Monday, April 20, 2015





With the imminent end of yet another season of burly athletes playing   „territorial conquest“ as American Football is called I once again note that even a single local hero of that sport spraining as much as a pinky can be featured on the front page of the one and only remaining rag the Seattle Times, whereas I don’t recall, during my nigh 25 years in these precincts, seeing the name of a single artist on the rag’s front pages! And until at least the major artists are so featured Seattle will fail to be conducive to the arts, for a variety of historical and current reasons that I address below. 


 to come:


media, housing, philistinism...

Seattle is rife with old women busy-bodies of all kinds, many of them guys, who spend their days fussing over dirt, pise-antish supervisor types,
no end of things just a little different make them "uncomfortable," they are also snoopers + snitchers

it is a very anal city and thus unconducive to the often dirty creative process.

I knew the word “provinciality” of course, even felt that there were a host of provincial aspects to New York City, but didn’t give thought to how provinciality comes about, didn’t really have time until I was in the provinces.

If you are in Baja California you are in a rural environment, at most a small circus might enliven one or the other small pueblo. You do no plaint about provinciality in a rural environment. However, Seattle is something else, because it has cultural pretensions, it even had the buddings of a theater town, small troupes sinking roots, in the last third of the previous century. But the roots shriveled as they tend to in infertile environments. Too much television, too much on-line.

Exception at one time was made to young musicians who took all kind of drugs to loosen up, and perhaps exception is still taken there...

it is a city that is cleaning at all times, the leaf-blowers

and big vacuum cleaner trucks

are out even at night…

it is a city of small complaints


breeders who reside in cottages big and small, to which they do not invite newcomers, ever, not interested. crossword puzzlers who turn to that challenge first thing of the paper.

Most of the theater folk here who are from here and have staid here all their lives have stayed staid because there's no chance that they would be in the theater elsewhere.

Quite a few fine people have come... and gone…  during the 20 + years I have been in Seattle, some flee at once, others have contracts and then leave saying the provinciality just runs too deep.

I did some reviewing my first months here in the mid-1990s to

Became acquainted with the audience as much as the shows

The audience still applauds the sets

And titters even at the bad jokes

And will run around circles at a
Exceptions to this state of affairs are too few which is why the promise of the cultural revolution that set in with the 60s did not take deep enough roots; why there is no continuity and why so many small theaters have gone down.

The one local who really understood theater would happen to be an evil thief!


The death of Sarah Nash Gates

 reminds me that she was instrumental in stopping a once planned Peter Handke festival in the late 90s that had all around support and would have been well-funded by the Austrian Government. Gates was “not interested” as she told Richard Grey, then the chairman of the Department of Germanics, and me once I got belated wind of her opposition.  That is what happens when scenic & amp; costume designers achieve positions of  power.  Dommage for theater in Seattle, and the U.S.A.

Below & amp; on the Art Critic Blog you will find other critical takes on some matters in Seattle which in other respects is quite perfect, e.g. its crows and other feathered friends. x michael roloff 


I recall that the only theater piece to leave Seattle during the past twenty years 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 Kurasch, for 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!


1 comment:



    I am appalled at the shallow optimism & lack of even immediate hh istorical context of Brendan Kiley’s piece in particular and at the general coverage of the arts here.
    To focus on an area a know a bit about: since I came to these part in the mid 90s at least ten theaters have bitten the dust, most importantly The Empty Space, The Intiman & Zaslove’s Bathhouse Theater & the Ahaha.
    The most important work of the most important national and international dramatists is not and cannot even be done here – there are too few theaters left to do them.
    Seattle’s claimed reputation as a theater town of any kind is entirely undeserved and ought to be confined to that brief aspirational period of the 70s to early 90s when what was called „the greening of America” also infused its color here, but evidently, for a host of reasons, without striking sufficient roots.
    I have found the region to be fundamentally unconducive to artistic endeavor, as I carry on more specifically and at great length here

    No doubt the problem is not only a matter of tradition & psychology and of the cast of inadequate characters and the profound provincialitity of the audience but of economics and space pressure. Lacking also nearly entirely is a body of critics. There was such a one for a while in Roger Downey, in that respect a fellow of national talent, Misha Bernson was an adequote reviewer, and then there are a bunch of reporters. Moreover, there is a severe diminution in news outlets that is not compensated, best as I can tell by blog or social media discussion.
    But let us not forget the best of the spaces and its inspirational foundation, Peter Brook doing theater in an empty basement space in post WW II Hamburg.


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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website


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