In 1994 and 1995, the Intiman Theatre took on the epic task of staging “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” Tony Kushner’s acclaimed, two-part, seven-hour play now widely ranked as a theatrical masterwork. The show was a Seattle hit.
In 2014, a much-changed Intiman will tackle “Angels in America” again.
According to Intiman artistic director Andrew Russell, the company will present a new staging of both parts of the work, “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika,” next summer in repertory, most likely with another as-yet-unnamed play. (Seattle fringe troupes ReAct and Absurd Reality Theatre mounted a smaller-scale “Angels in America” in 2008.)
“We’re going to have readings, workshops and community conversations about why this is not only a fantastic American play, but still relevant,” says Russell, who earlier worked as an assistant to Pulitzer Prize-winner Kushner. “We believe ‘Angels’ captures an American dynamic that feels distant, but also timely. It’s not just about the AIDS epidemic, but also race, politics, immigration, religion. It’s about a country in crisis, and how America handles crisis.”
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The Kushner epic will be the centerpiece of Intiman’s third season as a summer festival, and performed in repertory by a rotating ensemble. The format was adopted after a disastrous 2011 season when the heavily indebted theater ran out of cash, suspended production and laid off staff members.
Since then, under Russell’s new leadership, Intiman has reduced its debt by half (to about $500,000), given up its year-round lease for the Intiman Playhouse (to Cornish College of the Arts), and mounted two summer seasons of classic and provocatively modern works on a roughly $1 million budget. “We’ve acquired no additional debt since 2011,” Russell says, “and we’ve never gone over budget on our expenses.”
About 15,000 tickets were sold to the 2013 four-play festival, including 1,200 all-show discount passes. Attendance was at the same level as 2012 — though in 2012 more than half the seats were given gratis to former Intiman subscribers.
The 2013 event boasted two critical and box-office winners: the new musical “Stu for Silverton,” based on the true saga of the transgender mayor of Silverton, Ore,; and “Trouble in Mind,” a searing revival of a 1950s play by Alice Childress about racism in the theater. But Dario Fo’s protest comedy “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” and the Aristophanes anti-war farce “Lysistrata” didn’t fare as well.
Russell says Intiman is in stable condition, building a core audience and looking confidently toward the future. Operating with six year-round employees and a much larger summer staff, the company is raising funds to pay for half of the theater’s 2014 budget (tentatively between $1 million and $1.5 million), with ticket and other earned revenue supplying the rest.
“We’ve created a brand-new model, we’re tending it, and it will grow,” Russell says of the festival, “but we aren’t taking anything for granted.”
Misha Berson: email@example.com