While other theaters have been wringing their hands in financial and existential angst, Intiman spent the past season quietly replacing its old guard with younger, fresher faces. The new managing director, Brian Colburn, came up from the Pasadena Playhouse. The new associate director, Sheila Daniels, came up from Seattle's fringe scene. The new artistic director, Kate Whoriskey, has come out from New York.
Intiman, it seems, is ready to try new things. "When theaters have good ideas and something to fundraise for, they're fine," outgoing artistic director Bart Sher said in a joint interview with Whoriskey last week. "The money follows the ideas."
Whoriskey has ideas. She helped develop Ruined—based on Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children but set in a Congolese brothel—with her frequent collaborator Lynn Nottage. That play won last year's Pultizer Prize and its off-Broadway run has been extended seven times. During the interview last week, Whoriskey talked about adding an international cycle to Intiman's season, developing plays that could then travel to Iran, Uganda, or Cuba. Whoriskey also wants Intiman to sponsor work by international art stars. "I'd like to bring Ohad Naharin [the Israeli choreographer] to work on Brecht's Drums in the Night," she said. "To see if Shirin Neshat [the Iranian photographer and video artist] is interested in adapting The Scarlet Letter."
Whoriskey directed at Intiman—Ionesco's The Chairs—during Sher's first season in 2000, before he directed there. She says she has returned to Seattle more because of Sher than for the city itself and seems more interested in finding the best artists, wherever they are, than in cultivating the local theater ecology. "The whole world has globalized," she said. "And it seems the last place we believe in globalization is in theater."
This might nettle local actors and playwrights, who have long complained they aren't hired often enough in Seattle's big three theaters. But this April, associate director Sheila Daniels successfully transferred one of her Seattle fringe hits—a distilled Crime and Punishment for three actors—onto Intiman's big stage. While Whoriskey looks abroad, Daniels might play Seattle's local representative.
And how does Whoriskey feel taking her first job as artistic director while regional theaters around the country are bending and breaking under economic stress tests? "It's great!" she said. "Someone made this analogy that I like: Regional theater is a new, ephemeral idea, like a sand castle. Then the ocean came up and the sand castle is gone and we're all out there saying, 'Oh God, we need to rebuild the sand castle!'"
Maybe, she says, theaters need to turn themselves into something new.