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Saturday, March 3, 2007

WET Maybe Kinda Sorta Cancels The Destruction of Hedda Gabler

posted by on March 3 at 19:44 PM

The Washington Ensemble Theatre is maybe-kinda-sorta going to cancel (or postpone or rethink) The Destruction of Hedda Gabler, an original blowout deconstruction of the Ibsen classic and the last show of WET’s 2007 season.

The reason, according to Katjana Vadeboncoeur (WET’s communications director), has to do with Marya Sea Kaminski’s star role in the Seattle Rep’s My Name Is Rachel Corrie. “Hedda was meant to showcase her,” Vadeboncoeur said. “It’s her and Jen Zeyl’s baby.” (Zeyl, Stranger Genius award winner, is designing Rachel Corrie.) Corrie’s performance schedule conflicts heavily with Hedda’s rehearsal schedule, making Kaminski’s participation nearly—or entirely—impossible.

There is talk of doing Hedda without Kaminski. There is talk of postponing it until next season. There is talk of postponing it until next season and doing some kind of co-production which, according to Vadeboncoeur, would be “bigger, better, and louder.” (And, presumably, better funded—Vadeboncoeur wouldn’t say who the potential co-producers were, but I’m guessing On the Boards or the Rep, where Corrie is in rehearsals and which is looking to brand its second stage, the Leo K, as more experimental and interesting.) Either way, Vadeboncoeur said, the conundrum is a sign of success: “It’s an awesome problem to have.”

Which brings up a difficult question: What is the function of a small theater company? To launch its members to individual success or to be successful in its own right?

Say you have a great ensemble company called X. Say your members start getting serious attention and work at regional theaters—so much attention that their energy is seriously divided between X and the regionals.

Should X dissolve and send its members, like artistic missionaries, into the big, bland wilderness to preach the gospel of Theater That Doesn’t Suck? Or should X’s members treat the regional gigs like day jobs, a way to pour more resources into X so X can keep doing earth-shattering, (if less-well-attended) work? (Alternately, should X’s original members leave, become artistic missionaries, and make room in X for fresh blood?)

It’s a tactical question (and an idealistic one, a variation of the debate held in ten million college dorm rooms: change-the-system-from-within vs. change-the-system-from-without). Should inspired artists disperse, like a mist, to minimally improve the whole? Or should they keep their talent tight, in a little knot, to make fantastic individual productions?

It is, in Vadeboncoeur’s words, “an awesome problem,” a problem every small, ambitious company should consider.

Now playing at WET: Stephanie Timm’s Crumbs Are Also Bread: read Frizzelle’s review here and my Suggests here.

(Confidential to On the Boards and the Seattle Rep: If either of you are backing Hedda, I have only one comment: Fuck yeah.)

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It doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. Annex Theatre has had some experience in this area, and while we've certainly sent our fair share of artists out into the larger world of professional theatre, the organization that is the company itself has remained, and accepted new members over time, both as others have left, as well as when the organization itself has grown, shrunk or just generally evolved to cope with new circumstances.

IMO, both of these represent a healthy, vibrant structure, one that our Managing Director, Stephen McCandless has likened to a "graduate school". Artists join the company, get an opportunity to hone their craft in an atmosphere that fosters creativity and risk-taking, and allows them to develop the skills they need to transition to progressively higher levels within their respective disciplines.

In the past 20 years, we've been pretty successful in this regard, and while the odds are never spectacular that such success will even occur, every time it has, we've been both pleased to see another of our own "go off to the big city" as it were, but also confident that their departure will not necessarily result in a diminishment of our own creative energy.

Posted by COMTE | March 4, 2007 12:21 PM

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