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Kate Whoriskey: New Intiman Theatre leader credits SCR

June 18, 2009 |  4:03 pm

Kate Whoriskey

As detailed this morning in our Monster Mash news roundup, New York stage director Kate Whoriskey, 38, is moving west to become the next artistic director of Seattle's Intiman Theatre, replacing Bartlett Sher.

Later in the day, Culture Monster caught up by phone with Whoriskey -- mother of 9-month-old son Rory and wife of actor Daniel Breaker, who has been essaying the role of Donkey on Broadway in "Shrek: The Musical" -- to talk about why uprooting her young family to head a regional theater in the middle of a recession may actually be a good idea.

With Rory vocalizing in the background, Whoriskey laughed as she acknowledged that there may be those who question such a choice -- but she says "we are very excited about it, and my husband is really excited to come here."

Whoriskey said that a main attraction to the new job was her easy rapport with Sher, who will stay on as co-artistic director through 2010. "I think he cares about creating a theater in which the artist doesn't try to be the manager," she said. "I think the trend in regional theater is to hire people with strong managerial skills, and less artistic vision. I think Bart has defined himself as one of the people who wants to support the director, and the work."

As a matter of geography, Southern California can take some credit for Whoriskey's success: The director lauded her roots as a longtime associate artist at South Coast Repertory as instrumental to her career....

Daniel Breaker

SCR is where Whoriskey developed her relationship with playwright Lynn Nottage, who won the 2009 Pulitzer for drama for her play "Ruined," a tale of survival set among the denizens of a Congolese bar and bordello. Based on interviews Nottage conducted in Africa, the story revolves around women who have been raped and brutalized as a result of war in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Whoriskey directed the play, as well as traveling to Uganda with Nottage for the preliminary research.

Whoriskey said that Jerry Patch, a former SCR dramaturge, first paired her with Nottage to direct Nottage's play "Intimate Apparel," and the director and playwright have become frequent collaborators.  Traveling to Africa was "really unusual and great because we both made that trip together, both experienced the same things," Whoriskey said.  "Ruined," she said, "has gotten the attention of the U.N., and Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.], so that's been great."

Whoriskey also credited SCR founding directors David Emmes and Martin Benson for helping her get over her youthful bias against new plays. "They were incredibly giving about saying, 'OK, Kate, here's a place to do the classics,' and they really allowed me to explore my design ideas. But they also pushed me to work with new playwrights, including Lynn.  About eight years ago, I was very anti-new-play."

Why?  "At that time -- it was a really naive point of view -- I felt like I was uncomfortable with a lot of the subject matter of new plays," Whoriskey said. "I felt like, because the American theater is always in an economic crisis, theaters tended to produce plays that are new that have two or three characters in them.  They didn't have the kind of epic quality; they were more about relationships.  At the time, I really liked things with size. But then I realized that there were many writers that were addressing things with size."

Emmes said that he did not recall Whoriskey's earlier bias but described her as a "director who has a bold visual style, a kind of kinetic dynamism to her work."

"What's really unique about her is that there are some directors whom one thinks of as purely visual, the actors are just chess pieces to be moved around," Emmes said. "She has the ability to have a bold theatrical imagination, yet to stay centered in the character and the heart of the human story that is being told."

Emmes called Whoriskey's selection as artistic director of Intiman Theatre a "strong and bold choice" for the theater's board of directors. "These are extraordinarily challenging times, and she is a distinct artistic personality," he said.

-- Diane Haithman

Top photo: Kate Whoriskey; credit: Intiman Theatre. Bottom photo: Daniel Breaker, center, as Donkey in "Shrek: The Musical" with Sutton Foster, left, and Brain d'Arcy James; credit: Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images.


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