From Frank Corrado, founder and curator of Pinter Fortnightly and actor/producer of this summer’s Pinter Festival.
Dear Friends and Fellow Pinterians,
I’m writing to you from a wonderful library devoted to “Music and Arts” in La Jolla, CA, the Athenaeum. I’ve been down here for the past five weeks rehearsing and now performing in a production consisting of two Harold Pinter one-acts, The Lover and The Dumb Waiter, at The North Coast Rep in Solana Beach. No matter where I go and no matter what I do of late, I seem to be subject to the gravitational pull of Harold Pinter.
That compelling pull will achieve maximum force over the summer when ACT presents its much anticipated Pinter Festival. Two of the four plays to be produced, Old Times and The Dumb Waiter, were last seen by ACT audiences some forty years ago when the theatre’s visionary founder Greg Falls regularly programmed the work of the playwright who in 2005 would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The other two plays, No Man’s Land and Celebration, will be new to ACT audiences and in fact have never been staged at any of the major Seattle theatres. So the plays were selected both to acknowledge ACT’s admirable devotion to Pinter in the past and to reassert that commitment in the present.
When I initiated the Pinter Fortnightly series back in March of 2009, I could not have remotely imagined that three years later a festival of such proportion would be taking place. At first, all I wanted to do was bring together some of my favorite colleagues to give readings of a few of the plays just to see if an audience still existed for material that revels in what many regard as ambivalence, ambiguity, elusiveness and, occasionally, downright discomfiture. Sit-coms, soap operas and valentines Pinter’s plays are not.
But what became apparent from the outset was that the plays not only provoked much thought and conversation, they also packed a powerful visceral wallop, often accompanied by no small measure of boisterous laughter. In short, we learned that Pinter was both deeply engaging and highly entertaining. The word got around, and by the sixth presentation in the first set of readings, our initial audience, which numbered some thirty-five curious souls, grew to well over a hundred, filling the modest confines of the Buster’s Events Room beyond theoretical capacity.
Eight more Fortnightlies were given in 2010, and for the last two in that round the demand for tickets was such that we had to move into the Allen Arena where the attendance soared to two hundred and more. Mind you, up to this point, admission was free of charge, though many patrons questioned the wisdom of that. But the fact was that charging for tickets would have required providing union contracts for the participating actors, and while ACT was generously donating logistical and technical support for the evenings, the sale of modestly priced tickets still would not have produced sufficient revenue to pay the actors union scale.
But somewhere in the midst of all this a surprising (and, still to me, shocking) development took place. I had been encouraged, mainly by my wife Mary, but with the wholehearted support of ACT as “Sponsoring Institution,” to apply for the William and Eva Fox Foundation Grant. Probably hundreds of actors apply for the grant every year, but only two are given in the category of “Distinguished Achievement” (i.e. for actors of a certain..uh..longevity).
To make a long story short, I was awarded the grant—though I have little doubt that there were far more deserving candidates who applied. The cash award that I received, with a separate award to ACT, allowed me to continue the series for another dozen evenings and also made it possible for ACT to pay the actors under Equity guidelines. It was also felt that it was the right time to institute a ticket charge of $10. In short, Pinter Fortnightly had gone “legit.” Moreover, the intimate and inviting Bullitt Cabaret became its permanent home.
Even before the theatre and I received our shares of the grant money, though, my esteemed colleague and old pal Kurt Beattie told me that the time was now ripe—perhaps a little overripe—for ACT to reengage with and reinvest in the work of one of the most influential, vital and unique theatrical voices of all time.
“And why not an actual festival of full productions?” Kurt suggested.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I replied.
“Would I kid you?” he countered.
(This is a fanciful reimagining of the exchange, perhaps, but the gist is true–minus the obligatory vulgarities.)
Well, push has come to shove and in just over a month’s time a company of ten Seattle actors—and one from Denver—most of whom have appeared in a number of the Fortnightly readings and thus speak lingua Pinteria with considerable fluency, commences rehearsals. Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned such a thing would come to pass.
But perhaps I should have had more faith in the responsiveness of the artistic leadership at ACT to listen closely and carefully to what a die-hard and adventurous audience had been telling us for some time, in essence: “We’re willing to take these journeys into the wilds of Pinterland if you are willing to be our guide.” And the undeniable truth is that this unprecedented festival would not be happening without the tremendous enthusiasm, loyalty and support expressed by you, our beloved patrons and Pinterians, over the last three years.
Not only have you expressed that support in terms of faithful attendance and enthusiastic involvement in our post-reading discussions, many of you have made remarkably generous financial contributions to make sure that our special evenings together would continue, grow and prosper. I hope I have made it clear in the past how very grateful I am to you for that degree of encouragement and support your extraordinary contributions of time, attendance, engagement and money have meant to me and to ACT but I assure you that that is unequivocally the case.
I’ve characterized the approaching festival as “unprecedented.” Mounting full productions of four plays by a single playwright within a period of eight weeks—rehearsal time included—is not only an unprecedented undertaking, it’s a monumental one (and I’ll refrain from throwing in the threadbare phrase “in these difficult times.”) The magnificent staff of A Contemporary Theatre—the technical crews; the marketing folks; the development team; the costumers; the designers; the individuals negotiating contracts for the actors and directors and securing the rights to the plays; the people responsible for creating a clear and coherent schedule of rehearsals, performances, workshops and master classes; the crack box-office staff assigned the task of making sense of it all to thousands of patrons who will attend—all are working overtime and under unusual pressure to make the Pinter Festival a success in all senses of the word.
And there’s much more than “just” the four productions in the Falls Theatre taking place. There will also be:
Two sets of evenings devoted to Pinter’s delightful review sketches and shorter pieces in more casual stagings—a la the Fortnightlies—in the Bullitt Cabaret.
Plans are afoot to collaborate with the Northwest Film Forum on a series devoted to screening a number of films written by the playwright.
Thanks in large part to the generosity of ACT’s Executive Director Carlo Scandiuzzi, the marvelous Henry Woolf, Pinter’s childhood friend and frequent collaborator, will be brought to Seattle to conduct a master class in acting Pinter and generally lend his unique wisdom to the company as a whole.
Further, Henry will perform the haunting Monologue written expressly for him by Harold in 1973. The presentation will include jazz trio interludes—Pinter was a big jazz fan—to be followed by an onstage conversation with Henry, Kurt Beattie and me (audience participation encouraged). Some of you may already know that Henry is a great raconteur, and I can assure you that you will be both entertained and enlightened by what he has to say.
Not least, in addition to hiring a trio of superb directors familiar to Seattle audiences—John Langs for The Dumb Waiter and Celebration; Victor Pappas for Old Times; Jane Kaplan for the Sketches evenings—the theatre is bringing over from London the distinguished British director Penny Cherns, who made such a striking impact on us all in the No Man’s Land workshop last November, to fully realize the work that was begun on that extremely challenging play. ACT has gone to extraordinary lengths to make this happen, dealing with stacks of red tape and incurring considerable legal fees in securing a work visa for this valuable artist.
As I’ve already stated, many of you have made significant contributions to ACT in recognition and support of the Fortnightly series. I confess that it is not in my nature to ask people who have given so much to me in so many ways over the years to be even more generous than they have already been. But if it is within your means and if it is your desire to deepen your participation and involvement in this unlikely but grand cultural experiment, I ask you in all humility and with sincere gratitude to do what you can to help this courageous theatre, which has lent so much to our lives for so long, to bring the work of this great writer and extraordinary human being back to the main stage–and to our collective consciousness–where it belongs.
Yours in Harold,
Founder and Curator, Pinter Fortnightly
Actor and Co-Producer, The Pinter Festival at ACT, 2012