Last week, monologuist Mike Daisey took a break from his run of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at Seattle Repertory Theatre to give a benefit performance for the employees of Intiman Theatre—people who were abruptly laid off last month when Intiman announced it would cancel its season and go on indefinite hiatus.
For the benefit, Daisey chose his How Theater Failed America, followed by a panel discussion with theater artists (freelance director Allison Narver) and administrators (Seattle Rep artistic director Jerry Manning). The audience was filled with familiar faces from Seattle theaters who came to buy their $25 tickets to support their fellow arts workers. (One of the ironies of American theater is its solipsistic economy.)
It was an audience eager to laugh at Daisey's grimly comic diagnosis of theater's failures. His riff on the cold rigidity of the regional theater rehearsal process—spoken with Daisey's typical emphatic delivery—got the biggest laugh of the night:
On the first day, the stage manager walks into a big empty rehearsal room. They flip on the lights and check their watch. A moment later, an enormous box of freeze-dried actors is shot in from New York City! And the stage manager runs over and starts thawing out the actors. The actors leap out: "Whoa! Where the fuck am I? I don't give a shit. What play are we doing? I don't care! I'm ready to go!" The director flies in from another direction—he has just done 12 shows back-to-back. He jumps out and says: "What are we doing? Is it Pericles? Okay, hold on, I made some notes on this cocktail napkin. It's about, uh, [Daisey reads from an imaginary cocktail napkin] innocence and corruption—okay, yeah! Let's do it!" These are people who've never met each other before in their lives, they're complete strangers, and they rehearse for three and a half weeks. Which, conveniently, is exactly how long it takes to master every play ever written in the English language!
There wasn't much laughter from the panel. Hans Altwies, actor and co–artistic director of the New Century Theatre Company, said, "We spend so much energy trying to keep theater alive and not enough energy making it better." He suggested that if he didn't see any improvement in the quality of theater, he'd probably quit. People onstage and in the audience worried whether Seattle performance had passed its golden age. (The precise dating of that age was a matter of debate—some said the 1990s, some said the '80s, some said the '70s.)
Discussions about the closing of Intiman were mixed. "My reaction to Intiman closing is one of indifference," said monologuist Elizabeth Kenny. "I didn't go often and I never got hired there. I recognize that I should feel alarmed—but I've been making theater for no money with people who have no money for so long. When I think about it closing, I feel a deeper sadness that I have no feelings about it."
The benefit raised around $8,500. The Rep says the money will be parcelled out among employees who didn't get a severance package and artists whose contracts were suddenly canceled along with Intiman's season.