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Will Intiman Theatre Survive?

Marcie Sillman

The clock is ticking for Intiman Theatre. The company says if it doesn't raise $1 million by Tuesday, the Tony Award–winning Seattle organization will close its doors for good. So far, Intiman has raised almost $800,000. KUOW's Marcie Sillman has more.


One week before Intiman's self–imposed fundraising deadline, Board of Directors President Terry Jones looks relaxed. But she admits, it's hard to sleep at night.

Jones: "I go to bed thinking of Intiman, I dream of Intiman, and it's the first thing I think about when I wake up every morning."

No wonder. Intiman has had a tumultuous year. Last April, the company shut down in the middle of its artistic season. An independent consultant decided the theater just didn't have the money to keep going. In November, after months of soul searching, the Board announced it wanted to reopen Intiman this summer with a four–play festival. But Terry Jones says Intiman won't produce the festival unless it has all the money up front: $1 million.

Jones: "We're very serious about the fact that we are going to raise the money to produce the season, and not fundraise our way out of a hole."

The theater has been on a fundraising frenzy, using everything from written appeals to a social media campaign that features a slew of local artists, and Jones herself.

Jones: "I guess the only thing we can say is, 'To be, or not to be.' That is clearly the question."

Intiman couldn't have picked a harder time to try to revive its fortunes.

Ben Moore: "I guess you could say, in my experience — over 40 years — it's probably the most challenging."

Ben Moore is managing director at the Seattle Repertory Theater. In 2008, at the onset of the current recession, the Rep slashed its budget by 30 percent and scaled back its programming. Even though the Rep competes with Intiman for money and audiences, Moore says Intiman's closure is not a good thing for the Rep.

Moore: "No, it's not a good thing at all! I understand some people have often talked about, 'Are we too rich in theaters, are there too many of them for this community to sustain?' I've never felt this was the case."

Moore says ACT theater founder Greg Falls had it right years ago, when he said that theaters grow best like grapes, in bunches.

Moore: "The ecology in this town depends on people able to make a living here as artists of all kinds. The loss of employment when Intiman folded in the spring was really significant and threatening, in terms of keeping that ecology in good health."

Julie Briskman: "What's sad for me is that we're losing people."

Actor Julie Briskman has been in Seattle for 12 years. When she first got here, Briskman says she could cobble together a decent living from a string of jobs at different theaters. But the economy forced several local theaters to close. Briskman says it's much harder now for theater artists to make it here.

Briskman: "There aren't as many plays being done, and the plays that are being done are smaller. There was a period of time when I was working non–stop, non–stop non–stop. And then boom, I went nine months with nothing. Nine months. I could have had a baby. That's a long time to be without work."

Even before the recession, life in the nonprofit theater world wasn't easy, for the artists or for the institutions. Bart Sher was Intiman's artistic director from 1999 to 2009.

Sher: "The economy was always intense and scary and terrifying. Running these places is so harrowing."

But Sher says when Seattle's professional theaters thrive, there's a snowball effect. New work gets created here and sent out to other theaters around the country. That, in turn, builds the city's reputation as a creative hub and draws other actors, writers and directors to Seattle. That's good for both the artistic and economic climate.

Sher: "When they were all swirling in a healthy orbit, and all producing a lot of work, that could make a community. And in a great, major city like Seattle, the presence of more than one theater company seems absolutely the correct thing to have happen."

It may be correct, but that doesn't mean Intiman will be able to raise the money it needs to reopen this summer. Some longtime supporters are still angry about the lack of financial oversight that led to Intiman's shutdown last spring. And private donors are torn between competing demands for their dollars. Even if the theater does manage to raise $1 million, the revived Intiman will be substantially leaner than its predecessor.

Still, Andrew Russell is optimistic. He's Intiman's current artistic director. Russell says after months of hand–wringing, he's simply happy to lay out a concrete vision for Intiman's future.

Russell: "It's better to go up in flames, or down in flames, because at least you're in the flames."

On Tuesday, Russell — and other Intiman fans — will find out if they've got the money they need to raise the theater, like a phoenix, from the ashes of those flames.

I'm Marcie Sillman, KUOW News.

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