Intiman's Andrew Russell collaborates for summer festival

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Andrew Russell is only 29, yet here he is leading a major regional theater toward a new mode of operations and artistic endeavor. Intiman Theatre is presenting a “summer festival” (July 5-August 26) with a collection of artists in repertory, in a collaborative approach.

Just prior to their four play summer season, they’re participating, June 4th, in a nationwide series of readings of the play 8 by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (he wrote the films Milk and J. Edgar) that chronicles the trial challenge to Proposition 8. Using the actual court transcripts from the landmark federal trial of California’s Prop. 8 and first-hand interviews, the play shows different sides of the issue. All funds raised will go to the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Then, in early July, they debut all four of their theatrical presentations in one week! A repertory company of 17 local actors playing more than 40 roles will perform Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, a world premiere play by Dan Savage Miracle! and John Patrick Shanley’s Dirty Story. Notable directors Valerie Curtis-Newton and Allison Narver will direct two of the plays.

Image for "Hedda Gabler" starring Marya Sea Kaminski (photo by Olivia Lazer)

The cast includes some of Seattle’s stalwart working actors of note, including Timothy McCuen Piggee and Allen Fitzpatrick, both also Broadway performers, solo performer/writer Marya Sea Kaminski, and several actors associated with talented, hardworking tiny theaters WET and Satori Group. They will each participate in at least two of the plays.

In an interview, Andrew details how this interesting mix of plays came together. “My role is to curate from the impulses brought forward from the artistic collective. These are all passion projects that excited them that I also thought would be intriguing for Intiman audiences. And because it’s our 40th anniversary it’s of interest in working our way through the canon from Shakespeare to Shanley to Savage.”

Andrew Russell came to Seattle after growing up in Indiana and then majoring in theater at Carnegie Mellon University. He moved to New York City and gained a variety of experience.  He says, “I was juggling several jobs in NYC — producing events, (as) Tony Kushner’s assistant, directing my own work.  I was Kate Whoriskey’s associate director on (the play) Ruined and she asked me to join her in Seattle as her associate when she took over the (Artistic Director) job from Bart (Sher). She invited me to do similiar tasks but under one ‘roof’ at Intiman.”

Andrew describes how some decisions about this festival were made. “Romeo is a show that Allison Narver was eager to tackle; she was intrigued with geography, close quarters and inherited violence could do to Shakespeare’s most known work.

“One of the many plays that were exciting and challenging to Marya Sea Kaminski was Hedda Gabler, and I wanted to work on it. It’s an emotional thriller and the events take place in 48 hours. We’re sculpting a show that corners her as a caged animal.

“Valerie Curtis-Newton is exploring Dirty Story. I’m interested in seeing how Val’s commitment to deep emotional entanglements and relationships will impact Shanley’s biting and dark comedy.

“And I’m thrilled to bring Dan Savage back into the rehearsal room after a 15 year hiatus, and to work on something that has been on his mind for a while. A parody of what happens when Helen Keller and the Seattle drag scene of the 1990s smash into each other.

Image for "Miracle" (photo by Mark Von Borstle)

“Also the chance to have 17 actors perform all the roles in all the plays is engaging for the actors and more fascinating for audiences.”

The connecting theme to the plays is “don’t get too comfortable.”

You may know that Intiman had to shut down their season, last year, after running into huge debt problems. In order to mount this festival, a special fundraising process happened last winter, and now the space at the Seattle Center, formerly known at Intiman Theatre, is going to have a different major tenant.

However, the hope is that Intiman will be able to mount a subsequent summer festival in 2013, in that same space. Andrew explains, “Part of the request for proposal is to allow Intiman to stay in the space for May, June, July, and August. If we don’t, we’ll certainly search for other space and we’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.” He emphasizes that long term planning includes all kinds of options.

Andrew is optimistic for future funding, since “We’d have a lot more time and actual work on stage to share with potential donors large and small. We have many months and this festival to share to ask for help to do it again next year. So the atmosphere for fundraising is healthier and allows us to plan in a longer sense.” He adds, “Part of the strategic plan is to build in debt repayment. It’s kind of like student loans that will be there for awhile and we’ll work to settle and pay them down.”

Andrew is excited to be in the midst of creating this event. “It’s a blast the chance to be with these artists for four months and celebrate summer by exploding the space open.”

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