a kid's book I used to own

One of the books I read frequently as a child was a surprising ode to the inner workings of capitalism, “Olson’s Meat Pies,” by Peter Cohen. The story centered on Olson, a man who made and sold fantastic meat pies with only the best ingredients. One day, Strom, his bookkeeper, makes off with the company’s money, and Olson is left borderline bankrupt. He can no longer afford to buy the best ingredients — but this is his livelihood, so he starts substituting non-food ingredients (shoes, potted plants, etc) for the normal meats and vegetables. His customers are pissed and stop buying his food. So he starts bribing them by putting valuables in his pies, like expensive watches and jewelry — usually his own valuables. His customers start tearing through his meat pies for these great valuables, like kids go through Cracker Jacks boxes. This is equally depressing, though, because they don’t want to eat his pies. Fortunately for Olson, Strom comes back, hat in hand, and asks for his old job; and unlike any sane person, Olson hires Strom back, and they get the company back in good working order. Olson’s meat pies are high quality once again, and the order of the universe is restored.

I can’t help but find parallels between this story and the Intiman’s latest news. Per Misha Berson:

Now Intiman is moving forward with a new artistic plan for 2012. It will also open its 440-seat playhouse to other arts groups, and raise money while trying to retire a $500,000 debt and serve 2011 subscribers and ticket holders.

The company has hired Andrew Russell, Intiman’s former associate producer, as its consulting artistic director through Oct. 1, said board Chairman Bruce Bradburn.
Russell’s goal for 2012 is to establish a loose collective of playwrights, directors, actors, designers and others to devise projects for Intiman to produce, in a short “micro-season” mounted next summer.

At other times, Intiman Playhouse will become more of a hub for a variety of arts groups, as ACT Theatre has. Seattle Shakespeare Company, the Whim W’Him Dance Company and Unexpected Productions already plan to present shows there on a rental basis.

Russell said the plan must be “financially viable and artistically robust. We’d become a leaner and more nimble organization, more pay-as-you-go. That’s one of the main things the board learned” from the fiscal crisis that shut down Intiman last spring.

So the Intiman has found it’s filler. They have a filler artistic director who is planning what is, essentially, a fundraiser in the guise of a season — a season which Andrew Russell even admits isn’t a real season, but a “micro-season” made up of a “loose collective” of artists. I don’t know about anyone else out there, but what I actually gather from this is that they’ll be throwing a series of cabaret-style fundraisers. Maybe they can take a page from Balagan’s Smörgåsbord, or Annex’s Spin the Bottle.

In re-reading Berson’s piece, I gather that Intiman plans to announce it’s artistic goals in October. I look forward to this, because I am frankly disturbed by the hints in this current release. Frankly, I’m with the SunBreak’s Michael van Baker:

Another thing that may strike loyal Intiman-goers as strange (besides the members of the original “hold-up gang” appearing to circle around for another run at them) is the emphasis on how this reinvention is a return to Intiman’s core identity and roots.

The announcement makes reference to Intiman’s history of “staging innovative work and attracting a loyal following of patrons committed to exploring contemporary topics through the lens of epic stories”–”contemporary” and “epic” have to be precisely the wrong words. Simply put, Intiman was Seattle’s home for classic plays, with the space’s intimacy trumpeted in the very name.

That’s troubling because if there’s a tendency I’ve seen in this Board, it’s a willingness to believe their own spin even as it divorces itself from a reality apparent to everyone else. Break from a classics tradition if you’d like, just don’t claim that it’s not a break.

They’re stealing ideas from ACT, they’re divorcing themselves from the original mission statement while claiming a return to their roots (“Classic Coke” anyone?), and they’re focusing on money instead of the product that will get them money and patrons. It’s been nearly 7 months since they shut down, and I have not once seen from them a focus on creating good art. I know that’s not the board’s job, but the board’s job should be to financially facilitate the creation of a quality product, which doesn’t seem to be happening.

There’s no innovation here. I think we all pinned our hopes of a change in Seattle theatre on the Intiman, which is really the wrong move. That’s like pinning your hopes of a more responsible corporate society on the Lehman Brothers. Not gonna happen. And here’s the proof.

Maybe the Intiman will get a fairy tale ending, like Olson. Maybe all their money will be magically returned to them and they will use that responsibly to produce a quality product, like we all expect. Realistically? As patrons, let’s look to better theatres in town, which are still producing shows. And as artists, let’s be the change we want to see — get out there and make some freakin’ art, instead of wallowing in what’s going wrong.

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