Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Though the post 9/11 economic slump has hit Seattle's theatre scene pretty hard, to paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, "We're Still Here." As my Seattle predecessor Jonathan Frank aptly noted in his original draft of this overview, Seattle still has a vibrant theatrical community, one that is larger than any other city of its size, and many larger cities as well.

One of the centers of Seattle's theater community is the Seattle Center, which was built for the 1962 World's Fair. It is the home of The Seattle Repertory Theatre (which has won the regional Tony, and in recent years debuted many new works by such playwrights as Nilo Cruz and August Wilson), the Intiman Theatre (which presented the world-premier of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Kentucky Cycle, and more recently the world premiere of Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel's musical The Light in The Piazza), The award winning Seattle Children's Theatre is also in the Center, and some very worthwhile smaller companies such as Book-It and Seattle Shakespeare are regular tenants of the former home of the late, lamented Seattle Group Theatre, in the lowest level of the Seattle Center House, the 4th floor of which houses Theatre Puget Sound. TPS, a vital non-profit arts organization, sponsor semi-annual mass auditions attended by all the major local theatres, and offers affordable on-site rehearsal space to its members. Less a theatrical venue than a musical one is the beautiful new McCaw Hall, built on the site of the former Seattle Opera House.

Downtown Seattle houses The Paramount Theater, opened in 1928 and restored in the last decade to its original glory. It primarily brings in touring shows, everything from Urinetown to The Lion King, but it has also been used as a concert hall for performers ranging from Gypsy Rose Lee (a Seattle native) to Margaret Cho. The Fifth Avenue Theatre, built in 1926, renovated in 1979, is responsible for an intriguing mix of road companies, collaborative productions with other West Coast musical theatre companies, homegrown Equity productions, and a regular free spotlight series. Two seasons back the smash Seattle pre-Broadway run of Hairspray established the 5th Avenue as a prime destination for out-of-town tryouts. ACT Theatre (formerly A Contemporary Theatre) rose from near-financial ruin to tentative solidity last year, and is utilizing a local Equity actor repertory format at present, as it focuses on newer works such as Albee's The Goat and Steven Dietz's world premiere drama Alki season. A beautiful downtown concert venue is Benaroya Hall, which showcases everything from the Seattle Opera to the Seattle Men's Chorus to theatre stars such as Barbara Cook.

Since many of the larger companies employ a large percentage of actors hired from outside Seattle, local Equity actors may also find work mainly in smaller companies The Empty Space in the Northwest Seattle neighborhood of Fremont, Taproot Theatre in North Seattle, and Village Theatre in the Eastside community of Issaquah, which produces largely musicals, both established and new works alike. These companies all employ a fairly equal mix of Equity and non-Equity performers. Due to the shortage of Equity work, most of the actors in Seattle remain non-Equity and work in semi-professional houses or with fringe companies, the vast majority of which are located in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. There are also several cabaret performance venues of note in the city, The Crepe de Paris which is downtown in Rainier Square across from the 5th Avenue, Jazz Alley on 5th in the Belltown area, and The Thumpers Oak Room and the upstairs space at NW Actors Studio, which feature everything from solo shows, to modern-day variety shows to mini-cast book musicals..

A major blow to the whole Seattle theatre scene, and non-Equity actors in particular, was the demise of the Seattle Fringe Festival, which collapsed after a September 2003 run proved financially disastrous, leaving many actors and production team members unpaid for their efforts. In January 2004, ACT Theatre did continue to present its late January Fringe ACT series, so at least some of the local Fringe playwrights could see their new works tested before an audience.

Actor training in Seattle is abundant, ranging from children's programs through Seattle Children's Theatre, Village Theatre and Studio East, to name a few, with Freehold Theatre and Northwest Actors Studio prime examples of those which cater to adult thespians. Degree programs are available through University of Washington and Cornish College of the Arts..

For visitors and locals alike, Ticket/Ticket is the Seattle answer to NYC's TKTS booth, offering day of show discounts (plus a small ticket fee) with three locations: one in Seattle's tourist-laden Pike Place Market, one on Capitol Hill Broadway Market, and on the Eastside in Bellevue..

Seattle is also conveniently close by plane, train or automobile to active theatre scenes in Portland and Ashland Oregon, and Vancouver, B.C. Most of Seattle's theatres run their seasons primarily September-May, but Intiman and ACT both have shows going during the warmer summer months. Seattle has much to offer outside of the arts, but an arts based vacation here, if strategically planned, can be a great experience.

David-Edward Hughes is an actor/writer/producer/director born in Hawaii but transplanted to Seattle some 14 years ago. In Seattle he has created a number of successful musical revues, including the Broadway Maladies! series (celebrating forgotten musicals and cut songs), which in turn led to his becoming co-founding artistic director of Showtunes! Musicals in Concert, which has produced, Anyone Can Whistle, Out of this World, 110 in the Shade and Do I hear A Waltz?. Favorite acting roles have included Bazzard in Drood, Melvin in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Norman in The Boys Next Door (Hawaii State Theatre award as Best Actor in a Play), and Otto in The Food Chain. He has written about theatre for Backstage West, Playbill Online, and numerous other Seattle and national publications and websites, and is currently writing his first full length original musical. David and his partner James Spear reside in Seattle's Beacon Hill district with their beloved cat, Kitty Carlisle.

- David-Edward Hughes

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