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Pioneer Square Theater
HistoryLink.org Essay 10235
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Pioneer Square Theater was founded in 1980 by Anna
Marie Collins, Billy Ontiveros, Grant Walpole, and Nick Flynn as a 501-C
nonprofit organization in Washington state.
Between 1980 and its closing in 1989, the theater produced more than 80 plays in the
Pioneer Square district of Seattle. Between 1983 and 1989 it produced an annual festival
of new works, many by local Seattle playwrights, at various venues in King
County. This People's History was written by Carl Sander, an actor, playwright, and director who has worked in the Seattle theater community for more than 30 years. For Pioneer Square Theater he acted in the plays Boomtown and In A Pigs Valise. He wrote Meet the Shrimps for the first Square in the Center new works festival and workshopped his first attempt at a musical, Prions, at Pioneer Square Theater in 1984.
An Actor-Driven, Populist Theater
At its height in 1987, PST was
running plays on three stages, five nights a week, at times selling more tickets
than the Seattle Rep on any given night.
Its multi-headed artistic vision was actor-driven and populist, with a
penchant for edgy drama, musicals, and unpretentious comedy.
Artistically notable are:
Pioneer Square Theater received grant and foundation
support, but its funding was primarily thru ticket sales. Beyond a few key personnel, the staff was not
permanent and grew and shrank with the monthly demands of production; payroll
ranged in size from four to more than 65 people a week.
The original musical Angry Housewives by founder Anna Marie Collins and Chad Henry, which ran
for six years, the longest running play in Seattle history
- The first season of entirely world premier’ new
works produced in Seattle
- The longest continuous festival of new works in
- The West Coast premiere of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer
- A hit production of ER/Emergency Room which ran for over a year
- A hit production of The Foreigner by Larry Shue which ran for over a year
- The transformation of an old porno place to a
main stage venue in 17 days
Pioneer Square Theater's example of multiple artistic visions working
collectively and alternative methods of production set an example for the
Fringe Theater movement that blossomed in Seattle in the 1990s.
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Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs
Cast of Boomtown, (l. to r., standing): Jim Dean, Carl Sander, William Ontiveros, Theresa Utterback; (l. to r. seated): Faye B. Summers, Maggie Laird, Colleen Carpenter, Grant Walpole, Pioneer Square Theater, Seattle, 1980
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Pioneer Square Theater Papers (Acc. 4067-001)
Poster for Fifth Annual New Works, Pioneer Square Theater, Seattle, 1987
Poster by Lynda Barry, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Pioneer Square Theater Papers (Acc. 4067-001)