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.
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:
- 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 Seattle history
- 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 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.
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.