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ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) in Seattle, stages its first play, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, on June 29, 1965.
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On June 29, 1965, ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) in Seattle, stages its first play, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad. Workers have just finished turning Queen Anne Hall, at the foot of Queen Anne Hill, into a 420-seat theater. Director Gregory A. Falls (1922-1997) says he wants this new professional summer theater to show provocative modern plays that reflect the artistic and cultural ferment of the time. This first play, an absurdist comedy by Arthur Kopit, draws a large and appreciative audience on opening night. Seattle Times theater critic says that ACT "pulled all theatrical elements together for a triumphant bow" (Baker). He predicts that ACT will "develop into a hot item" and he is proven correct (Baker). ACT will go on to become one of Seattle's most popular and artistically influential theaters and will move in 1996 to a new $30 million space downtown.
A Theater to Reflect the Times
Just four months earlier, Gregory Falls had conceived the idea of a new professional theater in Seattle. Falls believed that Seattle needed a theater that performed "plays that reflect our times" to go along with the fledgling Seattle Repertory Theatre, which emphasized the classics (Baker). Falls headed the University of Washington's School of Drama, and also wanted to provide another place for his graduates to work in professional theater.
Falls, along with his wife, Jean Burch Falls, and other ACT pioneers, acquired Queen Anne Hall at 1st Avenue and Roy Street, and feverishly worked at turning it into an intimate thrust-stage theater, with seating on three sides. Falls chose Kopit's Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad as ACT's first offering because it was modern, irreverent, and had recently been a provocative Broadway sensation. It was far from the usual frothy summer stage fare. Kopit subtitled it "a pseudoclassical tragifarce in a bastard French tradition."
Falls directed a cast of Broadway veterans and young Seattle actors, who rehearsed to the sound of hammers and saws -- the carpenters were still hard at work on the theater. Some opening night nerves were in evidence as the play, and the theater, debuted. Yet the cast soon settled down and Seattle Times critic Ed Baker called the talent "professional, in fact as well as name" and said the theater "fulfilled the preseason hopes" (Baker). He singled out actors Jety Herlick, Edwin Barron, John Long, and Melody Greer -- and also praised the director.
"Falls ... proved that academic theory can serve practical ends," wrote Baker. "His direction is loaded with attention to detail and business that illuminates a play rather than intruding itself as mere business" (Baker).
The capacity audience clearly approved. It showed its appreciation by "calling the actors out for a half-dozen curtain calls" (Baker).
A Hot Item
Baker went on to predict that ACT "would likely develop into a hot item with more of the same expected annually." This forecast would prove accurate. ACT's first five-play season was so successful that Falls made the theater into a nonprofit organization the next winter and staged another larger season in 1966. By 1969, ACT was firmly established as a major Seattle theatrical force.
It has remained so through some financial ups and downs and a momentous move in 1996 to the old Eagles Auditorium downtown, which ACT renovated in a $30.4 million project and is now called Kreielsheimer Place. ACT has been the winner of numerous Theatre Puget Sound awards, called Gregory Awards. They are named, fittingly, in honor of the late Gregory Falls.
Ed Baker, "Falls and Friends Can Take a Bow," The Seattle Times, June 30, 1965, p. 34; Ruth McCloy, "Double Thrust Theater," The Seattle Times, July 31, 1966, p. 126; Jim Kershner telephone interview with Nicole Boyer Cochran, ACT artistic manager, February 29, 2012; Misha Berson, "Falls' Genial Nurturing Gave Birth to Flourishing Theater Scene Here," The Seattle Times, April 5, 1997 (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com); ACT website accessed March 7, 2012 (www.acttheatre.org).
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