Nobody knows for sure, but people guess that Seattle has around 100 theater companies. Fifty-five of those, according to Theatre Puget Sound, have budgets under $10,000. Twenty-eight have some kind of Actors' Equity contract, meaning they are, in name at least, "professional."
On Monday, January 28, in front of around 100 people, Seattle unofficially christened another. In the lobby of the Rep, nine well-known local actors (including Amy Thone and Lori Larsen) read Disappeared, a play about a vanished young woman and a weird little man who may have killed her. It was the first performance of the New Century Theatre Company.
Its name sounds generic, like a real-estate company or a think tank, but everything else about the company is unusual. Unlike most new companies, which are created by vernal actors who can't get regular union-theater work, NCTC is a group of established professionals who want to start a new professional company. Thone is a professor at Cornish College and a Stranger Genius Award winner, and the rest of the actors (Hans Altwies, Paul Stetler, MJ Sieber, Jen Taylor, Ray Gonzalez, Michael Patten) regularly work at Intiman, the Rep, Seattle Shakespeare Company, and so on. And the playwright, Stephanie Timm, has had her plays produced at the Empty Space, Live Girls!, and WET. She is also an equity actor.
So why would these eight actors start a new union theater, especially when so many in the last decade—the Empty Space, the Bathhouse, Tacoma Actors' Guild, and so on—have died? The answer: grief, wine, and late-night conversations.
For a year, Timm and Stetler (who are married) and Thone and Altwies (ditto) would convene in their living rooms to lament the death of theater they loved, to wish they could work together more often, and to wonder why so many good people were leaving town. And, more direly, why some actors refused to join the union, and others had dropped out, because they know there are more roles, if less money, for free agents. (Union contracts for actors and tech crew are cripplingly expensive and might kill professional theaters and, thereby, theater unions—but that's another story.) They thought maybe they should start their own company.
When Thone won the Genius Award, she mentioned something in her profile about theaters closing and actors leaving town. A donor approached her and Altwies, talked to them about their theoretical company (which had added members), and offered them around $10,000. That was, Sieber says, "the shit-or-get-off-the-pot moment."
So, as of last Monday, they've jumped into the breach. They don't have a board, don't know how they're going to finance their new company, and don't know where it will live. But they're planning their first production—The Adding Machine, directed by John Langs—for the fall.