Thursday, August 30, 2012

theatre notes. the hometown boys.

Quite recently I found myself at ACT six times in nine days, mostly due to the Pinter Festival (more on that later), but also for a couple of other events backed by the Central Heating Lab. The first night was another reading by The Seagull Project (more on that later, too), this time led by John Bogar, who read a stunningly heartbreaking short story by Gogol, I think it was. Another story was read by Kurt Beattie, who happens to be the artistic director of ACT, but has also been acting and directing around Seattle for nearly forty years. A few nights later I stumbled - accidentally, it turned out, because I had shown up on the wrong night - into ‘99 LAYOFFS’ only to find myself sitting next to Kurt and his wife, the sublime actress Marianne Owen.

Radial Theatre’s ‘99 LAYOFFS,’ like The Seagull Project’s ‘GREAT SOUL OF RUSSIA’ readings, like the Pinter Fortnightly series that blossomed into a full-on, mainstage festival this summer, were all backed by ACT’s Central Heating Lab. The plays I’ve seen through them - A Lie of the Mind last fall, Jesus Hopped the A Train a few months ago, and countless more - are electric and compelling, amplified by the intimacy of a smaller theater, either the Bullitt Cabaret or the Eulalie Scandiuzzi space. This last one - it only seats about 80 people - was funded last year by Gian-Carlo and Eulalie Scandiuzzi; he happens to be the managing director of ACT. You see their names pop up as arts donors all over Seattle, from the tiniest of shoe-string budget productions to the grand stages of our city.

I think of Kurt Beattie and Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi as the Hometown Boys, having lived and worked in Seattle for decades. The Central Heating Lab will be one of the great legacies that they will leave behind during their tenure at ACT. I don’t know who started it all, but it has created something extraordinary - a space for small theater groups like Collektor or Azeotrope or The Seagull Project, to make art. And this is two-fold: it gives these fledgling companies a stage as well as the full marketing power of a big theatre company, and it introduces a core audience to something new. The theatre is no longer merely a theatre but an artistic ecosystem - I think it was John Bogar who referred to it as a “great reef” - and it creates a community of people who are there because they love it. This is what keeps me coming back, again and again, that keeps me experiencing that ‘riot in the heart’ that is theatre.

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