Hear Annex Theatre’s artistic director Pamala Mijatov discuss our 29th season on the Theatrical Mustang podcast!
In 2010, Annex Theatre found itself with a surprise hit on its hands when it produced Alexander Harris’s Alecto: Issue #1, a satirical, Spandex-clad comedy about the hidden, questionable motives of a group of superheroes. In 2012, it revived these characters with Team of Heroes: Behind Closed Doors, the second installment of what would ultimately become known as the “Team of Heroes Trilogy” when it reached its final chapter in 2013’s Team of Heroes: No More Heroes. Annex artistic director Pamala Mijatov describes the central characters of the trilogy as “a corporate-owned conglomeration of genetically enhanced reality stars,” claiming that the ultimate audience appeal lay in the shows’ “larger-than-life but recognizably human power struggles, love affairs, aspirations and betrayals.”
Rachel Jackson, who portrayed the villain Chaos Theory in the last two “Team of Heroes” productions, acknowledges that the superhero narrative appeals to a sense of wish fulfillment. “It’s about being more than you seem to be, which is appealing when you’re feeling undervalued.” She also adds, slyly, “Your comfort thought if you were super-villain-inclined would be, ‘Just you wait!’”
Annex Theatre of Seattle is another example of an organization that believes in across-the-board financial equality. The 25-year-old company operates as a democratic collective of theatre artists, and everyone on staff, from the marketing director, to the bar manager, to the artistic director, get equal pay. In the case of Annex, though, that’s $15 a month—hardly enough for a meal, much less to live on. “We all have regular day jobs,” Annex communications director Jake Ynzunza explains, admitting he typically works 45 hours a week for Amazon.com. “All the actors and designers get paid $50 for the production of a show.”
How is this different from community theatre, given that the fees are so…paltry? “For one thing, community theatre is often better funded,” says Ynzunza with a chuckle. “But we’re a professional theatre, and our work gets recognized.” (Seattle’s Gregory Awards recently nominated three Annex productions for “Best New Play.”) Ynzunza continues, “People keep working with us because of the quality of our work and the way we treat our artists. We make theatre that is exciting and pushes boundaries—I think that’s why talent and audience keep coming back.”
by Ian Johnston
On September 4th, 1986, Annex Theatre was registered with the State of Washington as a non-profit arts organization. On September 4th, 2011, Annex Theatre turned 25.
That is 25 years of art, 25 years of madness, 25 years of passion. We have seen so many amazing talents pass across our stage, some of whom have gone on to national and international fame, some local, and some simply gone on with their lives, spreading their talent and goodness among friends and colleagues. Fortunately, among those talented people, there have been some talented photographers, so our long history of strictly ephemeral art receives some documentation and becomes, in a way, a bit less ephemeral.
I am proud to count myself among those with photographic talents who have helped document Annex through the years. I consider myself very lucky indeed to have access to high quality digital cameras, so that I can take hundreds of photos per night (I typically shoot 600-1200 photos in one evening of Spin the Bottle, our monthly cabaret) without spending the commensurate hundreds of dollars on film and processing. Fortunately, our historical photos more than make up in quality what they may lack in quantity.
Through the efforts of our board member and long-time Annex contributor Laurie Utterback, and Meaghan Darling, our amazing Production Director (who has also been the Production Manager on every show in the last year, as well as raising a family, holding down a job, and contributing her fabric-crafting genius when needed), we have a selection of Annex’s photographic history prepared for you. They collected, they scanned, they organized, and the result is this amazing collection of historical Annex photos.
First seen as a slideshow at our Silver Anniversary Gala on September 17th, we have also placed all the images into a gallery for your perusal. With so many pictures, the slideshow was necessarily somewhat quick — even at only 7 seconds per picture, the entire show clocks in at almost half an hour long. We wanted to give you the opportunity to relive Annex’s past at a more leisurely pace. Thus, we are proud to present:
Playwright, Brandon J. Simmons, is making his debut at Annex Theatre this Friday with his first play “The Tale of Jemima Canard”. This is an interview conducted by Brian Peterson, our Marketing Manager. “Jemima Canard” opens this Friday and runs through May 21st and you can purchase your tickets in advance on Brown Paper Tickets, or at the door.
Brandon J. Simmons, tell us how you became a playwright.
I’ve been writing forever, but I became a playwright 18 months ago when I wrote The Tale of Jemima Canard. I’d been attempting scripts for years, but Jemima was the first character who spoke to me long enough to write down a full-length play.
Do you write in any other forms, besides plays?
I have written a lot of poetry, and some stories. I also had a blog for a couple years while I was living abroad (in England, where I went to acting school). I have not published anything. This is my first and biggest project so far.
Who are the people who have inspired or influenced you as a playwright?
The obvious answer is Beatrix Potter. I find her works to be subtle, weird and complex. And her art is very evocative. I am also hugely inspired by animation, particularly the classic Disney musicals. I’m not as familiar with plays (unless I’ve worked on them as an actor) so few dramatists are a direct inspiration. But I love Tales of the Lost Formicans by Connie Congdon, and I think her language in that play has made an impact. I love the epic scale (the “real life is as big as the Bible” stance) of Angels in America. And Tom Stoppard is quite inspiring. I am also interested in adapting Borges, Lewis Carroll, the Grimms, Angela Carter—and other children’s books, even short one’s for really young children, into plays for adults.
Tell me about ‘finding your voice’ – were you aware of your gift or was it hiding under a surface?
The first time I remember writing something good was when I was nine years old. I wrote a “spring poem” for an assignment in fourth grade at Cherokee Heights Elementary in St. Paul, MN, and it was published in the big daily newspaper. I have been interested in writing since. I think I’ve always had an ear for style and pretty phrases, but only recently (like in the past year or so) have I honed my skill and become more judicious, much more meticulous, though I could use more judiciousness, more care.
What was your inspiration when writing ‘The Tale of Jemima Canard’?
I was captivated by Potter’s story the first time I read it. I was actually reading to children and I thought “should I be reading this to them? This is pretty intense!” Of course in Potter’s story, all the more adult themes are sublimated or supressed, but they leapt out at me: cannibalism, rape, gruesome violence, domestic peril. That’s just the icky stuff. There’s also the art, which is gorgeous, and the prose, which with Potter is always just a little awkward, but has these moments of absolute loveliness (particularly in The Tailor of Gloucester). But I didn’t want to write a rapey, dark, gruesome play. I wanted to write a play in which people dealt with those things by creating beauty. And I wanted to see people prancing around in duck bills.
‘The Tale of Jemima Canard’ is based off a book. What’s different and what’s similar in these two distinct stories?
My story is actually fairly true to the original. I’ve imported a character from one of Potter’s other stories (Tommy Brock, from The Tale of Mr. Tod), and included Potter herself as a character, though in the original there is a “farmer’s wife.” She doesn’t say anything in the original, but I wanted to include her and it made sense to make her Potter. The main difference between my play and Potter’s story is that I throw onstage all of the subtext (as I see it) from Potter’s book. Also, my play is not for children.
What influenced you to submit your play to Annex Theatre?
Annex is the most well-established theater in Seattle that is dedicated to taking serious risks with theater. They produce a lot of new work.
As a playwright, what has been the best part in working with Annex Theatre?
I had the great pleasure of working directly with Bret Fetzer as my dramaturg. Bret is a very experienced theater artist, and a very efficient communicator. Everyone at the theater was supportive of the writing process and we put together three full readings of the play, which was invaluable. The feedback from those sessions (both my meetings with Bret and the readings themselves) was integral to my developing the script into what it is now.