The day before seeing Rachel Corrie, we went to the Intiman’s 2007 season launch party, which by the end had me thinking along lines almost of cosmogonical – though more despite, rather than because of, what the Intiman’s artistic and managerial representatives had to say for themselves.
Laura and Bart said much the same as they did at the annual meeting, though with a couple of innovations. I don’t remember Laura claiming, in her list of successes that the Intiman is bringing to Seattle and the world, that its American Cycle began a vogue of their “institutional peers” (yes, I guess that’s how they talk these days in non-profit theater management…) doing the same kind of thing, but here she did. She hastened to admit, though, that they were in fact doing the same kind of thing in their own unique ways – ironically undercutting the claim. Heaven help them if they are – except for Native Son (which was indeed very good and very interesting, despite almost ending in disaster when the original adapter withdrew at the very last minute – a pity a shower forever interrupted the account given here), the experiment has been disappointing so far, for reasons I outlined anent the Grapes of Wrath.
Bart continued in his “all theater is local – but we’re taking it beyond Seattle to the world” vein – which, oddly, is in a somewhat different sense the theme of this blog – though the precise pertinence of Uncle Vanya, The Skin of Our Teeth, and To Kill a Mockingbird to the Seattle community, why we should want to gather around the fire to hear these particular stories – and not those with even more local and contemporary relevance, like Olympia native Rachel Corrie’s – never did come clear. Here’s hoping Prayer for My Enemy will be the ringer in the deck.
What was interesting in Bart’s speech was his admission that in his youth he was – a my wife and I were – a great admirer of Peter Sellars work – actually, I think he, Bart and my wife and I must be of an age, so Sellars would have been in his youth too – it’s difficult to conceive, and hence to remember, just how quickly he catapulted from the Harvard to the world stage. Bart was so stricken that he actually auditioned to be in one of Sellar’s plays…where he met the deaf actor who is starring in The Skin of Out Teeth, I think, under Bart’s direction, where he will sign his performance, to be interpreted by a speaker offstage.
Or actually, maybe this wasn’t that interesting – but his description of The Skin of Our Teeth as kind of the theatrical equivalent of Finegan’s Wake – though actually, from what he said and the wonderful preview of the opening voiceover veteran thespian Clayton Corzatte gave, more like the theatrical pageant in Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts, one of my favorite closet dramas in all literature – was, and convined us to finally buy tickets – we’d left it out of our subscription when it was a play to be announced later, and I had no luck convincing Bart to tackle Shakespeare’s Pericles in a series of impertinent emails that I may one day reproduce here.
Indeed, it was the unannounced appearance of Corzatte – a replacement for Adam Guettel’s disappointing no show? – and the unexpectedly engaging performace of the Black Nativity Choir that transcended all my petty disappointment with the way the Intiman has lately been talking a good game about the community’s importance to the theater, but not doing much that furthers that relationship in a truly radical way, and instead just making a good career of it for Bart and Laura – after all, that is important, right? – and got me thinking that maybe the Intiman – historically at least, if not quite contemporaneously – has been the site of people who do (or did) care about making the kind of radical community-spawned theater I’ve been thinking about goading along through an annual Athens-style dramatic competition to be initiated in part through my (yet to be developed) website, Making a Play for Seattle.
Never having seen the annual Black Nativity – we intend to try it out this year, it’s tenth – I didn’t know what to expect when, after a halting introduction by the director Jacqueline Moscou where she expressed some displeasure at there being insufficient budget for new costumes, the choir hit the stage to sing a couple of gospel songs.
But these songs really got me going – much more than Guettel’s faux-operatic pieces in Light, which seem like weak Sondheim to me. These were the kind of songs the Greeks choruses must have sung, a king of updated ritual liturgy that we all could learn to sing if we haven’t already, and sing together after admiring the special gifts of the chorus and its soloists.
What struck me about the first song, after many repetitions of the “how eck….cellent is they name,” much “eck” sounds like “ack” when, as it is at the end of this song, it’s repeated by itself over and over at the very end – as if the community discovers its own name – or at least the last consonant that completes it – in repeating it’s praise of god’s name.
The second song was just as curious – as sort of love song of a daughter to a loving father god, whom she calls her “own.” It reminded me of an article I read recently, but cannot find right now – someone like Daniel Dennett, but less avowedly atheistical – about an anthropologist who studies how it seems to be part of what makes us symbol-using humans that also makes us predisposed to speculate, or theorize, or have faith that there must be a god or gods. Not that that proves anything – not that there necessarily is – but just that, given the way we find and create meaning in the world socially together – the idea of god makes a lot of intuitive sense to us, and at the very least a comforting fantasy we find it difficult to avoid indulging. As here: how easy and comforting it is to find something like a parent’s love and care in a God we just don’t know in the same intimate fashion – though we like to think, he knows us.
Oh, did I mention that Bart’s little daughter was in the audience, and that she’s playing the dinosaur in The Skin of Our Teeth?
As the audience was filing out after the show was over, Clayton Corzatte called us back in to tell us a story of when he and a previous Intiman artistic director were teaching at the University of Washington. At a humanities and arts faculty meeting the topic of budget constraints came up, and a history professor asked why the university needed a theater arts department. The former artistic director rose to say something like – but in the form of a really good quip that I can’t quite recall – theater is one of the oldest ways in which people told themselves their histories, and as such predates recorded history itself.
All I can say to that is – Amen, brother.