stubborn and relentless human being.
You're acting in three of the four shows. Are you losing your mind?
It's pretty wild, that's for sure. Most days, you rehearse for two shows a day, occasionally three. It's extremely complicated, and the stage management here is amazing.
How are you memorizing lines for three shows at a time?
The lines aren't as complicated as the mind-set—you get immersed in one entire world, then take a five- minute break, and you're in a different world. One moment, you're mining the depths of your soul [for Hedda Gabler], and the next moment, you're in a clown outfit and high heels dancing to Diana Ross [for Miracle!].
Where are you from?
I'm from Colorado—I'm a mountain kid. I was not a great student in high school, and in community college I realized, "Oh no, it's gonna be theater!" But I boarded that train 11 years ago, and it just picked me up and took off—it's like I joined the circus.
What's it like being directed by Dan Savage in a drag musical about Helen Keller?
[Laughs] Dan and I have some similarities in that we're both really sensitive, loving people in our hearts but outwardly very provocative. You can tell that he cares about people, even when he's making fun of them.
What's the best-case scenario for this insanely ambitious project?
Like any theater project—that people connect to their own humanity in a big, public place with lots of other people sitting around them.
I fall flat on my fucking face in high heels during a drag number.
Wait, you're a firefighter?
I've been a firefighter for 10 years. I started testing when I was 18: written tests, physicals, psych tests. It's similar to acting—you have a run of auditions. But my dad is a firefighter; my brother is a firefighter. So I knew sort of what the job entailed.
How did you get into theater?
I grew up in the South End of Seattle, Columbia City. I went to Franklin and in my senior year to Roosevelt. I took some acting classes in high school and after that went to Freehold. I found some instructors I really liked [Charles Waxberg, Amy Thone] and took some private classes. I've been going out and auditioning since I was about 26, nine years or so. But I have kids, so it's a fine balance. I have a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 6-week-old. I don't want to be in rehearsal and missing out on their lives.
How much sleep are you getting these days?
Some nights, five hours. Some nights, if I'm working at the fire station until 8 a.m. and have rehearsal at 10 a.m., I don't really sleep at all.
You're in Hedda Gabler and Romeo and Juliet. How do you keep all that straight?
It's tricky. I'll get home from rehearsal, put the kids to sleep, say good night, then go down in the basement and look at the script and run lines and think about the history of these characters. Then I wake up in the morning and do another—I alternate.
How's your wife dealing with all this craziness?
My wife is very patient. Very patient—and very busy.