Seattle’s Intiman Theatre celebrates 50 years

Glittery gold, high spirits, and a tour de force

Photo: Intiman Theatre
Seattle Central College in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is home to the Intiman Theatre.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

In 1972, Margaret “Megs” Booker, a Fulbright Scholar who studied in Sweden, founded the Intiman theater company in Seattle. Intiman means “the intimate” in Swedish, and there is an important story behind the name. Booker’s inspiration had been the Swedish playwright August Strindberg, who cofounded and ran his own Intimate Theater in Stockholm with actor August Falck, 1907–1910.

During those years, all 25 of Strindberg’s plays were performed. A total of 2,500 performances that included the work of other dramatists from abroad took place there. The company also successfully toured Europe.

With Strindberg’s death in 1912, the Intima teater in Stockholm seemed to be gone for good, but in the 1990s, there was a movement to revive the theater. Funds were raised in 1998 to renovate the locale, and with support from Stockholm’s culture department, the theater was able to re-open its doors in 2001.

From the beginning, Strindberg’s Intima teater was called “intimate” because of the size of the playhouse. Not bigger than 20 x 20 feet, it could seat only 150 patrons—but the size of the theater by no means held the company back. On the contrary, it encouraged experimentation and innovation. That would also become the spirit of the Intiman Theatre in Seattle.

In the beginning, Booker’s company focused on Scandinavian drama and international dramatic literature. The debut 1972-1973 season launched with Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm in a 65-seat theater in Kirkland, Wash., Strindberg’s The Creditors followed. After these initial successes, Intiman was officially incorporated as a non-profit theater in 1973.

Over the years, Seattle’s Intiman Theatre saw many changes, both in terms of repertory and venues. It was at one time housed at the Seattle Center in the Intiman Playhouse. From 2015-2020, the company produced in various venues throughout Seattle. In 2021, the theater moved to Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood and is now a long-term tenant at Seattle Central College, producing at the Erickson Theatre and Broadway Performance Hall.

Photo: Stephanie Hilbert
Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall (right) was in good company at the 50-year gala celebration for the Intiman Theatre with founder Margaret “Megs” Booker (left) and longtime board member and supporter Dan Nye (center).

During the past five decades, the company has gone through good times and bad times, even facing insolvency. Most significantly, the non-profit retired a historical $2.7 million in debt and obligations in 2018, and to this day, remains debt-free.

The mission of the Intiman Theatre is to use “the power of story and education to activate dialogue, confront inequity, and build collective joy.” Their vision is “to inspire national activism from the intersection of our Seattle communities. We are fearless in our examination of traditional theater operations and arts education models, and we dare to imagine and enact revolutionary new practices, leading to a more equitable world.”

As part of Intiman’s mission to share good theater with everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, free tickets are available 60 minutes before each performances in a financial model that relies heavily on sponsorships, memberships, and donations.

An important aspect of Intiman’s work has been their partnership with Seattle Central College. Together, they offer a two-year associate arts degree program. Students work alongside union professionals on Intiman’s main-stage productions, while studying equity and social justice at the college. At the end of the program, graduates may opt to transfer to a four-year collegiate program.

This educational program has created a win-win scenario for Intiman and the entire Seattle theater community, engaging young volunteer generations to revitalize the strong tradition of live theater in Seattle.

Golden jubilee

While Strindberg’s Intima teater had a short lifespan, Seattle’s Intiman Theatre has endured for 50 years—something worth celebrating. On Oct. 1, the current team, founders, and supporters came together for a gala champagne brunch at Sodo Park in Seattle.

It was an occasion that will not be forgotten. There was an abundance of gold and glitz to mark the celebration. The attendees were dressed to the nines in their most festive attire, with sequins, gold jewelry, sparkling gold bow ties and tennis shoes—just about anything gilded to look one’s very best and pay homage to 50 years of Intiman. Spirits were high.

And the Intiman crowd certainly knows how to put on a celebration show. The opening act was a tour de force of the hit song “Cabaret” from the musical of the same name. It didn’t disappoint and set the tone for the party.

At the center of the program was the theater’s visionary founder, Margaret “Megs”  Booker.  I was fortunate to get the opportunity to talk with Booker one on one.

“When you start something like Intiman, you have no idea where it will go,” she said, “it’s just an inspiration in the moment.

For Booker, her time is Sweden was the impetus, a unique moment in time. She worked with the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, with greats who included legendary filmmaker and theater director Ingmar Bergman of international fame and the beloved Swedish actor Erland Josephson.

“I was bold enough to reach out, and they responded,” she said. Booker had made the effort learn Swedish, which she believes made a difference.

I asked Booker about my own aspirations to see the Intiman return to its Scandinavian roots, to perform Ibsen and Strindberg again.

“There is a lot of relevancy with Ibsen’s work today,” she said. “A play like An Enemy of the People has a lot to say—but it’s also about getting to people to the theater,” she added. A personal favorite she would like to see performed is Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

But while the jubilee celebration looked back of 50 years of accomplishment, it was much more about looking forward. Managing Director Wesley Frugé appeared on stage decked in glittery gold sequins to talk about upcoming productions with enthusiasm. First up is a the punk musical Cindy of Arc in November, followed by Black Nativity in December, with more to come.

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This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.