by Aaron Shanks
The Alice B. Theatre was founded in 1985 by artistic directors Eric Des O’del (formerly known as Rick Rankin) and Susan Finque as “A gay and lesbian theater for all people.” It was Seattle’s first and perhaps only theater dedicated solely to work by gay and lesbian playwrights. The company never had its own theater facility but produced full seasons of shows at the Theatre Off Jackson the Broadway Performance Hall. They also hosted gay theatre festivals and brought in nationally known artists. It used to be one of the most popular Seattle theatres, but it ended in insolvency in 1997.
“We always pushed the limits of what a gay and lesbian theater could reasonably produce,” said O’del in a 1997 Seattle Times article by Misha Berson. Other Seattle theater groups began to successfully produce gay-themed works arguably because of their leadership. “There’s no denying the public’s acceptance of gay and lesbian characters and themes, and the gay sensibility, is much greater now than it was when we started,” reflects O’del. “Does that mean there’s no need for a gay theater here? I’m not so sure.”
Two decades later, A Sensible Theatre Co. has a reply. Paul Flanagan and Jared Michael Brown founded the company “to present fabulous productions that focus exclusively on furthering the LGBTQIA+ conversation of inclusivity and equality.
Flanagan and Brown are successful performers in the Seattle theatre scene with connections to NYC. They’ve gathered a millennial-demographic Board of Directors with experience in photography, graphic design, event planning, nonprofit management, media, and accounting. They have established partnerships with many Puget Sound LGBTQIA+ organizations, as well as the GSBA. They seek to employ diversity, provide a safe space, propel the LGBTQIA+ community into the mainstream, in a positive and impactful way and to present high-quality queer entertainment.
The new theatre company will launch its inaugural production with “PAGEANT: THE MUSICAL, The Musical Comedy Beauty Contest.” The show will be an ACTLab co-presentation with ACT Theatre. Launched in 2007 ACTLab is as a successful incubator and catalyst for new works. They provide space and resources in a collaborative environment.
“Pageant, written by two-time Tony nominee Bill Russell, Frank Kelly, and Seattle’s very own Albert Evans, debuted Off-Broadway in 1991 at the Blue Angel in New York and puts a high-heeled drag-spin on the competitive pageant scene. The show takes the audience on a fabulous adventure into the timeless world of the Miss Glamouresse Beauty Pageant. Audiences will cheer for their favorites that include Miss West Coast, Miss Great Plains, Miss Industrial Northeast, Miss Bible Belt, Miss Texas and Miss Deep South.”
PAGEANT plays at the Bullitt Cabaret at ACT in Seattle through July 8 2018. Tickets are available at the ACT Box Office and acttheatre.org.
Aaron Shanks is a Seattle-based actor and is currently the Director of Development at Showtunes Theatre Company.