On this date in 1986 six theatre artists: Garrett Bennett, John Lawler, Brian Finney, Michael Rainey, Micha Rice, and Dave Skubinna, formally incorporated the name "Annex Theatre" with the Washington Secretary of State's Office, thus initiating what I'm sure none of them anticipated would be a tiny theatrical juggernaut, an artistic David to take on the institutional Goliaths of Seattle's regional and commercial theatre scene.
On Friday morning, nearly 30 years to the day, I found myself rolling up the I-5 corridor from Portland, enervated from too little sleep and energized by too much caffeine, racing to make it back to Seattle in time for the 2016 Mayor's Arts Awards presentation. Annex had been nominated, along with long-time Seattle-based visual artist Alfredo Arreguin and the venerable 40 year old comic publisher Fantagraphic Books, in the "Legacy Award" category, "recognizing an individual or organization with a rich and enlightening career in the arts, whose contributions have made for a more vibrant city." We were in the running with some undisputed heavy-hitters, but long history has taught me not to maintain too high of an expectation. After all, we were the underdog, and even with 30 years under our own belt, still the New Kid on this particular artistic block. So, I sat there in the assembled crowd inside the Armory Building, surrounded by the City's arts elite, along with a handful of Annex stalwarts: Catherine Blake Smith, Stephen McCandless, Pamala Mijatov, Nicole Stellner, and Scotto Moore, as speeches were made, poems read, and other awards distributed, waiting for our moment. When ACT Theatre Executive Director Carlo Scandiuzzi read our name as the recipient, I think he was even more surprised than we were - once again, our scrappy little fringe theatre had beaten the odds!
And that, in a nutshell, is a testament to the true legacy of what Annex represents: we've persevered against the odds for three solid decades, doing things in our own inimitable fashion, crawling around in the muck below the bellies of the big organizations, and carving out a niche in the larger theatrical ecosystem by providing a home for artists, thousands of them over the years, to hone their skills, develop their craft, create the art THEY want to create, and giving them a personal investment in the success - or failure - of the work we do by putting the decision-making process directly into their hands. It's an almost unheard of institutional aesthetic: that the artists themselves collectively determine what kind of art they want to commit themselves to creating, and one that I know from personal experience can be difficult for other artists to comprehend. It's not the way we were taught, and it's not supposed to work, but somehow, for 30 years we've managed to pull it off.
My personal contributions to that unprecedented success have been decidedly modest: I've only performed in a mere handful of the 400 some-odd productions that have come through our doors, directed just one, and this is most certainly not intended as a tooting of my own horn as it were. But, I do think my own journey exemplifies the spirit of what Annex has meant and continues to mean to entire generations of theatre artists, even if my perspective is singularly unique. I was there roughly at the beginning and have somehow managed to stick around all this time; I literally wear Annex on my skin and will continue to proudly display that symbol of personal commitment for as for as long as there's a company of artists gathered under that banner or until I breath my last (and possibly beyond - promises have been made, after all).
But, I'm just one person, and so many, many others have contributed to that legacy, some far more significantly than myself: every actor, director, playwright, technician, designer, volunteer, and patron who has ever walked through our doors; whether it was on Bainbridge, on 4th Avenue, in the various itinerant spaces we briefly occupied during our "wandering years", at CHAC, or for the past nine-plus years at 11th & East Pike; each and every single one shares in our success and has a stake in our future. It is my most fervent desire that generations of new, young, energetic, committed artists will be doing this for another 10, 20, even 30 years - and I for one would be overjoyed to be around for our 50th or 60th Anniversary Celebration.
So, Happy 30th Birthday Annex Theatre! Here's to many more years of Bold New Work!
Annex Theatre: Annex The World, Now And Always.