As Cornish marks 100 years since the formation of the Theater department, five shows are scheduled that continue a tradition of theater as commentary on the human condition.
This year’s fall season will bring two challenging and important works by Caryl Churchill to the Cornish stages.
“Caryl Churchill is without question one of the most important and influential English-language playwrights of the last 50 years,” says Theater Chair Richard E.T. White. “Her work encompasses a vast array of styles and genres, from adaptations of Greek classics (A Mouthful of Birds) to dramatic tone poems about rural existence (Fen), from time-jumping examinations of gender (Cloud 9) to unsparing dissections of the costs of power (Top Girls) and the excesses of capitalism (Serious Money). This year we produce one of her latest (Love and Information) in tandem with one of her earliest (Vinegar Tom), to celebrate the breadth of her craft and the stirring adventurousness of her thematic reach.”
The selection of Churchill for an in-depth exploration fits well with Cornish’s history of producing thought-provoking work in Seattle. The Theater department was created in 1918 by the founders of the Chicago Little Theatre, Maurice Browne and Ellen Van Volkenburg. The couple’s Chicago company had introduced ground-breaking European playwrights writing about the human condition to American audiences, inspiring a movement of the same name. They also used theater as a tool for activism. Their touring production of The Trojan Women by Euripides, with Van Volkenburg as Hecuba, was billed as an anti-war play in the first years of World War I and sparked Nellie Cornish’s interest during a stop in Seattle. Nellie Cornish invited them to organize a professional company, Cornish Theatre, to run parallel with their teaching at her school. Later, Browne would design what is now known as the PONCHO theater at Kerry Hall to his specifications for “little theater.”
Today, in conjunction with Cornish’s Performance Production department, the Theater department produces nearly a dozen events every year on three stages (Raisbeck Performance Hall, Alhadeff Studio, and Cornish Playhouse).
The fall season begins with Vinegar Tom by Churchill on October 19-27 at Raisbeck. “It is rooted in Brechtian Epic Theatre, but this time through a female lens. It is a fertile ground for acting, musical and comic performance skills,” says director Kaytlin McIntyre, who also calls the playwright and this work “shining examples of theater-as-activism and the practice of the artist-citizen-innovator.”
Opening November 1 at the Cornish Playhouse, Churchill’s Love And Information deals with the impact of digital communication on human connection. The play is “a vibrant, open-canvas project that welcomes as much creative choice, if not more, than it prescribes in the text. The 100+ characters in the play, experienced through 57 scenarios, are presented without specified gender, age, ethnicity, or names,” says director Michael Place.
Also in November will be the contemporary musical LIFT (music and lyrics by Craig Adams and book by Ian Watson) directed by Richard Gray. This will be followed by an anachronistic retelling of the 1869 Powell expedition, Men In Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Bobbin Ramsey. In December, the popular and annual cabaret at Raisbeck will be created by fourth year Theater students in collaboration with Timothy McCuen Piggee (co-director), Frances Leah King (vocal director), Katherine Strohmaier (music director), and Nicole Beerman (choreographer/co-director).