Annex’s Emily Sershon Interviews Artistic Director Catherine Blake Smith

Annex Marketing Coordinator Emily Sershon sat down with Artistic Director Catherine Blake Smith to get to the bottom of Annex’s unique RFP and season selection process:

EMILY SERSHON: Hi Catherine! Annex just opened it’s annual Request for Proposals. What is that, exactly?

CATHERINE BLAKE SMITH: Annex Theatre puts out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to choose its upcoming season. It’s been a long-standing tradition to eschew the traditional practices of having a sole literary manager field all the incoming scripts and choose them with the Artistic Director, and instead have the Annex Company choose the season. The RFP is the precursor to an interview process, which we call the Pitch Sessions (20-minute interviews with members of the Annex company).

ES: The Company chooses the season? How? And how big is the Company of Annex?

CBS: After visiting as many pitch sessions and reading as many scripts as they are able (different folks use different tactics: some read every single submitted script to help us screen, some people only read the proposals and read the script if the person intrigues them in the pitch session, etc.), then the Company of Annex gathers in what is (now) called Season Showdown. We’re splitting it into two sessions this year, so that we can spend the first day discussing every proposal and the second day selecting the season.

The Company size changes depending on who is available. Last year there were more than 30 people in the room, in previous years I’ve attended there have been about 12. No matter who is in the room, we use the session to discuss the possibility of producing every single considered proposal, through consensus. If we give the person a pitch session, then we talk about their proposal, even if no one advocates for it.

ES: Ok, so the Company that decides the season can be very different year-to-year as the Company changes – and being a Company member just means you’ve worked on a show and are invested in Annex – but you have to be present in the room to participate… Honestly, it sounds a little bonkers to pick eight shows by consensus. What if there’s one hold-out person who won’t let something go? Do they ever get overridden?

CBS: It is a difficult but rewarding process. The first time I experienced it, I wrote about feeling out of place yet belonging. But everyone is welcomed and encouraged to talk about what they did/didn’t like about a proposal, and how it speaks to them as an artist. We use a ‘temperature taking’ vote early on in the day to see what speaks to the room, and that helps guide the conversation.

So the day starts off bonkers but the discussions/topics that people value rise to the top. The role of the Artistic Director on that day (still) isn’t to decide the season, but to listen and respond to what the company is excited about and help create markers/milestones. I’ve only ever experienced [Artistic Director emerita] Pamala Mijatov doing this, and I’m definitely nervous about leading my first process.

ES: Your blog post about the process is from 2012. I love the line you wrote: “By the end of the process, everyone has to agree. Otherwise, not everyone is in support of the season.” That seems like a really valuable point in an all-volunteer organization.

CBS: Yes, it’s the Rousseauian social contract that attracted me to Annex in the first place. At Annex, making decisions through consensus means we talk about which art moves us and what is percolating in the community. It’s really awesome.

ES: What kind of art have you proposed to Annex in your own RFP submissions, and how did the pitch experiences go?

CBS: I have pitched several projects at this point: as a playwright with an unfinished play, as a director for 3 different projects (one was selected), and as curator for festival concepts (both of which were selected). I also participated in the first festival I pitched.

The pitch experiences were great, even from the first one. Since I had witnessed so many, I felt like I had a good handle on how to prepare. The questions in my case have always been more conversational, which can change depending on who is in the room and being interviewed of course!

One year, I was SO nervous I was flushed red. There’s a picture of me, because I was pitching a play about technology and its pervasiveness in our lives. I took a selfie and posted it during the interview. #oldmillennials

ES: Right now Research & Development Wing just closed at Annex, which you curated with company member James Weidman. I understand the concept was conceived during Season Showdown?

CBS: Yes, it was initially conceived during the 2015 Season Showdown, since we were starting to get way more proposals than for which we had slots. James loved the idea of inviting artists who would be a great fit for Annex but maybe didn’t pitch projects that moved us, and I did too. He and I joined forces to pitch in 2016 for the 30th season, because it seemed like such a perfect fit: a season within a season. In a way, it was an extension of The Zig Zag Festival (Summer 2015) and yet way different.

ES: There must be a ton of talent that just doesn’t fit into only eight slots.

CBS: Yes, in the years I’ve participated, there are more people who submit great plays than we have room for.

ES: Attention all badass artists proposers: Keep submitting! We’re sad we can’t choose you all!  Catherine, are you proposing anything this year? Any hint about what it is?

CBS: I am proposing this year, as director of a play that has been evolving for 7 years with a (currently) local and talented playwright. And maybe another iteration of Zig Zag/R&D Wing? But that’s all I can say so far!

ES: Gah, I’m excited! Ok, well before we finish, do you have anything you want to say to potential proposers?

CBS: Talk to company members! See shows at Annex! Be yourself!

ES: Aw. Thank you Catherine! When can the rest of the world expect to hear what’s decided at the Season Showdown?

CBS: July? August?

ES: Summer!

CBS: Maybe September if we do an announcement party again?

ES: Yessss. Ok. Thanks Catherine! Viva Annex!

CBS: Viva Annex!

Annex 31st Season Request for Proposals!

Hello! You must be looking for an opportunity to submit a proposal for production at Annex Theatre in 2018. Go to our RFP page to submit your proposal to be a part of our 31st season!

Every spring, Annex Theatre chooses its production slate for the following year. We distribute our Request For Proposals (RFP) far and wide. Proposals can be for a scripted play; for a work in development; for an ensemble-generated who-knows-what; or anything else that sounds compelling and you think you can persuade the Annex Company — the body of artists and technicians who make Annex Theatre function — to produce.
We will begin scheduling pitches May 22, 2017, so submit today!

Interview with ACME Playwright: Andrew Shanks

Annex’s Marketing Coordinator Emily Sershon sat down this week with ACME Playwright Andrew Shanks to find out more about ACME:

EMILY SERSHON: Hey Andrew! You wrote ACME! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

ANDREW SHANKS: Hey-O! I’m a writer and performer working here in Seattle. As a writer, you may have seen my work at Bumbershoot, Spin the Bottle, Pocket Theater, or more recently at Panel Jumper Live: Chapter IV. As an actor, I’ve recently had the great pleasure to work with Theater Schmeater, Sound Theatre Company, and Forward Flux Productions. You can also see me in the local webseries Northern Belles.

ES: And you’re our Company Manager!

AS: Yes I am! Viva Annex!

ES: Annex the world! What prompted you to write ACME? How is ACME similar to your other writing? Different?

AS: ACME has been percolating under the surface for a while. Elements came together over the years whether it was a writing exercise or a one-off performance (usually involving my overall fascination with nefarious organizations and a certain cartoon coyote). The real spark came when I started working for a tech service company a couple years ago. It was the perfect setting for a large ensemble-based satire about the inner workings of the tech industry. ACME is definitely the most ambitious show I’ve ever written.

ES: Well, it’s a big cast! Just knowing it’s a corporate tech-industry satire, I cannot wait to see the characters. What kinds of people do we meet inside ACME? Is there one specifically that you identify with?

AS: ACME’s got a little bit of everything! An eccentric CEO, an omnipresent H.R. representative, security guards with strange dietary habits, tech-bros, scientists in fear of being terminated at a moment’s notice, a gonzo journalist with a score to settle, and an intern with hidden connections to ACME’s sordid past. There’re plenty more cogs in the machine but what I love most about these characters is that, while they live in this ominous sinister world, they all seem pretty naive about it. It’s kind of like that one henchman in the Bond movies who questions whether he works for the bad guy or not: Dude, you work in a lair carved out of a volcano, what do you think?

ES: Hah!

AS: As far as identifying with one character specifically — definitely Jules, our intern in the show, wonderfully played by Nabilah Ahmed. I think we can all identify with feeling overwhelmed by situations we’re thrust into unexpectedly while still trying to keep a level head about it — except at ACME, you might literally lose your head. You have got to read those Terms and Conditions, people! I will say that director Mary Hubert has assembled one hell of a cast here. I’m in awe of how much commitment they have for creating this weird weird world.

ES: Yeah, I’m really enjoying seeing the cast and the science-gone-amok unfolding on Instagram. Can I just say your design team is killing it?

AS: Seriously. I’m in awe. You will believe that portals to another dimension exist.

ES: Apart from your experience in the tech industry, what are the artistic influences for ACME? It’s got a pretty unique aesthetic, hasn’t it?

AS: I tend to wear my influences on my sleeve at times; I’m sure you’ll be able to spot a few as you watch the show. The goal was always to create two very different worlds and smash them together. What happens when one bleeds into the other? I’d say what those worlds are but, much like company itself, there’s a lot of mystery in ACME. I like setting up these little puzzle boxes for audience members to get lost in. If they’re in for the journey, I think ACME will take them to unique places to get answers.

ES: So mysterious! I guess people will just have to come see it. Is there anything else you want folks to know before they come?

AS: Basically this show is an adaptation of “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” but instead of a cookie it’s a ray-gun.

ES: Haha, awesome! Thanks Andrew. I can’t wait.

AS: Thank you! Science!

ACME runs April 28 – May 20 2017
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm

Interview with ACME Director Mary Hubert

Annex’s Marketing Coordinator Emily Sershon sat down over the weekend with ACME Director Mary Hubert to find out more about ACME:

EMILY SERSHON: Hi Mary! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

MARY HUBERT: Hi there! I’m a freelance director and producer who has worked with multiple companies throughout Seattle. You might have seen some of my work with The Horse in Motion, and I also recently directed Girl at Annex. I’ve typically worked on ensemble-driven devised adventures, so I’m really excited to branch into the delightfully comedic, scripted world of ACME!

ES: What drew you to ACME? Have you and [playwright] Andrew worked together before?

MH: I was initially drawn to ACME for a variety of reasons. As an artist who deals frequently with the corporate tech world, I was interested in the ways that Andrew highlighted the culture of upgrades and obsolescence that we see in modern America. I also was fascinated by the idea of creating two very distinct worlds: that of ACME and the cartoon world. Physicalizing animation onstage is an exciting challenge for a director!
Andrew and I have worked together before, so I know his writing style and already have a great relationship with him as a writer. Recently, we produced a short play of Andrew’s called W O L F at The Pocket Theater.

ES: So we have the corporate world of ACME, and a cartoon world… Is ACME a comedy? I understand there’s a mysterious sinister side of the script.

MH: Yes! ACME is definitely a comedy. It is a corporate satire, with a hefty dose of mystery and sinister goings-on. One of the things that Andrew does very well is create a chaotic, comprehensive, madly entertaining environment that still manages to hold a candle to some issues pertinent to our lives as modern-day Americans. And we get plenty of weird science-gone-amok to boot!

ES: That sounds like a jam-packed show! What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

MH: All of the amazing magic that happens in the show! We have multiple cartoon characters onstage, eight different locations (some of them entirely made up) wacky ACME products, and a Void into another dimension!! This calls for plenty of inventive designs and solutions, and my design team and I have definitely been kept on our toes making the madness of ACME come to life! I’m incredibly impressed by my design team, and I’m really excited to share what we’ve come up with.

I think that we can all relate to this idea with the many tech products we use. But, more than that, ACME takes this concept one step further, applying it to the obsolescence of people themselves.

ES: I love that you’ve made Void a proper noun. I can’t wait to see that on stage! Obviously there’s a lot of theatre magic to look forward to. What do you think audiences will relate to from their everyday lives? I’ve heard you mention the culture of obsolescence.

MH: ACME explores the idea that our products are built to fail, that they are made to only last so long so that we continue to buy the latest “upgrade”. I think that we can all relate to this idea with the many tech products we use. But, more than that, ACME takes this concept one step further, applying it to the obsolescence of people themselves. The workers at ACME constantly face threats of upgrade and termination. Avery, the head of the company, is obsessed with finding the “next big thing”. As we become increasingly fixated on being the best versions of ourselves, and as we all compete for an increasingly shrinking, cutthroat job pool, I think that this portrayal of the disposability of the ACME workers themselves will ring true to many.

ES: Yikes. Yeah, I can definitely relate to that. Is there anything else you want people to know about ACME before they come see it?

MH: It’s a crazy wild ride, so buckle up and get ready for the madness!!

ES: Awesome. Thank you Mary!

MH: Thank you so much!

ACME runs April 28 – May 20 2017
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm

Request for Election Response Proposals


Seattle needs a cathartic femme-identified dance off NOW.

Where can I host my Fuck White Supremacy variety show?

I want to facilitate space for survivors of sexual assault.

There is a performance in my artistic womb that needs to be on stage!

My coven could cast a spell to stop Trump, if only we had the space…

Annex Theatre is accepting proposals immediately to create safe space for those flinching from the election results and for those ready to punch back! Dates available between 11/20/16 and 12/11/16.

Click here for submission and further information