With the Paramount, Moore, and Neptune Theatres at its disposal and no genre restrictions, Seattle Theatre Group always offers up some of the biggest and most interesting events in the city. STG's 2015–16 season lineup arrived last night with plenty of eye-catching performances on the slate. In addition to the previously announced Broadway at the Paramount schedule, it features big names (Star Trek, Stomp, Stewart Copeland), returning favorites (Whose Live Anyway, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, MythBusters, Mark Morris Dance Group), artists from across the globe (Pussy Riot, DakhaBrakha, Dr. L. Subramaniam), and rising talents (Crystal Pite's Kidd Pivot, Cameron Esposito). (Scroll to the bottom of the post for the full lineup.) It's also the first year of events put together by STG's new season programming director Jack McLarnan, so we thought we'd go straight to the source for the lowdown.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to McLarnan about how his debut season came together, themes across the lineup, and looking forward to scary dance.
Prior to your gig at STG, you worked for the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. So did you move out here for the job or just for a change of pace in Seattle?
The job was definitely the impetus. Discovering this position and learning about STG, that was the draw. But I've always loved Seattle and always loved the Northwest. I went to college in Missoula, so me and my friends would come out here several times a year, either for concerts or festivals, or to go camping on the peninsula. I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and in the 90s there was a really great DIY postpunk show scene there, and tons of bands from like Olympia, Seattle, and Portland toured through, so I felt sort of connected to the Northwest [for a long time].
What about the structure of STG excited you?
It's a completely unique organization. I can't find an equivalent anywhere. The breadth of programming that's offered is just astounding: the willingness to experiment and take risks, the creativity, the constant change, the constant growth, the commitment to that transformation. It's so exciting. We have so many different audiences that overlap across all these different programs. Internally, it’s just a bunch of really brilliant, talented, interesting people. Everyone is like ready to try things and really rally around making things successful. Really, everyone who works here is like a pretty deep and serious audience member.
Since it’s your first year putting together the season's programming, how did you balance keeping with what STG traditionally books and your own personal tastes?
I think the most important thing for me was coming in and getting a really good sense and feeling for what STG is: the diversity of programming that we offer, the history of the organization, and the variety of audiences that we serve. Then for me, especially being new, I really delved into our new five-year strategic plan. It calls for the season programming to be leading-edge performance arts programs. So I thought a lot about what that means to me, and just tried to put together a really balanced season that introduces new things pushing that leading edge, includes favorites that have gotten great responses from our audiences in the past, and honors the sort of diversity of programming that we do at STG. We don't necessarily draw a superstrict demarcation between things that are more popular entertainment and things that are more sort of, quote unquote, “arts focused.” We recognize that it's all art, really, and it's all about getting people out to experience live arts in these historic theaters.
What were some of the biggest hurdles when putting together the puzzle that is an STG season in order to make it cohesive?
I think part of it is just being the new guy, just figuring out the whole learning curve of how things work here internally; timelines and that kind of thing. I had to take the time to reconnect with various agents, managers, and people who represent artists, and connect with new ones to try to seamlessly connect with relationships that STG has had for a long time. And then I think it's just really it's that puzzle where you really don't know what the response to something is going to be. There's a lot of things in [this season] that are pretty untested in Seattle. So [I had to] balance that sense of risk. How strongly and how deeply I respond to something and trusting that that will translate was ultimately what guided me.
Have you found any difference between working in Chicago and Seattle?
I don't know that I see a huge difference in culture or anything necessarily in the two cities. In terms of artists getting to the West Coast, we're as connected as anything. The Midwest certainly can be a flyover too.
For me, the biggest difference is that when I was in Chicago, all the programming that I worked on was free. There were no tickets. So I had to sort of wrap my head around similar approaches to curating work in a ticketed environment. I don't really know how it played out in the curatorial process, but I feel like I'm pretty sensitive and aware to like the overall zeitgeist in Seattle right now, which seems to be this explosive change. In some cases, there seems like there's a sense of disorientation, like neighborhoods are changing so fast, there's so much volatility and uncertainty when it comes to space, and I think for artists that's really huge. Having affordable space to live and work is such an important part of the grassroots art practitioner culture in any city. There's a lot of young professionals moving here right now, and I'm really interested to see how that affects the response to this stuff. It's something I've been thinking a lot about, but I'm not really sure how it actually plays out. I do think, overall, Seattle is like a really smart city. People are really curious and omnivorous in their cultural appetites.
Are there any areas that you feel Seattle might be lacking artistically that you aim to improve?
I hesitate to make sweeping statements about that because I'm sensitive to the fact that I just got here, and I really want to be a humble and reflective and responsible part of the arts community. But, in general, I am a champion of a variety of performing arts forms that I think deeply need support and infrastructure in order to happen: dance, music from around the globe, contemporary jazz, performance art, theater. These things are definitely happening in Seattle, but I think there is always the opportunity for more. I think the biggest thing in the arts is that people get stuck in these silos, right? Where they maybe only go to a certain kind of thing or a certain genre. Ideally, if you can expose people to something that they might not have looked at before, they're probably going to dig it.
What are some of the best things you’ve seen since you moved out here last November?
I went up to Vancouver to see a work in progress showing of this Crystal Pite/Electric Company show [Betroffenheit - March 18 & 19, 2016]. What's cool about it is the movement is really dancey—it's like really explosive and technical, and there's a bunch of different kind of movement vocabularies in the show—but then the theatrical element is just, like, so intense. Almost kinda scary.
Is there anything else you would like to add about the season?
I would just say that a common thread that I see—and thought about in putting this together—is not only artists who are masterful practitioners and pushing the bounds of what they're doing, but ones who are speaking to social issues in their world through their perspective. Programming a variety of voices; that dual thing of having a social justice or political engagement side and also just making great work that stands on its own.
STG's 2015–16 Season Lineup:
Oct 29 - Shaping Sound - Paramount
Oct 30 & Nov 1 - Riverdance - Paramount
Nov 13 - Global Party - Moore
Nov 20–22 - Mark Morris Dance Group – Moore
Jan 26–31 - Stomp - Paramount
Mar 18 & 19 - Kidd Pivot/Electric Company Theatre: Betroffenheit - Moore
Apr 15–17 - Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater - Paramount
July 8–9 - Dance This - Moore
Sept 10 - Dr. L. Subramaniam with Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad - Moore
Sept 26 - DakhaBrakha - Neptune
Nov 7 & 8 - Seattle Rock Orchestra performs David Bowie and Glam Rock - Moore
Nov 22 - Snarky Puppy – Neptune
Dec 19 - Mark O’Connor: An Appalachian Christmas - Moore
Feb 6 - Seattle Rock Orchestra performs Motown - Moore
Feb 7 - The Jones Family Singers – Neptune
Feb 17 - Gregory Porter - Moore
Mar 25 - Hot Java Cool Jazz – Paramount
Apr 16 - Arlo Guthrie - Moore
May 6 - More Music at the Moore - Moore
May 7 & 8 - Seattle Rock Orchestra performs Neil Diamond - Moore
CLASSICAL & MORE
Feb 20 - Kronos Quartet - Moore
Mar 6 - José González and yMusic - Moore
Apr 8 - Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage - Paramount
Dec 12 - Taylor Mac: Songs of the American Right - On the Boards
Mar 31–Apr 3 - Blue Man Group - Paramount
Dec 14 - MythBusters - Paramount
May 13 - Sound Opinions Live - Neptune
Oct 17 - Cameron Esposito - Neptune
Oct 23 - Whose Live Anyway? - Moore
June 1–22 - Silent Movie Mondays: 25th Anniversary of Martin Scorsese's the Film Foundation - Paramount
Oct 26 - Silent Movie Mondays: The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari with the Wayne Horvitz Ensemble - Paramount
Feb 8–29 - Silent Movie Mondays: Silent Treasures Series - Paramount
Feb 9 - Pussy Riot: A Conversation and Documentary Screening - Moore
Feb 29 - Silent Movie Mondays: Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ with Stewart Copeland - Paramount
Apr 6 - Tanya Tagaq: Nanook of the North - Neptune
June 13–27 - Silent Movie Mondays: Flapper Era Series - Paramount
Sept 20–26 - Annie - Paramount
Nov 3–8 - If/Then - Paramount
Dec 11–13 - Beauty and the Beast - Paramount
Dec 29–Jan 10 - The Book of Mormon - Paramount
Feb 2–7 - Bullets Over Broadway - Paramount
Mar 8–13 - Jersey Boys - Paramount
Apr 2 - Ahamefule Oluo: Now I'm Fine - Moore
Apr 26–May 1 - Newsies - Paramount
May 31–June 12 - Motown the Musical - Paramount