[media-credit name=”Paul Budraitis” align=”alignnone” width=”640″][/media-credit]
While not all professional theater seems to exist for no other reason than to hedge bets, condescend to its audiences and divorce itself completely from any social function, much of it does. It refreshes the soul to go out once in awhile and watch students who still love, still care, still dream about making good work. This is why I still write about drama at the University of Washington. Cornish College of the Arts, of course, explicitly forbids critics like me from writing about their shows. This is a shame for many reasons.
Student drama, as I have maintained for the past twenty-three years, can afford risks, can be more exciting, and is virtually always more interesting than the allegedly professional theater. The best Shakespeare production I saw last year was the University of Washington UTS production of Macbeth. Nothing else was even close.
But more than that, it is not only a pleasure to watch the students grow and take chances but also a pleasure to watch their teachers do work they would not otherwise get to do. I thought of this watching Paul Budraitis direct the latest Cornish production of María Irene Fornés’ Fefu and Her Friends.
I am a huge fan of Mr. Budraitis’s work and I love student drama, so this was an auspicious opportunity. I have read the play, of course, and seen it performed rather badly once but I knew this would be something special. The only warning of what was to come in the evening was the gentle note: “Fefu and Her Friends is a promenade production which will involve audience members climbing stairs and standing for periods of time.”
And so it did. The first act was set up in the round, with the audience surrounding the living room set. The third act was the same. The four scenes of the second act, though, were all performed simultaneously in different locations but with Mr. Budraitis’s deft personal touch that was an extension of his earlier experiment at Project: Space Available. It was brilliant and it introduced me to some extraordinary young actors I wish I could see over and over. It was perhaps the most exciting production I’ve seen of a text-based work since June. I left feeling wonderful and optimistic about theater in Seattle again–and this is no mean feat, trust me.
But of course I can’t tell you any more than this. I’ve probably already said more than people wanted. Still, performances like this are what make me proud of my hometown and hopeful for my city, even when I’m banned from writing about them because of bureaucratic fear that I will harm someone’s non-existent reputation and ego. And it is exactly matters like this–bureaucratic fear and lack of social and aesthetic responsibility–that make me far less proud of my hometown than I should be. I only hope when these brilliant actors go out into the “real” world that they can retain their realness and that people nurture their talent.
As for Mr. Budraitis–he should teach more young actors. Maybe even some old ones. His work continues to surprise and delight me. I anxiously await his next project which, with any luck, I’ll actually be able to write about without worrying about a gag order.