Intiman Theatre: Leveraging Empathy for Social Progress

Anyone who has experienced good theatre knows that it has the power to transport you to another time and place. Using a story to draw an emotional connection between the audience and the characters on stage, it helps unpack universal truths and experiences.

At Pride Foundation, we know that arts and culture play a critical role in our community; bringing people together and fostering important and necessary dialogue. For all these reasons and more, we are excited to announce that we will be partnering with Intiman Theatre for their upcoming 2015 Summer Festival: The Hunt is On.

To give you a sneak peek into this year’s productions, Rachael DeCruz, Pride Foundation’s Communications Manager, sat down for a conversation with Andrew Russell, the Producing Artistic Director at Intiman.

Rachael DeCruz: Tell me a little bit more about the theme of this year’s festival and how you determined which productions to feature.

Andrew Russell: The mission of Intiman Theatre is to produce theatre that is relevant to our time and as diverse as the community in which we live. Being a theatre for the public good allows us to leverage people’s empathy for social progress. Our productions make it possible for people to use their imagination to step into the shoes of someone else and connect to the real world.

This year’s festival theme, “The Hunt is On,” focuses on how communities treat outsiders, how outsiders fortify themselves against others and systems, and how sometimes those fortifications need to be dismantled. All of this year’s productions—Orpheus Descending, John Baxter is a Switch Hitter, The Children’s Hour, and Booty Candy—explore what happens when we reach that tipping point.

In each story, there is a group of people that in some way have a witch hunt out for someone that is different. Our festival this year is turning the lens for people to see themselves, while fostering stories that connect to our local community and redefine the concept of regional theatre.

What social issues are you hoping to bring to the forefront with this year’s productions and why?

The main issue we’re exploring through our productions this year is the dangers of group think. What happens when a vocal group of people decides to turn against someone they see as different, or threatening? What does that mean for the rest of us?

We’re examining how we actually live together as a community and the challenges that arise when so many cultures are defined by their limitations and their lack of access. Our 2015 productions expose what happens when communities are forced to break those barriers down—from three very different vantage points. We’re discussing gender, sexuality, community, race, and how those aspects of people’s lives influence what our safe spaces are.

Similar to what we’ve done in other years—the productions are made to talk to each other. You see very different communities and groups of people wrestling with the same fundamental questions. It’s not every year that we focus this explicitly on LGBTQ issues, but we’re addressing it from the place of making stories that are universal in theme. Whatever your sexuality is, these are issues that are impacting our community.

Which aspect of this year’s theatre festival are you most excited about?

Hands down the people involved. Over the next three months, we’ll be working really closely with a group of 125 people. This year’s cast is larger than it has been the past four years and it’s the most diverse group we’ve ever had. In our casting this year we have hired at least 50% people of color. It’s important to note that characters in theatre are often assumed to be white unless stated otherwise. The beauty of having a diverse cast is that a lot of times you have people of color playing roles that aren’t written explicitly for people of color. That allows us to put people’s acting ability at the forefront—ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to play great characters on stage.

I’m also really excited about our Emerging Artist Program (IEAP)—a summer training program that gives people insight into the professional theatre industry, and helps prepare participants to become successful members of the Seattle arts community. The program is meant to give access to emerging artists that otherwise wouldn’t have this opportunity. As with our casting, we’re explicit that the program must be at least 50% people of color, and this year our cohort is 72% people of color. What that says to me is that our sector is not doing an appropriate job of inviting young, up and coming people of color into this profession. This is the first year we’re doing this program in such a focused way and I can’t wait to see the results. You can learn more about the program here.

What role do you see theatre playing in fostering community and bringing about social change?

Theatre is very biological. When you tell a story and put on a play, you are activating the same parts of your brain as if you were in that story. That means that what people are absorbing is far more complex than just information, or facts. That can be a very powerful tool if we’re intentional about the stories we’re sharing with people.

I love the way that Intiman operates now—as a festival that links professionals to community work. Eight months of the year we’re focused on building community and bringing people together.

Our productions explore timely political and social dynamics that are impacting our local community. And they also make for a great story and great theatre. At Intiman, we’re all about fostering a community that draws on our diverse, nuanced, and varied life experiences. That’s what our staff and board love to do.

Well I’m sold, I can’t wait to see this summer’s productions! Where can I go to find more information?

            Here’s a quick run-down of our upcoming 2015 events and productions:

You can click on the links above to find more detailed information about each production, and you can see a full overview of our 2015 festival, including ticket information, here.

We also have Inti-Fresh passes for this year’s festival, which are deeply discounted festival tickets for those who may not be able to afford a full price ticket. It gives you all the same perks as a full festival pass—our emphasis is on creating an equal experience for all viewers, regardless of their financial means. You can find out more here.

We hope to see you at an upcoming production!

Zachary Pullin is Pride Foundation’s Communications Manager. Email Zachary.

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