Six weeks ago, Intiman Theatre looked like it was in serious trouble.
During a fractious meeting Sept. 25, board members said the theater would have negative-$7,475 in the bank in five days and that Intiman might have to close. Staff countered, saying things weren’t as bad as they seemed — the theater had retired $2.7 million in debt in the past year and enjoyed enough community support to make it through the cash squeeze.
Looks like the staff was right.
Shortly after a fundraising gala-brunch on Saturday, Nov. 2, Intiman announced it had raised $130,000 in one month (including the brunch), putting the theater close to its year-end goal of $200,000. Meeting that goal would leave the organization, which has operated with a roughly $1 million budget in recent years, with $150,000 cash on hand going into 2020.
The 47-year-old theater also reconstituted its board, losing four of its seven trustees and adding five new ones, including a computational linguist at Amazon with theater-board experience and a public-finance attorney who is also the senior philanthropic adviser at Bloodworks Northwest.
Wesley Frugé, Intiman’s development and communications director, said the theater plans to keep growing its board, hopefully to 15 members or more. A bigger board, he said, can provide more fundraising heft and spread the work of financial oversight, limiting individual exhaustion. A bigger board also provides a stabilizing buffer from radical shifts in direction — more voting members can help prevent a rogue faction from taking over the organization as a whole.
Four of the five new trustees were at the tense Sept. 25 meeting, including Elizabeth Coplan, a founding board member of the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. She left that meeting seeing more potential than catastrophe.
“I understood the board being tired,” Coplan said at the Intiman gala, where people milled around with mimosas and Bloody Marys before brunch. “It’s hard retiring that much debt. I thought: ‘Let’s give them some vitality!’ ”
Coplan, who runs a business with her husband managing large-scale computer projects, moved to Seattle from Los Angeles in 2004. At the time, she was impressed with the city’s theater scene. “But,” she said, “Seattle has kind of lost its edginess since then. Now, theater seems like it’s being made in the interests of the parents, an older generation that’s dying off, and not for their children.”
Recently, she started attending Intiman again — Coplan saw “Bulrusher,” its most recent production, twice — and felt the theater was a little closer to what she’d fallen in love with in 2004. “My personal goal is to help Intiman get the right board members, to fundraise and to see the bigger vision.”
Once gala attendees found their seats, actor Ayo Tushinde, who played the titular lead in “Bulrusher,” stepped onto a small stage and addressed the crowd. “That play was the first where I got to see myself as a viable person in the context of the script, as an actual human being I could relate to,” she said. “Not as a box-checking device, not as a sprinkle of diversity so many theaters are striving for … I don’t know, as a queer woman of color, when I would get another role like this. We are here to raise $60,000 for the rejuvenation of Intiman.”
The theater’s next steps, Frugé said, are to plot out a long-range strategic plan for sustainability and to try to find — or make — a permanent home.
“We’re out of the crisis,” he said. “We’re excited to be on the other side and say: ‘OK, let’s take a breath. And let’s start doing the work.’ ”