Over the years one of the more reliable pleasures of Seattle theater has been Sheila Daniels shaking up a classic and making the work relevant to today’s audience. She has directed classical and modern works at most of the companies in Seattle as well as Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis and Throwing Bones (NYC), taught at Cornish, and served as an artistic/administrative head for many groups here.
Now she’s back for the Intiman Festival, the reboot of the theater under Andrew Russell that gathers a collective of artists to present plays guaranteed to stir up the conversations in the Center Playhouse’s lovely courtyard and beyond.
Daniels formerly worked as Intiman’s associate director from 2007 to 2009 under artistic director Bartlett Sher in the theater’s glory days and is an admirer of Russell’s efforts to reorganize after the company went into a financial freefall.
In a recent interview, Daniels discussed why she picked Lysistrata for her part of the festival. This comedy dates from 411 BC and probably counts as the world’s first protest play as well as a very early bedroom farce, as the women of Athens withhold their companionship from the men until peace is declared. Daniels’ version opens tonight at the Playhouse.
What brought you back to the Playhouse and working on an Intiman show?
Love. For the company, for Andrew, for the Intiman board members who stuck it out, for the mission. A desire to give back to a company that gave me so much. Andrew is programming political, audacious works for a large audience. Audacity and politics are largely reserved for Seattle’s rocking fringe scene. Intiman is bringing this work to larger audiences, creating a larger discussion. The discussions in the lobby are exciting to listen to and be a part of.
How would you compare this Intiman Festival with the previous incarnations of the theater?
It just isn’t that different to me at its essence, having been on the inside before and now. Intiman has always been driven by passion. Bart was a great leader, Andrew is a different kind of great leader. If anything, it is closer now to the roots of Megs Booker’s vision than it had been in a long time. It makes me crazy when people say “It isn’t Intiman” – read your history, folks.
In a city so full of amazing theater, why do we need this festival?
For so many reasons. For both the audience and the artists! It is the city’s only true repertory company – a company of actors playing multiple roles night to night. For the audience, it’s great fun for them to see one actor in two or three different roles within a week. This experience does not exist elsewhere in the city. Seeing Tracy Michelle Hughes one night in We Won’t Pay! Won’t Pay!, and the next night in Trouble in Mind, alone is an amazing experience. They also see four plays in context of each other, and four radically different directing styles, not to mention the great fun of seeing the space change from night to night.
So what does a festival like this give back to the collective of artists producing it?
For the artists, the stretch and the sense of ensemble are profound. And it has a good old-fashioned intern company where college students and young actors learn by doing, watching, and being in the room with actors who are masters at their craft. It also means long contracts for many of the artists who work in the festival. In other words, jobs and health insurance.
What would you say to bring the audience out to this show?
Gosh. It is a reimagined classic. Come prepared to turn your prudence off along with your cellphone. It’s raucous and sad, filthy and thought-provoking.
When did you first encounter this play by Aristophanes?
Like most people, in college, through a really stiff translation. It’s been fun to read multiple translations throughout the adaptation process.
Why do Lysistrata now?
Americans have a seemingly shared cultural amnesia that we are still at war in Afghanistan, and more covertly in other places. Young men and women (largely the age of our actual cast) are still sacrificing their bodies, minds, and hearts every day. I wanted to do something to remind us – and Lysistrata reminds us largely through pointed, bawdy humor. Aristophanes wrote it in the twentieth year of the Peloponnesian War, meaning the audience and the actors were in the midst of a war-torn state, all of them having lost close friends and family, many of them soldiers themselves. I’ve set this version on a fictional U.S. Military base in Afghanistan, where a platoon of soldiers are performing the play for their company.
Why choose that setting?
I was inspired by learning that the Army and other Armed Forces do put on a “Soldier Show” every year, performed “By the Soldier, For the Soldier.”
What do you think this comedy says to today’s audience?
I hope it evokes laughter as a way to remind the audience of how ridiculously the sexes can treat each other. I hope it says: remember our troops, whether or not you agree with the war. Give them support when they come home. Be aware of what the taxes you pay are going towards, and accept that responsibility.
Aristophanes certainly supports the complaint that too often governments are more than willing to send other people’s children off to war.
All the versions I have read are very clearly critical primarily of the men who start and manage war: old men start wars, young men fight them. It is crucial to connect the fact, as Lysistrata late in the play reminds us, that the withholding of sex ties directly to stopping the war in this way: “No sex, no sons. No sons, no soldiers. No soldiers, no war.”
Lysistrata plays through Sept. 12 along with We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!, Trouble in Mind, and Stu for Silverton. For more information on the Festival, see Intiman’s website.