Last week I got a chance to talk with Bartlett Sher, the newly appointed director of Intiman Theater. Calling from a cell phone as he walked down a street in Manhattan, Sher (who goes by Bart) played down recent reports in the Times and P-I that had him sounding, well, like a flaky hippie. Sher, 40, uses his early experiences as a San Francisco Deadhead as a way of explaining his approach to the classics of Western theater.

"I almost want to kill myself! I sound like some old fart," Sher said about Joe Adcock's profile in the P-I. Sher assured me he wouldn't be, say, setting A Midsummer Night's Dream on Haight Street, before going on to explain what he meant by his references to the Dead: "As a young person growing up in S.F., [the Dead] to me was classical theater -- adventurous, but based on traditional forms." What he likes to do is present exciting takes on classical plays. "Intiman started as a classical theater. [I want to make] the place much more grounded in the classics, with a contemporary resonance -- but not necessarily a contemporary style. It could be a metal stage, drums, whatever, mostly as exciting projects as I can put together, with a lot of ambition and daring in the making of the work."

His appointment could help set Intiman apart from Seattle's other major equity theaters, which blur together as they chase after last year's Broadway and Off-Broadway hits. "I'm much less interested in that -- not that it won't be part of what we do, but we need to make our own unique work." Currently directing a cycle of medieval mystery plays (lives of Christ which were, along with more earthy Robin Hood comedies, the foundations of the English theater), Sher comes to Seattle in March of 2000.

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Speaking of the dead: Is artsEdge, the two-year-old Seattle Center festival of fringy music, theater, dance, and art, over? A widely distributed e-mail spread the news that artsEdge had been canceled, and blamed it on I-695 budget shortfalls. According to Perry Cooper, media relations spokesman at Seattle Center, the festival's only taking a one-year break: "It's a one-time thing as far as we know." The true culprit in the cancellation isn't I-695, but the Experience Music Project, which was the primary funder of artsEdge, and which has a major opening celebration scheduled for June, the same month as artsEdge. The I-695 angle comes up because city departments have been asked to come up with possible cutbacks for next year: since Seattle Center is canceling artsEdge, that was an easy line to cut from the budget.

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Seattle Art Museum is dedicating next year's shows to American art, with shows devoted to Roy Lichtenstein, Eastman Johnson, Shaker craftwork, and the Ensworth Collection of 20th-century American art. The capstone of the season was announced last week at a press conference. Trevor Fairbrother will curate a large show devoted to John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the stunningly good American expatriate painter whose maligned reputation has recently come in for positive reappraisal. Fairbrother, whose doctoral dissertation was about Sargent, will write a book on Sargent to accompany the exhibition. It opens in December of 2000, with some 70 to 100 works on display.

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