The Rep’s plan to trim education programs and bolster staff in other areas is part of a grander plan for the theater, according to Jeffrey Herrmann.
Last week, Seattle Repertory Theatre confirmed a plan to trim its well-regarded education programs for youth and reconfigure its staff in other areas of the operation.
Offering more details and explaining the decision, Seattle Rep managing director Jeffrey Herrmann told The Seattle Times, “We need to put more money into the art, more resources and muscle into our marketing and more into [fundraising] development. That means taking resources from other parts of the organization into those areas.”
Herrmann, who managed the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C., and Perseverance Theatre in Alaska before joining the Rep last year, said the Rep is not in serious financial trouble. And the move to lay off seven of the Rep’s roughly 45 year-round employees, and to hire three others in different capacities, was “a broader strategic decision.”
The plan will eliminate the youth-oriented Speak programs, in which playwrights have collaborated with community organizations (such as Young Women Empowered) and local schools (including Roosevelt High School and Franklin High School) to help students create live performances inspired by social issues, and by Rep productions.
Most Read Entertainment Stories
- Seattle's Lady A confronts white privilege in battle with country stars and beyond
- What's happening in the Seattle area Aug. 7-20: Barbie pop-up truck, Kirkland Friday market and more
- 'Thin Skin,' inspired by Seattle musician and comedian Ahamefule J. Oluo's stories, will debut at Bentonville Film Festival
- Now streaming: new docuseries 'Immigration Nation,' Seth Rogen in 'An American Pickle' and more
- Here's the latest detective novel to catch our book critic's eye | The Plot Thickens
The Seattle Rep website states that the goal of the Speak programs, which were instituted by former Rep education director, the late Andrea Allen, is to “use theater as a means of tackling broader issues such as race, gender, identity, social pressures and current events.”
“I know there’s a long, proud history here for that kind of program,” said Herrmann. “But you can’t do everything, so we are continuing and bolstering those core education programs that serve the most kids … and have the most impact.”
Ongoing will be youth programs other large regional theaters offer: a student-matinee series for regular Rep shows; an internship program giving aspiring theater professionals a chance to work within the company for a limited period; and the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition, in which high-school students perform speeches from Wilson’s plays and vie for a chance to participate in the national finals of the contest, held in New York City.
Herrmann added that the Rep also plans to “expand our portfolio and serve adults in programs that partner with social service, health and human-service groups. We have an opportunity to be reaching out more … and expanding the constituencies we partner with, instead of focusing exclusively on youth.”
He pointed to the Public Works project at the Public Theater in New York as “a possible model for the way we might engage with folks.” Public Works brings New York City residents together to create a large-cast, outdoor musical from a literary classic, with participation from community performing-arts groups and social-service organizations. This summer’s show will be based on Homer’s “The Odyssey.”
Herrmann said he’s also observed on the artistic side that “whenever we go big, and put on big shows of scale, the community comes out and supports it.” He wants to summon more resources to create “big, astonishing art on our stages,” in hopes of repeating the box-office success of such recent works as the two-part Lyndon Johnson play cycle by Robert Schenkkan (“All the Way” and “The Great Society”), the Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and the musical play, “Pullman Porter Blues.”
The downsizing of programs that directly serve youth is not applauded by everyone in the local arts community. In recent years, educational programs for young people have been a higher priority for many arts institutions and some funders, though they are often costly and reap little revenue. A Facebook post criticizing the change written by Manuel Cawaling, executive director of Youth Theatre Northwest, drew more than 50 “likes” and numerous pro and con comments about the Rep’s shifting priorities.
Interviewed for this article, Cawaling said he was still waiting for more details about the Rep’s plans but said the company had been a leader in arts education in Seattle and the Speak programs were groundbreaking and effective. “What greater investment can you make in teaching the value of theater,” he asked, “ than helping young people create theater, and connecting them to its craft, and beauty, and magic?”
He praised the Speak staff, saying that the program has engaged a diverse cross section of Seattle youths, “and if you really want to reach out to different communities you don’t let go of people you’re working with who already belong to those communities.”
But Herrmann stands by his belief that the changes will be positive for the Rep and help draw more people into the theater’s “family” as audience members and supporters.
“[Rep artistic director] Braden Abraham and I are feeling that if we’re moving forward as an organization we have to be more relevant to more people,” he said, “with the kind of plays we’re selecting, who is on our board, and by broadening the scope of our [educational] outreach beyond kids.”