After nearly a decade, New Century Theatre Company is closing.
According to its origin story (repeated to me and many others over the years), New Century was founded by a group of professional theater artists drinking wine and complaining/daydreaming in somebody’s living room.
Most of the founding wine-drinkers were actors who’d worked in small amateur theaters and big professional theaters (including Seattle favorites such as Amy Thone, MJ Sieber, Darragh Kennan and Betsy Schwartz). They had a vision: a theater company that made ambitious work they weren’t being hired to do, where actors and designers would have a major voice in how the productions took shape and – crucially – artists were paid union-level wages.
New Century came out of the gate with “The Adding Machine,” a stark 1929 Expressionist play about the futility of workaday life (its central character is named Mr. Zero) that was a surprising stunner that looked and felt like a Fritz Lang movie for the stage – bright, klieg-like lights the actors rolled around the stage; eerie dark-and-light color schemes that made everyone onstage look like a walking bruise; and equally bruised, impassioned acting.
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New Century kept knocking its audiences flat with adaptations of Kafka’s “The Trial“; the soul-wringing wartime love story “Mary’s Wedding”; the grim, gallows-humor political-sex-tragedy “Tails of Wasps” (staged in a room at ACT Theatre that made the audience feel like voyeurs in a no-tell hotel); and more.
So why are they closing now?
New Century spokesperson Pete Rush listed a few reasons: many of the founding members (Kennan, Schwartz, Thone, Peter Dylan O’Connor), have moved on over the past year or so; plus, the company was broke but not in debt, meaning it would have to make a concerted fundraising push to survive. And, Rush said, “the company had met its mission. Over the past decade, the Seattle theater community has changed. The kind of work we want to do is all over the place and our artists are working all over the place.
After all, Rush pointed out, “The Adding Machine” was directed by John Langs and designed by Jennifer Zeyl. Langs is now the artistic director of ACT Theatre and Zeyl is the new artistic director of Intiman.
ACT, Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Azeotrope and others, Rush said, are covering the aesthetic gap New Century wanted to fill.
“And frankly,” he said, “they’re hiring a lot of New Century Theatre Company artists. The original mission was to change the face of Seattle theater, to create something that wasn’t happening. We won. We did that.”