Allison Narver will be directing the first show of our 2016/17 season, Man of La Mancha. Allison directed Seven Brides for Seven Brothers here at The 5th during our 2008/09 season, but has directed many other productions at theaters around town in between, most recently Sherlock Holmes & the American Problem at Seattle Rep.
Is this your first time working with The 5th?
I directed Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and had a wonderful time working with the terrific staff and crew at The 5th. I’m thrilled to be back. I also really love the scope and ambition of the work that The 5th has committed to in recent years. I admire The 5th’s commitment to developing new work, hiring local talent and nurturing young artists. During our auditions for Man of La Mancha, I was amazed by the outstanding caliber of the young artists auditioning who “grew up at The 5th.” There was a sophistication and proficiency that is very, very rare for young artists.
The 5th is a warm, welcoming place to work and has a pervasive spirit of generosity. As a freelance director, finding these qualities in a theater feels like taking a lovely, warm bath.
What has been your favorite directorial experience?
Early on I directed many musicals written by Chris Jeffries (first Seattle Stranger Genius Award winner – whose favorite musical happens to be Man of La Mancha). I loved those experiences because Chris’s music is brilliant and his theatrical imagination is epic—the work was brazen, challenging and deeply collaborative. When we first started working together, we didn’t have a dime between us to produce theater. As a result, we were fearless and made work that was ambitious and wild—it was work that was deeply satisfying—funny, musically brilliant and unlike anything I’ve seen before. The shows we did ranged in scope from The Fatty Arbuckle Spook House Revue (a wild and dark vaudeville set in early Hollywood, exploring who wins and who loses when entertainment becomes an industry); to Maggie Cassidy (a gorgeous musical adaptation of a Jack Kerouac novel); to Vera Wilde (a musical that asks, “What is a revolutionary act/life – in art, in sexuality, in politics?”).
Everything I’ve ever worked on with Chris shaped who I am as a director. I don’t think I’ve ever had a rehearsal and production experience like those shows we did together—I’ve never laughed as much, taken as many risks and believed with such passionate conviction in the importance of the work we were making together. I try to bring that spirit of joy, collaboration and daring into every show I direct.
Why this show? What is intriguing or interesting about it to you?
When Bill [Berry, Producing Artistic Director at The 5th] and David [Armstrong, Executive Producer & Artistic Director at The 5th] asked me to direct Man of La Mancha, I was thrilled. I adored the show and was dying to get my hands on this epic, muscular, stubborn and gorgeous piece. When re-reading it and listening to the music again, I was struck by how resonant this show is to events in the world today. Much like in the show, people around the world are held in detainment camps or prisons, arrested and convicted without the benefit of a trial.
This was a deeply political piece upon its first inception. I want this production to honor MoLM’s initial intent—to be a universal story that believes in the importance of trying something impossible over an acceptance of the status quo. This impossible act to me is the power of staring into a cruel, oppressive force and choosing to create instead of destroy—to make a joke instead of suffering quietly, to make art in the face of brutality and to stubbornly choose idealistic action in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
My love for this show continues to grow the more I work on it. I am humbled to work with this design team, choreographer Maria Torres, music director Cynthia Kortman Westphal, and without a doubt the most extraordinary cast I could ever have imagined.
Dream show to direct?
So many. I have always really, really wanted to direct Brecht/Weill. I’d love to do Threepenny Opera or Happy End.
What’s your favorite thing about Seattle?
I grew up in Seattle. I moved to other places and then came back to raise my daughter because I want her to grow up with trees, mountains and big stretches of water.
I love that despite the influx of people in the last 20 years, Seattle has held onto a bit of its eccentricity, fierce independence and weird history. I love that Seattle used to be a major stop on Vaudeville tours. I love Seattle’s labor movement roots. I love that there was a general strike in 1919. I love that some of the tough guys during that strike in 1919 also used to dress in women’s clothes and perform at a cabaret called The Garden of Eden. I love Seattle’s history of independent music. I love that people still can’t figure out a four-way stop. I love that occasionally people will STILL brake for merging traffic. I love the fact that despite Seattle’s growth over the past 20 years, I will invariably run into five people I know wherever I go. I love that Dick’s Drive-In hasn’t been sold to a chain and just celebrated its 50th anniversary. I love that people like Lynda Barry, Matt Groening, Mark Morris, Jimi Hendrix, Stone Gossard and Bruce Lee grew up here. I love that the Comet Tavern is still here. I love that almost anyone who grew up in Seattle has never gone on The Underground Tour. I love that Mayor Norm Rice led the Seattle Gay Pride Parade in 1993. I love Seattle’s libraries. I love Duck Dodge on Lake Union every Tuesday during the summer. I love it when the mountains are out. I love the combined smells of salt water, pine trees and woodsmoke. I love it when people who grew up here still remember George and Pansy, Frederick and Nelson’s, Dee Dee Rainbow, Emmett Watson, The Last Exit, The Dog House and JP Patches. I love that The Pink Elephant Carwash still exists. I love the Bainbridge Ferry. I love that at one time Seattle had more equity theaters per capita in the country outside of New York City (let’s make that happen again!)
I am, however, not a big fan of Seafair. Particularly the Seafair Pirates. But I also love that there are people who will fight me tooth and nail for not liking Seafair. And the pirates.
Don’t miss Allison’s direction of Man of La Mancha this fall. This amazing show will also feature Broadway’s Norm Lewis as the titular character, Seattle-native Don Darryl Rivera as Sancho, and D.C.’s Nova Payton (who blew everyone away in last season’s A Night With Janis Joplin). It runs October 7-30, 2016, and single tickets are now available. Click here to find out more!