The New Faces of Seattle Arts

The spring arts calendar fills up with artists who break new ground in Seattle.

By Christopher Werner and Laura Dannen January 25, 2010 Published in the February 2010 issue of Seattle Met


Nicholas Gyeney
Film Director

Nicholas Gyeney is shooting a movie outdoors in Seattle. In November. He’s on his 15th consecutive 12-hour day of filming. And a homeless man just strolled through the set, behind Dick’s on Broadway.

“He’s not supposed to do that,” ­Gyeney lamented, pointing at the man’s back. But then he shrugged. All in a day’s work for the 23-year-old fledgling local filmmaker—albeit one with his own production company (Mirror Images) and Hollywood actors in his sci-fi drama The Penitent Man.

It wasn’t so long ago that Gyeney was a film student at the University of Southern California, shooting his first feature, The Falling, with $60,000 and a crew of undergrads. It went straight to DVD. “It was a terrible movie I hate with all my heart,” ­Gyeney said with a resigned grin. But things feel better this time around. Lionsgate has already asked to see a rough cut of The Penitent Man, about a psychologist (Lathrop Walker) who learns unsettling news about his future from a mysterious patient, played by sci-fi veteran Lance Henriksen (Terminator, Aliens ). Andrew Keegan, who played the teen heartthrob in another film set in Seattle (10 Things I Hate About You) stars as the psychologist’s best friend.

Gyeney is a self-confessed Terminator nut, reflected in the film’s lengthy conversations about wormholes in the space-time continuum—plus the “crazy lights, special-effects, Terminator time-travel sequence,” said Gyeney, hands waving. “Everything’s fated to be going right with this movie.”

With relentless optimism, Tinseltown stars, a big budget (kept under wraps), and a local crew, Gyeney has the potential to be a major Seattle filmmaker. One with bags under his eyes and a homeless man in his shot. —LD

Nicholas Gyeney’s ‘The Penitent Man’ is set for release later this year.

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Image: Chad Batka


Kate Whoriskey
Artistic director 

Kate Whoriskey doesn’t look like Intiman Theatre’s new artistic director. The petite 39-year-old arrived at our interview wearing a hoodie and carrying iced coffee. Quick to laugh and chattering animatedly, she could have passed for a caffeinated college student. This is the director The New York Times calls “formidable and exacting”?

“They saw me in rehearsal,” she said with another big laugh.

Don’t judge Whoriskey by her hoodie. She comes hand-picked by her predecessor, Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher, and bears an impressive resume that includes directing the off-Broadway hit Ruined and Broadway’s high-profile revival of The Miracle Worker, starring Abigail Breslin.

Though Intiman has long been associated with the golden touch of Bart Sher, Whoriskey has already made her mark with a 2010 lineup of classic and contemporary work, including a Molière comedy, new adaptations of Paradise Lost and The Scarlet Letter, and Ruined, the Pulitzer Prize–­winning play about a whorehouse-as-sanctuary in the war-torn Congo. Her future plans are ambitious: Collaborate with Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Symphony. Create an international cycle of shows. And import Broadway talent, including veteran composers Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ruined ) and her husband, actor Daniel Breaker, who just finished his run as Donkey in Shrek the Musical.

“I’m really interested in having everything be more diverse—not just the casting, but the writers, the directors, the staff,” she said. “It feels like the makeup of Seattle is changing quite a bit, so I want to support the folks who are coming in and let them have a voice in the theater.” Expect to hear 12 of those voices question their faith when Intiman debuts Seattle playwright Sonya Schneider’s The Thin Place in May. Based on interviews of Puget Sound residents by KUOW journalist Marcie Sillman, the one-actor performance switches among characters that may include “an atheist who found religion, a Jew who became Muslim, and a woman who replaced her biological father with her heavenly father,” Whoriskey said. It’s a formidable plot—though, by now, that should be expected. —LD

The Thin Place, May 14-June 13, Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer St, Seattle Center, 206-269-1900; intiman.org

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Shannon Stewart
Modern Dancer 

When the Oddfellows Building was sold in 2007, the new owner raised the rent, pricing out tenant Velocity Dance. The dance center had spent 13 years in its Capitol Hill home. Now it had months to find a new space—or close.

Like most of the local dance community, Shannon Stewart, a dancer often seen with zoe/juniper, choked at the idea of losing Velocity. It was the only center of its kind in Seattle offering everything from a theater dedicated to dance to introductory classes for adults taught by professional choreographers.

“Losing our long-term home reaffirmed how critical it is to have a dance center,” Stewart said. Responding to “a pang of anxiety and a call to action,” she came on as Velocity’s development director in November 2008, playing an instrumental role in the dance center’s relocation. It took some large donations ($125,000 in a grant from King County alone) and creative campaigning—including a benefit dance competition set to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”—but Velocity is back on its toes. Classes start at the new center next month, to be followed in May by their inaugural performance, the national SCUBA tour of rising artists from across the U.S., featuring Velocity instructor Amy O’Neal.

All this will take place in Velocity’s new digs at 1621 12th Avenue—the former Capitol Hill Arts Center, tucked snugly in between a liquor store and a hair salon.

“It’s beautiful,” Stewart insisted. “Historically it was an auto dealership, so it’s a big, open room with no pillars. Dancers love that, not having to dodge pillars.”

The 6,000-square-foot space is practically calling for pointe shoes and yoga mats. Sun wafts through the skylights and glistens off blond hardwood floors. Huge windows overlook Cal Anderson Park, while exposed brick gives it an “industrial chic” feel, Stewart said.

And it’s only three blocks from old Oddfellows. —LD

SCUBA: National Touring Network for Dance, May 14 & 15, Velocity Dance Center, 206-325-8773; velocitydancecenter.org

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Tom Lynch
Set Designer 

When Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins decided to commission a new opera—his first in 26 years—he had three criteria: That it be an American subject. That it be timely. And that it have only two hours of music.

It also had to cap a season flush with nineteenth-century Verdi melodrama. To pull off a natural transition, Jenkins recruited Seattle Opera veterans—including set designer Tom Lynch—to create an authentic look and feel for the nascent Amelia.

Lynch has seen his share of new commissions. “Good friend” Wendy Wasserstein asked him to design one of her first Broadway plays, The Heidi Chronicles—those sets earned him a Tony nomination. He breezed through the rest of his illustrious 30-year career in a two-hour interview at his Eastlake studio, walking me through the entire scenic design process.

For Amelia, he started as he always does: researching and sketching. Then on to figure modeling, followed by drafting. In his studio, he pored over photographs of rural Northern Vietnam, his inspiration for an elaborately recreated village at the heart of one of the opera’s most dramatic scenes. Amelia, based on librettist Gardner McFall’s collection of poems The Pilot’s Daughter, is elegant in its simplicity—a young girl faces the loss of her father during the Vietnam War. In contrast to the spare story line, the set features jagged mountains and lush green rice paddies: a vibrant scene for a violent episode. “The green is almost too vivid,” Lynch said, studying the pictures. “I remember just being hit on the side of the face by these images [of the Vietnam War on TV].”

The intensely personal drama follows Amelia over 20 years, from “loss to recuperation, paralysis to flight.” The libretto is sung in English and Vietnamese, featuring rising young mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey—a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s young artist program—making her Seattle Opera debut in the titular role. All this in two hours. —LD

Amelia, May 8–22, Seattle Opera, McCaw Hall, 206-389-7676; seattleopera.org

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Isabelle Pauwels
Video artist

They call them starving artists for a reason. “I’ve been focused for years on my practice, but I’ve done little for my career,” Isabelle Pauwels wrote in an email. Since 2001, the installation artist has been a fixture in the Vancouver, BC, art scene, occasionally branching out with solo shows in Ontario. Her smart, edgy video projections deconstruct reality TV and take on social issues such as gentrification. But despite getting her MFA in Chicago, she’s never had a solo exhibition in the U.S.—until now. Seems she made one smart career move in the last year: She applied for Henry Art Gallery’s new Brink Award.

The prize, the brainchild of art enthusiasts John and Shari Behnke, gives a big boost ($12,500) and solo show to one regional up-and-comer. Pauwels’s work hit all the benchmarks the selection committee sought: Creative? Check. Innovative? Check. On the brink of being something big? You bet.

Pauwels emerged as the clear winner last April from a pool of 57 submissions; for her Seattle debut, she plans two new videos and a series of photo scans. The video W.E.S.T.E.R.N. juxtaposes images of rural colonial Congo with modern North American suburbia in scenes of labor and leisure shot by Pauwels and her grandfather, a state agronomist in 1950s Belgian Congo. The images tell a capitalist narrative about “the creation of moral hierarchies,” Pauwels said. June 30 explores video without a traditional narrative—think reality TV—and how strategic editing can confuse an audience’s interpretation.

The Henry hopes Seattle audiences react well to Pauwels’s work, encouraging her to show again in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. After all, one goal of the Brink Award is to underscore the essential contributions that regional artists make to our cultural landscape. Pauwels, meanwhile, hopes to “take viewers for a ride, move them between head and gut, between what they know and what they feel.”

We’re already buckled up. —CW

The Brink: Isabelle Pauwels, through May 5, Henry Art Gallery, 206-543-2280; henryart.org

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