A couple of months ago I received a birth announcement in the mail, adorned with a pair of baby booties: "It's a Theatre!" Inside, the card invited me to come celebrate the birth of Hyperion Theatre, "Seattle's newest professional theatre company."
Although I didn't make the open house, my curiosity about this group was already piqued by their Seattle debut earlier this year with Charles Mee's po-mo Greek revival play, Orestes 2.0. The production flew far over the top, but the company demonstrated a dogged commitment to taking risks the full distance.
Reviews have been mixed, but critics are paying attention to this ambitious group. (Their goal is to be a nationally renowned company by 2009.) Within months, Hyperion Theatre has grown from two (co-founders Joe Seabeck and Josh Sebers) to nearly 30 members, and has taken on a surprisingly aggressive production schedule while they search for a permanent production home. Having recently wrapped up Tartuffe 2000 -- another mod spin on a classic -- at the Broadway Performance Hall, the group moved fast to open the West Coast premiere of Shopping and Fucking at the Richard Hugo House last week. Managing director Ted Lane tells me that Hyperion now runs on 85 percent earned income.
The company may be young, but most of its members have a few notches on their professional belts. Having completed undergraduate degrees at the University of Washington, Sebers left to pursue an MFA in acting at UC San Diego, and Seabeck headed for Indiana, where he worked with one of just two Equity companies in the state. Meanwhile, he also completed an MFA in directing at Wayne State in Detroit. The two both ended up in New York, but when they opted to open their own acting studio and start a theater company, they headed back west. Colleagues were doubtful.
"I made a conscious decision," Seabeck says, "not to listen to the naysayers anymore.... When we told our friends we wanted to start an acting studio and theater here, they said, 'Oh, noooooooo. You'll never be able to do it. Where are you going to get the money? It'll take you two years to get a student.' We came to Seattle in January. On February 1, I found a studio space. On March 1, I had 20 students." After the school found its footing, Seabeck and Sebers focused their energy on founding a separate theater company, built on a collaborative ethic. The current company is a mix of local playwrights, directors, and actors, as well as a few former students. Granted, it's tough to get specific with the company about their objectives or aesthetic: Hyperion simply "exists to explore our shared human experience through the immediacy of live theatre." As Lang points out, that's nothing new. Still, my meeting with the company feels like a giddy pep rally; everybody's "excited to be here."
Hyperion's just-picked fall show is Jeffrey Jones' 70 Scenes of Halloween, directed by Associate Artistic Director Amy Lane and presented (in October, of course) at Freehold's East Hall. The play is something of a departure for the company: In contrast to the previously favored "classics in new contexts," 70 Scenes is a modern absurdist tale chronicling a married couple's Halloween night spent on the couch as they battle the demons of boredom, routine marriage, and mid-life crises -- along with a Beast and a Witch. Wacky stuff, but Hyperion insists that their selections won't be based on potential ticket sales. "I have faith," Seabeck assures me, "that if we're doing it for the right reason, we truly believe in what we're doing, and we work hard, people will come."