The director of Vetala, one of the most vibrant productions of the summer, doesn't get worked up about his future in Seattle theater. "I'm not interested in doing theater for a living," explains Sam Anderson, co-artistic director (with Joby Emmons) of the fringe performance group Defibrillator Productions. "A lot of commercial work is not that interesting, and the constant fight to get that work--it's just not worth it. Once you start doing theater professionally, it becomes sort of... I don't know, incestuous?"

"Insular," I offer, and Anderson nods.

"It's theater about theater." His tone is mild, despite the fact that he is, at present, unemployed. Anderson quit a food service job to put the finishing touches on this production, which has been four years in the making.

Anderson first encountered the deliciously gory (and entirely unpronounceable) Sanskrit fable cycle Vetalapancavimsati in a Tibetan anthro- pology class at the University of Washington, where he was studying anthropology and drama. When he met fellow drama student Joby Emmons, their styles quickly gelled. According to Anderson, he and Emmons were the only two people in the UW drama program "who could really care less about text. It's one element, but what I like about theater is that you get to put all those elements into one space."

The Vetalapancavimsati, in which a vampire- or demon-animated corpse (depending on the translation) tricks a king into listening to a series of stories, represented a ready-made framing device that could ground a series of disparate fables even as they shot off in all kinds of different directions. Anderson gravitates toward concepts that lend themselves to a pastiche of tone and style. "I like jumping around in genre, because otherwise I get bored," he says, grinning.

Anderson and Emmons founded Defibrillator just after graduation in 2000 and got to work right away. Their plans for Vetala were put on hold as they developed their "first real show," ...among the ruins: Ten by Kafka, another experiment with physical theater and linked-story adaptation that premiered at the 2001 Fringe Festival (this paper called the production "terrific"). Anderson then began the slow process of adapting the Vetala stories for the stage, reading four different translations of the text and condensing and fusing the stories. But it wasn't until he had the chance to visit South and Southeast Asia with friends in 2002 that he settled on the various directions he wanted to take the Vetala fables.

Anderson's travels in India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, and China introduced him to a wildly varied range of Asian performance traditions, including marathon performances of kathikali, one of the classical dances of southern India, and the slower, Calcutta-based chhau. They also involved a run of luck and absurd coincidence. In Indonesia, Anderson ran into his friend Tikka Sears (Vetala's movement director), who was on a Fulbright grant to work with the respected Javanese theater group Teater Payung Hitam. And in southern India, a friend of a friend invited him to visit the set of a Tollywood movie, which was filming a choreography sequence in a vast, abandoned mansion.

While he cites one formal theater production (Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at the Seattle Rep) that inspired his work on Vetala, he hastens to add that he also drew from Monty Python and the films of Terry Gilliam, particularly Brazil. "I've stopped looking to theater for inspiration," he confesses. "Going to India and seeing all these really vital performance genres--the stuff that was really interesting wasn't the theater; it was the dance, the ritual performance, and all the more popular forms, like Bollywood."

He doesn't have a lot of patience with the local theater scene either: "So much of Seattle theater is based on its quirk factor." Anderson's preference for the darker side of cultural tradition will continue in the next project from Defibrillator Productions, November's Notes from Underground, another original adaptation to be directed by Joby Emmons.

But not all local performance is insular and quirky. Anderson does make an exception for his friends in the theater group Collaborator, whose work runs along similar lines--if not similar tones. "There's Collaborator, which is all happy people, and then there's Defibrillator, which is"--he interjects some sinister, growly sounds--"zombies, crazy people."

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