This weekend's Bash for Bart—a party for Intiman's outgoing artistic director and Tony Award magnet Bart Sher—was about what you'd expect. Theater people drinking free cocktails as fast as their little gullets could handle them, alternately giving each other a hard time and forming little mutual-admiration societies, gossiping about each other's personal and professional lives, and admiring the man of the hour.
Actor and theater scholar Laurence Ballard made some nice remarks and introduced a slide show of Bart's past productions. Broadway star Kelli O'Hara (The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific) sang and sang (and occasionally seemed to be pitching herself, from the stage, for any new opera work Bart's got coming his way).
Unfortunately, I had to leave this celebration of the past to host a discussion about the future at Theater off Jackson—which I only mention because I missed Bart's remarks and am now being asked, by a journalist or two, to respond to one of them. Here's a rough transcript, supplied by Intiman (delivered, they say, in a spirit of light-hearted ribbing):
It seems to me that to characterize Seattle is to talk about the profound struggle here between the inside and the outside... I want to dispel right now one very clear thing—and this is for you, Brendan Kiley—there is no such thing as local, and there is no such thing as national. There is only one thing: commitment. Commitment to work as hard as you can to make work here with the best people for the biggest audience. Ask Peter Boal. We only want to make great things.
I've argued over the years for Seattle theater artists to get over their nativism and admit that the best script/actor/director might come from Seattle or might come from Nashville. You want the best person for the job, and screw your provincialism.
But... I've had a slight change of heart—because theater is geographically bound. And a city's theater scene (like its music scene) has its own character. If we want radical homogeneity then, by all means, let's let the local starve by denying it exists. Then we can spend our money on imports instead of development, get all our music from one national station, and let sameness rule. (It's already starting to happen at the regional-theater level.)
And you cannot in good conscience argue that "there is no such thing as local, there is no such thing as national."
A touring production of Xanadu at the
5th Ave Paramount is national, and a new production of Sgt. Rigsby and His Amazing Silhouettes—written by Scot Augustson, developed and performed in Seattle by Stephen Hando and Shannon Kipp and other actors we know and love—is local, and yet another production of Doubt, with local actors, is somewhere in between.
Of course, it's a false choice. We don't have to choose whether to judge works on a local/national axis or good/bad axis. On the Boards figured this out years ago by having a parallel season: the Inter/National Series and the Northwest Series. OtB brings us Young Jean Lee and Forced Entertainment and throws money and support and audiences at local artists like Zoe Scofield and Amy O'Neal and Allen Johnson.
We can cultivate our garden and import ideas from the outside world.
Or we can have willfully obtuse arguments about whether the local is inherently superior to the inter/national or whether the local even exists. But that seems like a waste of time.
And if you really want to get down in the weeds on this localism argument, see this impassioned essay by playwright Paul Mullin.