Intiman Theatre announces its new summer productions — just two full-scale shows this time, plus an artistic mentorship program — co-curated by Filipina-American writer and actor Sara Porkalob.
Once again, Intiman Theatre is trying something new.
Since the theater imploded in 2011 and reinvented itself as a summer festival in 2012, each year brings a little institutional reinvention.
The 2017 season includes just two full-scale productions: “Barbecue” by Robert O’Hara (“Bootycandy”), which The New York Times described as “a rawly funny” play about a tempestuous family gathering, and “Dragon Lady,” a new musical by local writer and performer Sara Porkalob about her grandmother’s past as a gangster in the Philippines, her immigration to the United States and conflicting versions of that story within her own family.
Intiman Theatre’s new season
”Barbecue” by Robert O’Hara at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, May 1-June 25, and “Dragon Lady” by Sara Porkalob at the University of Washington Jones Playhouse, Sept. 7-Oct. 1.
But this year, artistic director Andrew Russell said, Intiman will also formalize a new artistic model — inviting a new artist each year to help the theater co-curate its season. Last year, Intiman tried a trial run with director Valerie Curtis-Newton, who steered the theater toward a lineup of plays by African-American women, including “Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White” by Alice Childress and projects like “Power: From the Mouths of the Occupied,” where local people of color wrote and performed stories about moments when they were treated like criminals.
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This year, Porkalob is the co-curator.
The co-curation model, Russell said, “enhances every single choice we make — it’s not always easy, but when we have an outsider at board meetings and staff meetings, we get asked tough questions. But I’m a specific kind of person who’s lived a specific kind of life — it’s a thrill to have another perspective in the room.”
Porkalob wants this Intiman season to focus on intersectionality, a topic that’s being hotly discussed in the academic and art worlds.
The notion of intersectionality, Porkalob said, “examines how qualifiers such as class, race and gender interact with systems of oppression.” For example, she explained, “I grew up brown and poor … My good friend is white, female and middle-class. The experiences we have day-to-day are very different even though we’re both women.”
O’Hara’s 10-actor play “Barbecue,” she said, was a stellar example of the concept: Two versions of the same family — one white, one black — meet for a barbecue as a ruse to wrangle someone into rehab. “I read the script and fell out of my chair screaming,” Porkalob said, with both laughter and dismay. “I had to come back to it the next day.”
Like “Dragon Lady,” “Barbecue” looks for comedy in family strife. “But in the middle of the play, the playwright takes the table and flips it,” she said. “He flips all the tables. It will have the audience spinning on their heads.”
Previous seasons of the reinvented Intiman have looked more ambitious on paper — typically around four productions, or the 2014 marathon project of restaging “Angels in America” in its entirety — but Russell rejects the idea that a two-play season signals retreat.
“Our commitment since reopening is to maintain the caliber of performance and production,” he said. “Do we, with our roughly million-dollar budget, perform six shows but not necessarily at the level we’d like? Or do we do deep dives on fewer shows and work with the community to produce shows by voices that don’t always get heard?”
He mentioned Intiman’s emerging-artist program — this year, around 30 young artists will work with Porkalob to develop solo shows — and additional programming in the works that Intiman will announce later.
“We’re organizationally healthier than we’ve been in 20 years,” Russell said. “It was a theater that closed with 2 million in debt and to be at year six with almost none of that debt — we’ve had to pace ourselves, and we’ve done that.”