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.”
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.
April 14, 2011 – Seattle. Pamala Mijatov was recently named Artistic Director of Annex Theatre Company, officially succeeding former Artistic Director Bret Fetzer on August 9, 2010*. Remarked Fetzer, “Pamala Mijatov has been a crucial member of the Annex Company for more than a decade, not only creating art but also working in the trenches: taking out the garbage, sewing costumes, and arguing about season selection. Her intelligence and creativity have already been shaping Annex’s future as an Artistic Associate; becoming Artistic Director is the natural next step for her and for Annex. I am delighted to be placing the theater in her capable hands and look forward to working with her on the upcoming shows I’m directing.” (Fetzer served two tenures as Annexʼs Artistic Director: 2001-2004 and 2007-2010. He will continue to create new work at Annex: directing the final episode of Penguins, Annexʼs long-running late-night serial, in August; overseeing the Fall 2011 ensemble-generated production c.1993; and curating Spin the Bottle, Annexʼs monthly late-night variety show.)
Pamala Mijatov, a 1999 graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, has been an Annex company and staff member since 2001. She made her Annex debut in Pearl, the final mainstage production at the companyʼs original 4th Avenue location. Other Annex acting credits include Stage Door, Hothouse 2001 & 2004, Passport, Keep the Light On, and The Moon Is A Dead World. During her first decade with the company, Mijatov has worked as an actor, director, designer, stage manager, and dialect coach on over 30 productions and special events, including world and Northwest premieres by local and nationally-recognized playwrights including Anne Washburn, Dan Dietz, Paul Mullin, Elizabeth Heffron, Mike Daisey, Rachel Atkins, Scotto Moore, Bret Fetzer, and Juliet Waller Pruzan. From mid-2008 until her August, 2010 appointment as Artistic Director, she served as an Artistic Associate, focusing on company cultivation, staff involvement, and artist advocacy.
Mijatov said, “Annex Theatre has been a vital part of Seattleʼs theater community for well over two decades, producing a staggering number of raw, daring, and audacious productions – the vast majority of which were world premieres. It is an amazing laboratory for new art and new artists, nurturing the careers of generations of new theatrical voices, including my own; I came to Annex as an actor and, like many in our company, have since enjoyed tremendous opportunities to work in almost every other aspect of play development and production alongside some of the most exciting artists in Seattle. Iʼm thrilled and proud to be a part of Annexʼs past, present, and future.” Mijatov intends to return to Annexʼs roots and offer greater support to developing playwrights and directors via progress showings, longer development timelines, and increased dramaturgical resources. “Now that Annex has settled into our new home and codified our rigorous production model, we can turn more of our energy back where it belongs: shepherding new works of art from initial conception through final production, and deepening our pool of talented collaborators.”
On behalf of Annex Theatreʼs Board of Directors, Board Member and Company Historian Ed Hawkins stated, “We were thrilled to unanimously endorse Pamalaʼs appointment to the Artistic Director position. She joined the Annex company when we were still downtown. She remained fiercely loyal to Annex during its challenging ʻdiasporaʼ years (2001-2007). And she played a significant role in securing, improving, and branding the always-bustling new space on Capitol Hill. Pamala not only understands our history, she has experienced much of it personally. That experience, coupled with her clear communication skills, level-headed ability to build consensus, and measured yet palpable artistic passion, makes her uniquely equipped to oversee Annexʼs continuing company-driven artistic evolution while remaining true to its roots as Seattleʼs home for ʻbig cheap theatreʼ and bold, new work.”
ABOUT ANNEX THEATRE
Annex Theatre is a democratic collective of theatre artists dedicated to creating bold new work in an environment of improbability, resourcefulness and risk.
In addition to new plays by living playwrights, Annex produces radical reinterpretations of classic scripts, ensemble-generated non-linear spectacles, and dynamic solo performances, as well as our monthly late-night variety show Spin the Bottle, now in its 14th year. All productions are chosen by the Annex company as a whole, through a process of proposals, interviews, readings, frenzied argument, and, ultimately, consensus. Annex Theatre now resides at the corner of 11th Ave and E Pike St. in the heart of Capitol Hill. After early stirrings on Bainbridge Island, Annex Theatre began its Seattle incarnation in 1988 at a former dance studio on 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Since then the theater has produced hundreds of world and Northwest premieres, including new plays by Stranger Genius Award winners Chris Jeffries and Paul Mullin; dozens of other local playwrights, including Elizabeth Heffron, Jeff Resta, Kelleen Conway Blanchard, Scotto Moore, Keri Healey, Scot Augustson, John Kaufmann, and Heidi Heimarck; and nationally recognized playwrights such as Erik Ehn, Naomi Iizuka, Glen Berger, Anne Washburn, Jeffrey M. Jones, and Nicky Silver.
Former Annex company members (aka “Annex alumni”) can be found throughout the Seattle arts community, including Allison Narver**, freelance director and former Artistic Director of the Empty Space; Weir Harman, Executive Director of Town Hall; Andrea Allen**, Education Director of Seattle Repertory Theatre; Ed Hawkins, Advertising Manager for Seattle Opera; Josef Krebs, Development Director for ACT Theatre; and Gillian Jorgensen**, Seattle Children’s Theatre Teaching Artist; as well as in the local and national film industry—such as directors SJ Chiro**, Garrett Bennett, and Mike Shapiro, and actors Jillian Armenante and Paul Giamatti. We believe that Annexʼs distinctive collective working model (which cultivates a combination of initiative, diligence, and the ability to play well with others) is responsible for this remarkable track record of producing leaders in the arts.
*Note: Mijatov was officially named Artistic Director at a special Annex company meeting on August 9, 2010. Please excuse our delay in drafting this press release and announcing the happy event. We were busy making art.
**indicates former Annex Theatre Artistic Director.