Seattle to the World: Intiman's American Cycle

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Intiman Theatre's American Cycle: Preserving cultural heritage, promoting community connection

The Story:
A few years ago the Intiman Theatre invited the Seattle community to join them on a journey into the classical stories that comprise our national heritage. With its launching of the American Cycle in 2004, the Theatre -- long known for its commitment to innovative productions and winner of a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre -- has secured its place as a leader in civic engagement.

The American Cycle combines productions of classic American stories like Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or Richard Wright’s Native Son with opportunities for complex and inclusive civic dialogue. These stories, both vivid and revealing, provide direct links to our national heritage and the socio-political struggles we’ve collectively faced and overcome. The goals of the program are to produce great art while cultivating curiosity, advocating for literacy, and striving to ignite an informed citizenry that understands the interconnectedness between themselves, their collective stories, and the ongoing struggles of our global community.

In the first four years of this innovative series more than 95,000 people have attended the five plays and countless complementary programs. In a deliberate attempt to reach all ages, cultures and localities, programs were often held at coffee shops, libraries and museums around the region. One of the most far-reaching programs has been Front Porch Theater, an informal, county-wide series, where the public take part in dramatic readings excerpted from plays in the Cycle. Then there are larger forums like Open Minds/Open Dialogue, where themes from the productions are presented to spark a moderated discussion about contemporary issues that are relevant to our community. My personal favorite, though, is the Rough Eagles program, which brings together students from Seattle’s Cleveland and Roosevelt High Schools to work with Intiman teaching artists to write an original play, inspired by the themes of that year’s American Cycle production. Through this program, local youths find their voices and engage in civic dialogue.

Although this year's production of All the King’s Men marked the end of the first Cycle, vast community support for the program has convinced the Theatre to launch American Cycle II. Comprised of five productions, this timely extension of the program will continue the exploration of our shared history and collective national identity.

Why it’s Worldchanging:
The Intiman has boldly stepped out of a conventional theater role and become interconnected with the community to cultivate civic engagement, and to encourage an investment and ownership in the local, regional, national, and/or global communities to which citizens belong. Its devotion to exclusively American content encourages audiences to explore the larger picture of our nation's cultural heritage, conveying a thoughtful look at the American backstory. By extending its endeavors beyond traditional post-production Q&A sessions and seeking out venues where people feel freer to converse and interact with one another, the American Cycle programs strengthen community bonds. And by infusing art into the conversation about sustainability, the Intiman has swung the doors wide open for voices that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.

Ashley DeForest is a Community Developer who lives in Seattle, but is involved in urban and regional planning projects throughout the Northwest. Feel free to email her at ashleyd [at] zenbe [dot] com … she's always excited to hear about an innovation in community engagement or urban development!

Photo: The Intiman Fountain

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