Thursday, April 23, 2015

Seattle-Unconducive to Artists Part I (THEATER) of 4 parts.


to come:
media, housing, philistinism

complainers, followers, "uncomfortable,"
snooping, snitching, anality 
a city of small complaints
men like old women, busy bodies, other-directed,  anal, dirt-obsessed middle class beings, breeders,  not interested crossword puzzlers.

by Michael Roloff

I recall that the only theater piece to leave Seattle during the twenty years I have been in these parts is the musical First Date

A creation of Seattle's Kurt Beattie-run ACT theater
FIST DATE provides NY Times reviewer Isherwood a chance for wicked fun, as would the Seattle that I could apprise him of if ever he comes to these parts.
Does any of the following sound familiar? An instant lack of rapport; a growing aversion as the minutes pass; a mysterious sense that time has suddenly stopped; a desperate hope that the apocalypse will arrive, preferably right this minute. Magnify those feelings, set them to bland pop-rock music, and you’ll have some idea of the oodles of fun I didn’t have during my evening at “First Date,” the singing sitcom that opened on Thursday night at the Longacre Theater.”
Thus, it occurred to me to dwell on, fathom, why so little of note worth exporting is created in Seattle in the arts (welcoming imports is a different matter), what might militate in the usual and more than usual American ways?
Let me focus on matters theatrical first as I did already some time ago @
But let me first revert (avert, revert, what's the vert next?) to the fine summer of 1994 when it did not rain from mid-June until November and everything East of the Cascades burned to a cinder
I arrived in Seattle to see some Green after about ten years of desert & semi-desert, to contact relatives, descendants of immigrants of around the year 1900, and friends.
Matter did not start of all that
I contacted ex-colleague & agent Robert Lantz in New York, “Ah Michael, let me put you in touch with the wonderful Dan Sullivan at the Rep. Sullivan at once turned me over to his assistant Kurt Beattie, and we got along just fine, especially because he had played Peter Handke's
in my translation.
I had published and translated a lot of Austrian authors and the Austrians were ready to repay in the form of helping fund a Handke festival. Kurt did yeoman's work in crunching numbers. The idea went over well until I - by then visiting scholar at the U.W. in Germanics - who had only wanted a library card - heard from the chair of my department that the head of the Drama Department, Sarah Nash Gates, said that they were not interested: well, she wasn't for sure, Steve Pearson who then did a first rate production of Handke's
certainly was, as was Burke Walker the first rate directing teacher & director whose
had gone belly-up.
However, it was my fault in not apprising myself that I needed that Gates chair person's o.k. - matters of that kind had never been a problem on the East Coast where I had arranged several festivals of that kind at colleges, Smith & Bennington. A belated attempt to convince Professor Gates - the damn thing could have been called "Gat es of Hell Festival" for all I cared who made his money from his translator's cut at such events) of Handke's importance did not succeed.
Now that Handke is acknowledged a the most innovative unique playwright since Brecht,
a playwright of Shakespearean dimension
wouldn't it be a feather in the U.W.'s shaved head
to have done a full-fledged well-funded festival cum symposium at that time!
To get a feel for the scene I did some reviewing (for two tickets, ah and the chick who wanted my spare at the Fifth Avenue) for the organ of the disabled & thus made the acquaintance of Seattle audiences that applaud the sets & giggle easily - appalling compared to the children in Mulege in the Baja when the Circus comes to the pueblo & you see genuine wonder, and not just on the children's faces.
I had been going to the theater since the 50s, and had read plays voluminously, beginning with Shakespeare (courtesy of a Shakespeare-nut stepfather – no, not just proverbially, conceive of hurtling in a Crosby automobile - Frigidaire-size, post WW II vintage - through a suburban housing development with your delightful stepfather elocuting the great monologues at the top of his voice!)
I had had had amazing theater experiences - at the Berliner Ensemble, with Peter Brook, Herbert Berghof, E.G. Marshal, and all the Handke in New York. The Seattle audiences were something else – and they then seemed to claim sophistication, perhaps because they drank cafè au lait.
In the process of trying to get the festival off the ground, I came to know the crème de la crème of Seattle off-off Broadway sprinkle. There seemed to be, or at least have been, a lot of fresh shoots in Seattle, starting in the 60s.
There was still an Autumn all around festival at the time where you could catch three shows at tiny venues on Capitol Hill – that disappeared a few years after.
Meanwhile, other shoots were dying out, too; I think it is a total of ten small and large venues that have gone down, and I suppose it is a wonder that Kurt Beattie, with a lot of compromises, has at least kept A.C.T. afloat.
My translation of Dorst's
proved the final nail in
AHA Theater's coffin.
Reviewers, I quickly realized, but for the redoubtable Roger Downey but of questionable character, were a problem: not even what I regard as a fairly straight forward play about machismo'sunhappy consequences for women & ultimately, for Mr. Macho, seemed capable of being described halfway accurately except by a freelancer whom Joe Adcock of the yet extant Seattle Post Intelligencer allowed to sub, Misha Berson's sub at the Seattle Times, was a flub (the sub a flub, sub-flubs) as was Longenbaugh at the WEEKLY – no Stranger yet – at the English language premiere of a play that was done all over Europe and was based on Unamuno's famous novella
Nothing Less than a Man.
And the sweet folk at AHA - wonderful work over the years - had not built up a following to keep a marvelous play of that kind from and early closing of its short run.
Ah if the audiences were only as intellectually curious and adventurous as they are as foodies!
Upon Heinar Mueller's death I arranged for a memorial reading and performances at the U.W. Drama School. I had collaborated with Mueller's American translator the Berliner Ensemble graduate Carl Weber on most of the translations.
Great attendance at the Memorial which led to nearly nothing: a sweet kid, not even member of the Drama School, then did Hamlet Machine way off in one of the abandoned buildings in Magnuson Park's NOAA facility.
Neither Carl Weber showed, his wife had this habit of falling ill whenever he wanted to go somewhere, especially with me,
nor did Roger Downey, whose translation of Mueller's Quartet appears to have been the only other Mueller piece ever done in Seattle, at Kazanian's then still extant Theater of the New City which is now the Hugo House – Downey had claimed, to Verlag der Autoren, (A Socialist Author's house, one of the few left-overs of 1968) friends whom I had represented in New York,
that he had exclusive English language rights – the prospect of finding himself on the same stage as Carl Weber, Mueller's American translator, had induced a diabetes attack (if only it had been agenbite!) in someone who had vied to be a food rather than a drama & opera critic of … actually … national talent, if only he had not been a petty and vengeful crook besides! Domage!
- I was becoming privy to Seattle parochialism & would encounter a lot more of it. David Brewster, objecting to Downey reviewing shows at ACT because his wife was a member of the board – David then apologized for his overly protective impulse. Certainly one reason for lack of creativity & a low horizon.
In the course of trying to salvage something of the attempt at a Handke festival,
Kurt then introduced me to a few people each of whom proved to be a breaker of his word.
Arne Zaslove during the course of a decade never read
of which now modest mouse me
had merely wanted to do a reading. I was still in four-hour voice at that time & had done it at venues such as Beyond Baroque
in Venice, Ca.
By then Arne had lost his Bathhouse Theater because the prospect of hosting Theater Zan Zinni at that location had alarmed the Greenlake Green Police! Arne was quite right that Kurt couldn't direct himself out of a brown paper bag, which didn't keep him from sucking up to him with projects. Parochialism! And Kurt then didn't do any Handke as he had hoped he would when he inherited the artistic directorship at ACT.
And it appears he has not realized his deepest wish, to finally premiere Brecht's Mother Courage
in a major venue in Seattle before he retires.
He asked me whether I wanted to do a new adaptation of the Thirty War Year-old Mutter Kuraschfor years I had been thinking of doing an American Mother Courage, and was quite ready, and not to do a Kushner or Steve Pearson, Mother Courage as Cabaret version
(Imagine doing Death of a Salesmen as a comedy, perhaps as Death of an American Hustler!)
but, as an aboriginal Brechtian, as of 1957, I was going to do it with full-fledged urmarxist tragic pathos. What a mother that would have been!
John Kazanian (whose work as a director of performance artists I admire) had sold the building that housed his NewCity Theater and now only did shows at his and his wife's kitchen, promised to read
and get back to me, which he has not to date.
The best chance to still do something spectacular along that line was provided to
Richard White @ Cornish
A half way decent production in the early years of this century, of my proposition for CORNISH to do Handke's highly controversial VOYAGE BY DUGOUT (THE PLAY ABOUT THE FILM ABOUT THE WAR) would have put Cornish on the map as it has not been for a hundred years
Instead White, never got back to me as he promised, and seems to have spent his time giving away money for whatever never left an impression.
Parochialism to the Nth power – the U.S. of A. the biggest parochial self-involved
country in the world!
Not that I didn't see some fine theater while Sullivan & Sher & a few other notables were directing who all departed Seattle for its provinciality.
Meanwhile I think a total of ten theaters have gone down, including the Intiman that tried to revive itself by reviving its once biggest hit
currently is running a competition for the next Kushner!
Pretty pathetic!
The Seattle Rep
had a play “in progress” for some years
far worse than the movie's
in “turn-around”
(the sure sign of death
a notice to the effect of “in progress no matter with what artistic director you encounter it - a good playwright gets the work done)
and Misha Bernson mercifully put the stake into this attempt at a femme GLENGARY GLENROSS
I imagine you could throw millions upon millions into arts funding hereabouts and it wouldn't change the fundamental provinciality that I have seen so many artistic directors flee during my 20 years in these parts - theatre is an area in which I am a bit of an old hand. But then it is an area without a building audience, thus no great surprise that so many small ventures have disappeared, also for reasons of mismanagement or grandiosity. Had I Paul Allen's resources I'd know what it would take to be the right kind of Medici in that area, say like the HB Studio in New York - Herbert Berghof Uta Hagen Studio to put names with the initials  - actor development, an uncompromising dose of truly contemporary and classical theatre, do that for about 25 years and you have something, as well as a loyal educated audience that realized that it had a gem in its midst. A better newspaper would help but is not essential. Give it another 100 years and Seattle will be just like told old-time Vienna!
In June 1994 when I came to these parts to get in touch with relatives who had emigrated in 1900 (a fellow who, late for the Klondike, had started out as a Frazer River boatman and then come up in the world before being taken down) and after nearly a decade at latitude 30 thirsted for green & cool & wet, arrived baked potatoes brown amongst the pale pink-fleshed, my ex-colleague & agent Robert Lantz made an introduction for me to Dan Sullivan @ the Seattle Rep who turned me over to his assistant Kurt Beattie & Kurt, who had played the title role in Peter Handke's KASPAR, (which I translated and which had won the Obie in 1973) we hit if off very nicely, and since Burke Walker's EMPTY SPACE


had done a lot of Handke I thought Seattle might be a good place to do a Handke Festival – I had done this a few times in the East, at Bennington & Smith. Moreover, the Austrians seemed to appreciate what I had done for Austrian literature, and were willing to contribute a Schilling or two, I think the sum was $ 30,000. Kurt, mainly Kurt, who knew the cost of things, put together a working budget, which was going to be supplemented by a parallel festival of Wenders film with which Handke was associated, from GOALIE'S ANXIETY to WINGS OF DESIRE (Wenders is currently doing the cuts of his film based on Handke's play THE BEATIFUL DAYS OF ARANJUEZ
where Scott Abbott & I did a translation that premiered at Chicago's THEATER Y this summer in Zejlko Dukic's direction
sexy stuff, folks~!

There was all around acceptance of this idea, I recall the formidable critic, that big gay bear, Roger Downey calling me one morning asking if he could direct OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE & take it to the major venueS in the city, etc. to irk this sleepy-headed sun-deprived furniture-applauding giggle audience, all these nice people, into being as sophisticated as they were in the matter of drinking lattes = EMPTY SPACE it turned out had not done OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE, I think the director had fallen ill. Yes everything went well until I heard from the Chairman of a department that had made me, who merely wanted library privileges, a visiting scholar (meanwhile I do feel like a scholar, at least in matters Handke) that Sarah Nash Gates, head of the UW theater department, said she had not interest in the Handke project. - I suppose it was my mistake not to have contacted her initially, but everyone at the department, especially Burke Walker, liked the idea – and as far as I was concerned she could have called it the SNG HANDKE festival. But when I then contacted her she was quite firm, she had no one who could manage such a project on her end, or finding anyone who could. Thus Kurt & I scaled back our efforts in matters Handke to getting at least a reading done of my translation of Handke's richest work, WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES
& we had lunch with Arne Zazlove, of the once Bathhouse Theater, who, the last time I was in touch with this amusing lazy bones & charming fraud, then did not read the script for a decade & will go innocent of Handke to the grave.

About 2000 Handke wrote the great VOYAGE BY DUGOUT
a play that indicates how well he learned about poetic docu=drama from Brecht & Kipphardt + Weiss & Grass, and we approached Richard White at Cornish who was attracted to doing the play since its setting (in broken down Hotel California in Deepest Darkest Serbia) made for some interesting proposition in that direction. White said he'd get back to me while he was administering the distributions of fund from the annual art funds, but he never did. Cornish – who has heard of Cornish since it was in the news about 100 years ago.
It would have been quite something to do VOYAGE while the Yugoslav Controversy was still hot, or during the inception of the Iraq war (VOYAGE is Brechtian also in the sense that it is an elastic adaptable “model”).
Later John Kazanian, of the City for the New City promised to get back to me about doing a reading of WALK ABOUT THE VILAGES, but he never did. There was a time I was able to do a reading, four hours, of the various “voices” in this very polyphonic piece .

When Kurt finally achieved an Artistic Directorship in his own right at ACT, he mentioned that he wanted to do some Handke, as there certainly has been a lot to premiere since the work of the 60 and 70s

However, the only Handke done here in the past 20 years was Steve Pearson's THE HOUR WHEN WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER
and great work was done indeed with a piece that confines itself to communicating and entrancing (and creating catharsis in a most unexpected subliminal manner, as does THE RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE) entirely by means of a visual syntax and sequences, one of the great texts of modern German prose, next to Heiner Mueller QUARTETT & HAMLET MACHINE. At some point Kurt asked me whether I'd be interested in doing an adaptation of MOTHER COURAGE, it was what he wanted to do most in life, and the proposition was one that I'd given thought to previously, and so I spent a week so at the Drama School Library to see what the situation looked like. It did not appear that anyone had taken my planned “Big Mama Thornton as a big time war profiteer during the Civil War” tack, but Kurt then never did commission me. Steve Pearson then did Kushner's or a Kushner-type adaptation that urges the play in the direction of lighthearted Cabaret, post-modern I suppose, whereas I was going in the direction of deepest darkest pathos of its Grimmelshausen MUTTER KURASCH origins during the 30 years war (we sure are in a 30 years war now!). My time at the Ensemble performances during the late 50s being some of the theatrically most satisfying, Brecht was certainly a major event in my life, and with the Brechtian director Carl Weber as collaborator and friend, I imagine we could have come up with something quite formidable. Alas, Seattle, forever provincial, and most of the aforementioned never leaving. Alas.
Michael Roloff October 2015


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