Arts & Life
From left, Andrew Russell, formerly producing artistic director at Intiman, Valerie Curtis-Newton, director and educator, and Jennifer Zeyl, of the Intiman.
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From left, Andrew Russell, formerly producing artistic director at Intiman, Valerie Curtis-Newton, director and educator, and Jennifer Zeyl, of the Intiman.
Credit: Kuow photo/isolde raftery

Intiman Theatre was hanging by a thread. Now it's out of debt

Eight years ago, Intiman Theatre’s future hung by a thread.

The Seattle nonprofit revealed it was millions of dollars in debt, laid off dozens of staff members and immediately ceased operations. After a prolonged shutdown, Intiman reopened in 2012 with a drastically downsized budget and staff and a long term plan to pay off the debt.

On Tuesday, Intiman declared itself debt-free.

Artistic Director Jennifer Zeyl says she wept when when she heard the news. “And I don’t cry easily,” Zeyl added. “Many people struggle with health conditions, and this is a financial health condition. Finding out you're debt free is kind of like getting a clean bill of health.”

Intiman was founded in 1972 and built a national reputation for presenting a mix of classics and new work, including the 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner “The Kentucky Cycle” and the Tony Award-winning “Light in the Piazza.” In 2006, the Tony Awards honored Intiman as the nation’s best regional theater company.

Artistic success doesn’t necessarily result in financial solvency for nonprofit arts organizations. Intiman announced its money problems in 2011, and ceased operations abruptly. Andrew Russell, who was then an artistic associate with the theater company, proposed that Intiman reopen with a summer festival of four plays, performed by a small acting company. Russell also proposed that Intiman raise a million dollars upfront to produce this festival.

In the ensuing years, Intiman has maintained its leaner profile; it raises yearly operating funds before it mounts an artistic season. The company maintains only two full time, year-round employees: Zeyl, and Intiman’s Executive Director Philip Chavira. Across town, Seattle’s ACT Theatre has also wrestled with an ongoing debt. Last week ACT announced it had finally retired that obligation and heads into a new artistic season in the black.

Meanwhile, as Intiman has grown into its new, leaner identity, its artistic mission has evolved. Zeyl says the main focus of every dramatic selection, as well as community outreach and training, is to wrestle with racial, social and economic inequities in this country. Intiman titled its current artistic season “Wild, Wicked, Woke.” The first production, “Caught,” by Christopher Chen, opens in March.

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