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Emerald City Blues: Intiman Cancellation Has Big Impact

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Not even a month ago, things were looking hopeful for Seattle’s embattled Intiman Theatre. That hope has now evaporated. Just more than two weeks after Intiman officials said that they had raised enough through emergency fundraising to keep their doors open, the theater’s board of directors announced this past weekend that they had canceled the remainder of artistic director Kate Whoriskey’s season and laid off the theater’s staff—eliminating dozens of jobs on and off stage at a critical time for U.S. arts organizations.

The Intiman’s financial troubles became public knowledge in February, when the theater informed supporters that it would need to raise $500,000 by the end of March and another $500,000 before the end of the year to stay alive. Speaking to Back Stage last month, Intiman board president Kim Anderson attributed the dire situation to mismanagement by the company’s former managing director. “These were circumstances that took a difficult situation and made it extraordinarily difficult to recover from,” Anderson said.

Then, on March 31, Intiman officials announced that they had raised more than $450,000—enough, they claimed, to keep the season on track. “Raising more than $450,000 in seven weeks and over $250,000 in one week is a clear signal that encourages us to keep moving forward,” Anderson said in a statement at the time. But that signal turned out to be false. Speaking to the Seattle Times after the theater had thrown in the towel on 2011, managing director Susan Trapnell said that in retrospect fundraising goals “weren’t set high enough” to save the season.

But fundraising wasn’t the only tactic that the Intiman had taken in attempting to save itself. Though Anderson had told Back Stage in March that the board had earlier this year considered and dismissed the idea of cutting or replacing the large-cast “Playboy of the Western World,” originally scheduled to begin previews July 15 under Whoriskey’s direction, Intiman staff had in recent weeks begun preparing to replace “Playboy” in the calendar with the one-man show “A Boy and His Soul.” The latter production had originally been slated to close Intiman’s season. While “Playboy” had not yet been cast, Tanya Barfield’s “The Call,” scheduled to begin previews May 14, and Julia Cho’s “The Piano Teacher,” which would have entered previews Sept. 9, had.

The Intiman board’s action leaves roughly 20 staff members unemployed. It also eliminates a number of acting jobs that had or would have gone to a mix of performers from Seattle and across the country.

In its 2009-2010 Theatrical Season Report, Actors’ Equity Association noted that last season was the second straight one in which the total number of weeks worked by members declined, a finding that was “not surprising,” report author Stephen DiPaola wrote, noting that the theater industry “tends to feel the effects of economic downturns later than other industries.” This week, the effects of that downturn are being felt hardest by actors and theater professionals in Seattle.

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